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Gaza: Israel's unity over new aggression won't last

The decision to strike Islamic Jihad has given Netanyahu a popularity boost - but this will not hold for the long term
Rockets are fired from Gaza City towards Israel on 10 May 2023 (AFP)

Israel this week executed a pivotal strike by taking out four Islamic Jihad leaders, with its media emphasising the precision of the missiles and the accuracy of the intelligence gathered. 

But this coverage appeared largely indifferent to the fact that the operation entailed a devastating massacre

Some Israeli media outlets portrayed the casualties - including children, women and medical professionals - as an acceptable toll, even boasting about the relatively small number of Palestinian civilian victims. A sense of celebration, pride and honour permeated Israel

A national consensus emerged as parliamentary opposition leaders voiced their support for the Netanyahu government’s actions. Analysts say the operation could extend the life of the beleaguered government, which was grappling with internal strife and seemed on the brink of collapse. 

Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right leader of the Jewish Power party, had been boycotting Knesset sessions - yet even he was lauding the operation, suggesting that his pressure paid off, and touting his own role

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Meanwhile, thousands of Israelis have fled their homes in communities near Gaza, as the military has overseen a broader evacuation plan.

Israel has praised the success of its military operations, citing successful intelligence coordination between the army and the Shin Bet security agency. This demonstration of its ability to target Palestinian leaders even in their own bedrooms aims to send a message to all factions in southern Lebanon, the occupied West Bank and Gaza: Israel’s reach is omniscient. 

Targeted assassinations

Israel’s strategy of targeted assassinations demonstrates its ruthless policy of eradicating the leadership of Islamic Jihad, due to the group’s high-profile operations and philosophy of resistance to the occupation. Israeli officials have repeatedly urged Hamas to remain uninvolved in the current confrontation.

Yet, while Israel had expected the Palestinian response to mirror previous instances of its aggression against Gaza, that did not immediately happen. Tensions were heightened among the Israeli security, political and media establishment, as the country waited to see what would come next.

Although rockets were fired from Gaza on Wednesday night, the delay in this response seemed to send a message that Israel was no longer in control of how such situations play out. 

Palestinian factions appear to be operating according to their own plans and timetables, as opposed to the tempo dictated by Israel

At the same time, Israel has lost the support of Egypt, which - despite its ongoing Gaza mediation efforts - was heavily critical of the recent strikes on Islamic Jihad, saying the massacre undermined efforts to establish long-term stability and violated commitments made by Israel during recent conferences in Aqaba, Jordan and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. 

Many Palestinian factions and regional forces believe that the deterrent power Israel once held has substantially diminished in the five months since the inception of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government - and that it has failed, strategically, to bolster its regional influence and fortify its national defences.  

Another shortcoming of Israel lies in its inability to anticipate the intensity of the Palestinian response to its aggression. In Tel Aviv, the security establishment opted this week to open public bomb shelters and to close schools. These added security, political and economic costs may prompt Israel to launch a broader offensive across multiple fronts, in a bid to regain control over the trajectory and consequences of the confrontation.

Neutralising Hamas

Although there is no proof that Israel’s latest aggression is a direct consequence of its profound internal turmoil, the state’s diminishing power of deterrence can certainly be attributed to the current political climate and domestic crisis. Consequently, the aggression must be considered within this context.  

Should this aggressive strategy prove fruitful from an Israeli standpoint, the primary political beneficiary will be Netanyahu, whose approval ratings are poised to climb. 

But this popularity boost will not hold for the long term, nor will it ensure the longevity of Netanyahu’s government, given the deep-rooted domestic conflicts and ongoing public demonstrations. It will not ultimately extricate Netanyahu from his most pressing challenges. And at the same time, polls have shown that the confidence of Israeli citizens in opposition leader Benny Gantz is growing.

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In the meantime, Israel is wagering on neutralising Hamas - which effectively governs Gaza and holds the most significant military power - and ensuring a lasting ceasefire. 

Yet, the situation escalated further after Energy Minister Israel Katz this week threatened to assassinate Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, and military chief Mohammed Deif, should Hamas retaliate. Hamas issued a statement on Wednesday suggesting that its forces were participating in retaliatory rocket fire, although this was not immediately verified.

The Israeli security apparatus finds itself perplexed by the delayed and unpredictable Palestinian response, having anticipated an immediate reaction of rocket fire, followed by mediation, pressure and ultimately a truce until the next bout of aggression. But the reality has proved more complex. 

Concerns have arisen over the potential for Israel’s state of emergency to extend indefinitely, with the associated costs potentially exceeding those of a limited military engagement. There is also apprehension over the possibility of Palestinians targeting settler marches in occupied East Jerusalem.

All options appear to be on the table, with a truce seeming unlikely. Palestinian factions seem to be operating according to their own plans and timetables, as opposed to the tempo dictated by Israel, transitioning from a reactive cycle to a more deliberate course of action. While this creates a new dynamic, it does not fundamentally alter the essence of the conflict.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Ameer Makhoul is a leading Palestinian activist and writer in the 48 Palestinians community. He is the former director of Ittijah, a Palestinian NGO in Israel. He was detained by Israel for ten years.
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