By Arab News
By Yossi Mekelberg
It will take a long time for Israelis to recover from the horrendous events of Oct. 7. The nation is now engulfed by a collective trauma that has enhanced its already deep-seated existential fears. Hamas’ incursion into its territory represented the nation’s worst nightmare: caught off-guard and unprepared for an attack by one of its sworn enemies, with unimaginable numbers of people of all ages indiscriminately murdered or taken hostage.
Consequently, it is just a matter of time until the government inevitably yields to demands for an official investigation, which will examine how it could have been possible for this colossal failure of state to defend its own people against such a long-planned attack of this magnitude. However, until such a commission of inquiry is formed and subsequently delivers its verdict, it is safe to say that the disastrous events of last week have demonstrated once again that there is no powerful military without a strong and united society.
Furthermore, it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, throughout his many — way too many — years in power, who polarized Israeli society in order to maintain his position. The country is now facing the most tragic consequences of those divisions. It is today clearer than ever that those who argued that a prime minister who faces corruption charges as severe as those Netanyahu faces is not fit to run a country, let alone one confronted by such extreme security challenges, were right to be so concerned. But the more his legal woes mounted, the more divisive poison was spread by the prime minister, his family and his sycophants.
Since the beginning of the year, Israel has been marred by internal divisions, all of which originate from Netanyahu’s readiness to form an extreme right-wing coalition and irresponsibly cave in to the demands of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich to head ministries crucial for the country’s security, while at the same time embarking on an assault against the pillars of the democratic system. Not only are both men not qualified in any shape or form to handle such ministries, but they and the other members of their parties thrive on inflaming tensions with the Palestinians and vitriolically attack their political opponents — attacks that include accusing them of treachery.
In this Israeli Cabinet, there is hardly anyone with significant military experience and some with none at all. For a country whose security is its top declared priority, this situation is due to nothing less than criminal neglect. And the responsibility for being conceptually and operationally completely unprepared for this surprise Hamas attack lies squarely with Netanyahu and his coalition, which diverted the political system’s preoccupation with security and other urgent and long-term priorities in order to carry out a series of attacks on the judiciary and other democratic institutions.
Israelis are now experiencing a double trauma, firstly from the brutality of Hamas and its readiness to commit such hideous crimes against innocent civilians. But equally they are shuddering from the realization that a country that has long prided itself on having the strongest military in the region, and which has one of the world’s highest levels of military expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product, has been caught completely by surprise by an irregular militant group.
Netanyahu may yet get away with corruption and sowing division; however, his political career is unlikely to survive his acts of gross negligence, which have cost the lives of so many people and, in doing so, exposed such an astonishing failure of intelligence.
Much of this terrible crisis derives from Netanyahu’s botched school of thought that weakened the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, while allowing Hamas to build its power base in Gaza in the mistaken belief that the group had lost its appetite for military confrontation.
There is also anger in Israel that Netanyahu, his wife and other ministers have so far failed to visit the locations that suffered such terrible losses in the Oct. 7 attacks and spoken to the bereaved, the displaced, the injured and the hospitalized. This only enhances the view that Netanyahu is utterly detached from the country and its people, and more generally from reality. His lack of contrition and refusal to take personal responsibility for what has been a systemic failure throughout the political and military chain of command raise more serious issues that further question his suitability to remain in power for a minute longer, let alone a single day.
Netanyahu’s inaction could not contrast more strongly with the immediate response from opposition leaders, who reacted swiftly by not only engaging with the victims of the attack but also by offering to put their differences aside and join forces to form an emergency government. But Netanyahu has dithered and waited to receive assurances from Benny Gantz that the latter would join a government of unity without demanding the exclusion of the divisive duo of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. Even in these dark days, Netanyahu is, in his political paranoia, prioritizing his personal interests over the task of ensuring that Hamas will never again be able to inflict such a huge catastrophe on his country.
However, by agreeing to a compromise that keeps the far-right members of the coalition in government but away from the decision-making process, Gantz and also Gadi Eisenkot have joined the Cabinet, providing it with military experience to help the army recover from the massive blow it suffered last week and keeping the lunatic right away from influencing events. However, this also allows Netanyahu to believe that he has a flicker of hope of surviving this mega-fiasco.
Nevertheless, it is almost unimaginable that Netanyahu and his Likud party will survive in power after what has happened on their watch. For months, they have been busy maligning and inciting against members of the Israel Defense Forces, crucial to the defense of the country, for opposing the government’s efforts to crush the democratic system and saying they would refuse to serve if this was the direction the government was taking. These IDF personnel are the very people who last Saturday, without hesitation, joined their units or volunteered to help with logistics.
These very people will also renew their opposition to Netanyahu and his government the minute the war is over and they will oppose it with even more zest, justification and popular legitimacy. In the meantime, the prime minister and his party are in freefall, with the polls showing that the opposition parties have opened up a big lead over the ruling coalition and Gantz is likely to form the next government.
It goes without saying, of course, that if there had been any dignity or sense of responsibility left in Netanyahu, he would have resigned as soon as the magnitude of the Oct. 7 disaster became evident.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. X: @YMekelberg