Is Netanyahu Leading Israel Toward A Strategic Defeat? – OpEd


By Osama Al-Sharif

Marking six months of the war on Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Sunday that Israel was “one step away from victory.” Defining “total victory” in this war has become a personal challenge for Netanyahu and an increasingly frantic Israeli public. In the early days of the war, he set out the main objectives that would deliver such a victory: routing Hamas, freeing the Israeli hostages and maintaining open-ended security control over a demilitarized Gaza Strip.

More than 190 days into what has increasingly become a war without a clear end, none of these objectives have been met. On more than one occasion, Netanyahu has declared that securing the objectives would take “months, not years.” Still, it is now unclear whether Israel can qualify its victory as tactical, operational or strategic.

Netanyahu’s words on Sunday rang hollow, coming as they did after the worst week of his tenure, having been scolded and publicly warned by US President Joe Biden over the killing of seven aid workers in Gaza. That tragic event brought condemnation from Israel’s closest allies and deepened its diplomatic isolation. The Haaretz newspaper said that the world was now suffering from “Israel fatigue,” while leading Israeli commentators warned that the country is becoming an international pariah.

Under pressure from the White House, it has returned to the negotiating table seeking a deal that will produce a lengthy humanitarian ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages. Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets demanding Netanyahu’s resignation and a swift agreement to free the Israeli hostages. Israeli officials are now talking about painful compromises while insisting that the war will go on.

Washington hopes a temporary ceasefire could become a permanent one, which would be anathema to Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners. While Netanyahu still threatens to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, the US and Israel’s closest allies have sent stern messages that they are against such an offensive. For Netanyahu and his extremist partners, an end to the war now would mean capitulation.

But instead of victory, in any shape or form, Netanyahu is leading Israel toward what can only be described as a strategic defeat.

According to former US regional envoy Dennis Ross, Israeli military intelligence reportedly informed the country’s political leaders back in February that Hamas would survive as a terrorist group after the war. And an opinion piece in The New York Times this week pointed out that Israel is now on the verge of facing “renewed insurgency by Palestinian armed groups in northern Gaza.” David French opined that Israel is dealing with the same challenges US troops faced in Iraq in areas that were already cleared. The month-long renewed targeting of Al-Shifa Hospital by Israeli soldiers was one such case.

Yes, Hamas’ military structure has been degraded and it may no longer perform, as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said this week, as an organization. But fighters have reemerged in areas that the Israeli army had previously cleared, such as northern Gaza, to fight another day. On Saturday, at least four Israeli commando soldiers and officers were killed by Hamas in Khan Younis, which the army had occupied for the last four months before finally withdrawing from southern Gaza.

But it is not on the battlefield that Israel has suffered its biggest losses. The contrast between the first few weeks after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and the last two is staggering in terms of sympathy and support for Israel. Global opinion has shifted attention from the atrocities of Oct. 7 to the wholesale massacre of Palestinians, the majority being children and women, in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s decision to sanction the systematic destruction of Gaza, including the demolition of hospitals and universities, the killing of medics, journalists and aid workers and the deliberate targeting of Palestinians trying to reach aid trucks, has tainted Israel’s claim of exercising the right to self-defense and forced even its most ardent supporters to change their tone.

Last week, almost 40 US Democratic lawmakers, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asked Biden to suspend arms sales to Israel. Public opinion in America is now leaning strongly toward ending the war. The UK is considering halting arms sales to Israel, while several EU countries are on the verge of recognizing Palestine as a state.

Even the mainstream media in the West is lambasting Israel for creating and exacerbating an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Gaza and accusing its soldiers of committing war crimes. Images of starving children and babies dying through malnutrition and a lack of medical care have blemished Israel’s image and its claim that it is abiding by the laws of war.

To make things worse, Israel is facing serious charges at the International Court of Justice of committing genocide in Gaza. Such blowback can be traced to one person’s myopic and vindictive frame of mind: Netanyahu.

After six months of war, tens of thousands of Israelis from the south and north remain displaced, while the economy is under stress as Israel struggles to deal with the rising cost of military deployment, which has surpassed $50 billion.

Making matters worse, Hezbollah remains a clear and present danger for Israel, with both sides inching closer to an open war. Meanwhile, the West Bank is reaching boiling point as the army and radical settlers increase their attacks and provocations, while the Palestinian Authority loses credibility and support among Palestinians.

But the gadfly that is nagging at Netanyahu is his vision, or lack of, regarding the day after; not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank and on the future of the Palestine question. He gambled that a war on Hamas would be swift and decisive, allowing him to create new realities on the ground while changing the prevailing discourse. His extremist partners pushed for the forced transfer of millions from Gaza and entertained the recolonization of the enclave. Instead, the world is now embracing the Palestinian cause while pressure is mounting on Israel to offer a political path forward. No matter how the Gaza war ends, there is no returning to the pre-Oct. 7 mindset.

Looking back, Netanyahu’s miscalculations may defeat Israel, overshadowing its tactical and operational successes. These include the disproportionate use of force leading to a shocking death toll among civilians, the lack of a clear strategy during and after the war, a failure to anticipate international reaction to blatant war crimes and perhaps the one that will ultimately end Netanyahu’s political career is his gross miscalculation of Hamas’ threats and endgame.

It is virtually impossible to declare victory when the aggressor is trapped in a war and ending it may represent defeat. Perhaps Netanyahu’s biggest blunder was his sanctioning of the mass murder of Palestinians in a way that the world could no longer stomach or defend. Those tens of thousands of civilian casualties are the ones delivering a strategic defeat to Israel.

– Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. X: @plato010

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *