Israeli Army’s Options On Gaza: Marginalization Or Confrontation – OpEd


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that “there will be no civil war” in Israel. But he might be wrong.

Netanyahu’s statement was made in the context of the growing popular protests in the country, especially following the long-anticipated resignations of several members of his war Cabinet, including Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot — both former chiefs of staff in the Israeli army.

These resignations did not necessarily isolate Netanyahu, as his popularity rests almost entirely on the support of the right and the far right. However, the move further illustrated the deep and growing rifts in Israeli society, which could ultimately take the country from a state of political upheaval to an actual civil war.

The divisions in Israel cannot be viewed the same way as the political polarizations that are currently rife in Western democracies. This assertion is not necessarily linked to the legitimate view that, at its core, Israel is not an actual democracy but is, rather, due to the fact that Israel’s political formation is unique.

The story began long before the current Gaza war. In February 2019, the leaders of three Israeli parties formed a coalition known as “Kahol Lavan” (Blue and White). Two of Kahol Lavan’s founders, Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon, were military men, widely respected in the country’s powerful military establishment and, thus, society at large. However, despite their relative electoral success, they failed to dislodge Netanyahu from office. So, they went to the streets.

Taking the conflict to the streets of Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities was not a decision made lightly. It followed the collapse of a strange government coalition, cobbled together by all of Netanyahu’s enemies and unified by the single objective of ending the right and far right’s reign. The failure of Naftali Bennett, the leader of that coalition, was the last straw.

The terms “right” and “far right” may give the impression that the political conflict in Israel is essentially ideological. Although ideology does play a role in Israeli politics, the anger at Netanyahu and his allies is largely motivated by the feeling that the new right is attempting to reconfigure the political nature of the country.

So, starting in January 2023, hundreds of thousands of Israelis launched unprecedented mass protests that lasted until the start of the Israeli war on Gaza. The initial collective demand of the protesters, supported by Gantz and a who’s who of the Israeli military and liberal elites, was to prevent Netanyahu from altering the political balances of power that have governed Israeli society for the last 75 years. With time, however, the demands turned into a collective call for regime change.

Though the issue was largely discussed in the media as a political rift resulting from Netanyahu’s wish to marginalize Israel’s judicial institutions for personal reasons, the roots of the event, which threatened a civil war, were quite different.

The story of the potential Israeli civil war is as old as the Israeli state itself and recent comments by Netanyahu suggesting otherwise are yet another false claim by the prime minister.

Indeed, on June 16, Netanyahu lashed out at rebellious military generals, stating: “We have a country with an army and not an army with a country.” In truth, however, Israel was founded through war and sustained through war.

This meant that the Israeli military had, from the very start, a special status in Israeli society — an unwritten contract that allowed army generals a special and often central seat in Israel’s political decision-making. The likes of Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and others, including the founder of Israel, David Ben Gurion, have all reached the helm of Israeli politics, mainly because of their military affiliations.

But Netanyahu changed all of this when he began to actively restructure Israel’s political institutions to keep the military marginal and politically disempowered. In doing so, he has violated the main pillar of Israel’s political balance since 1948.

Even before Israel finished the task of ethnically cleansing the Palestinian people during the Nakba, the nascent country almost immediately entered into a civil war. As Ben Gurion issued an order regarding the formation of the Israeli Defense Forces on May 26, 1948, some Zionist militias, including the Irgun and Lehi (the Stern Gang) fought to preserve a degree of political independence.

That was the start of the so-called Altalena Affair, in which the Haganah-dominated IDF tried to block a shipment of weapons that was on its way to the Irgun, then under the leadership of future Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The confrontation was deadly. It resulted in the killing of many members of the Irgun, mass arrests and the shelling of the ship itself.

References to the Altalena Affair are heard quite frequently in Israeli media debates these days, as the Israeli war on Gaza is splintering an already divided society. This division is compelling the military to abandon the historical balance that was achieved following that mini-civil war, which could have ended the Israeli state only days after its formation.

The internal Israeli conflict over Gaza is not just about Gaza, Hamas or Hezbollah, but the future of Israel itself. If the Israeli army finds itself scapegoated for Oct. 7 and the failed military campaigns that followed, it will have to make a choice: between accepting its indefinite marginalization and clashing with the political institution. If the latter takes place, a civil war might become a real possibility.

Ramzy Baroud

Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on

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