Israel-Gaza War Enters a New Phase: Saving Private Netanyahu

Alon Pinkas / Haaretz
Israel-Gaza War Enters a New Phase: Saving Private Netanyahu Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: Brookings)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, predictably, going to great lengths to avoid being held accountable for the worst debacle in Israel’s history, even introducing a completely new narrative about October 7 and its aftermath

Ever since 6:29 A.M. on October 7, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been doing nothing but plotting how to save himself, shedding any form of responsibility, deflecting accountability, and blaming the military and intelligence services for what was the worst and deadliest day in Israel’s history.

That was expected and very much on brand. What was less predictable was how quickly he would resort to gaslighting an entire nation, offering a completely “parallel universe” narrative of what transpired on and after October 7. These antics have all the hallmarks of vintage Netanyahu: mendacity, prevarication, speciousness and hubris.

He has upped the bravado: “We will continue.” “I will change the Middle East.” “We will eradicate Hamas.” “There won’t be a Hamas after Hamas.” “I will never allow a Palestinian state.” “We will get all the hostages back.” “We will ensure Gaza never poses a threat again.”

Gone are his arrogant statements on how strong and resolute he always was against terrorism, how he single-handedly deterred Hamas, how the Palestinians no longer matter. If he forgot those words, so should the ungrateful Israeli public.

In terms of political evolution, we’ve now entered a new phase of the war: Operation Saving Private Netanyahu.

The current version of Mr. Netanyahu may be the sum of all his weaknesses, but one thing he is still capable of is trying and saying whatever it takes to save himself from what seems an inevitable fate: being held accountable for the worst debacle in Israel’s history.

He is doing it using two instruments. First, politically, by managing his far-right governing coalition and paying the ultra-Orthodox community billions of dollars, some of which will come from the U.S. “emergency aid” of $14.3 billion. Second, by introducing a completely new narrative about October 7 and its aftermath: it sort of never really happened. The only real thing is a “second War of Independence,” which he has been placed by history to navigate and win. Anything else is just his petty political detractors trying to undermine him during a war and denying him deserved glory.

The political calculus underlying the fabricated narrative is simple: Netanyahu must survive or the country cannot survive; survival is possible only if the war is prolonged, since it is a formative national struggle; you achieve that by stalling and through instilling doubts and second thoughts.

That’s gaslighting on a national level.

The narrative flows along these lines: Ignore October 7 and the devastation; that’s in the past. Instead, concentrate on a heroic, no-choice war. Whatever happened on October 7 was the result of an intelligence fiasco and Israel Defense Forces negligence. They never gave the trustful Netanyahu any early warning while he was hard working on his “judicial reform” and peace with Saudi Arabia. The military let him down. In fact, the IDF and the Shin Bet security service set him up to fail for political reasons: to undermine his courageous constitutional reform.

Look to the future and revert to an imaginary, frightening Palestinian state “that only I can prevent the establishment of.” Go back to a toxic, prevaricated division of right and left – or, more precisely, “the left against us.” Take credit for U.S. support and aid because “only I can manage relations with Joe Biden,” but actively seek disagreement to show how tenacious and tough you are on national security. The 1,200 murdered victims? A tragic result of the IDF’s negligence and the price of being in a permanent state of war – one “I am leading” not only on behalf of Jewish history but also Western civilization, so some gratitude is due.

Back to answering questions

This false narrative can be debunked easily, point by point. It has been done profusely, but Netanyahu’s populist-demagogic approach requires that the more others try to unravel this twisted story, the more credibility and equal footing it gets in the public discourse.

Relitigating the Palestinian state issue especially stands out. His collection of casual one-liners – “I will not allow” or “There will never be” a Palestinian state – creates the bogus impression that the issue is actually on the table. He could just have easily, and yet might, declare that only he can stop an alien invasion.

Yes, the United States keeps on reiterating that the two-state solution is the desirable end result of future negotiations, but Netanyahu is cynically talking about it as if it is an ominous development just around the corner. In fact, the same Netanyahu signed a document supporting an eventual Palestinian state. It’s called the Abraham Accords, and he signed it with his soulmate Donald Trump standing alongside him.

His bogus narrative also precludes any talk about Israeli policy regarding Gaza on “the day after,” Who will control Gaza? Will Israel stay in Gaza? How does this relate to the West Bank? He is evading any dialogue with the Americans, but that is calculated. In his mind, any talk about a political framework for Gaza undermines the idea that this is a formative war that he is leading.

Once the war stops short of a decisive, Hamas-obliterating victory, he is back to answering questions and being held accountable by the Israeli public – especially if the IDF chief of staff, head of Military Intelligence and director of the Shin Bet all resign. To avoid that, you need to perpetuate the made-up narrative, even confront the United States. He is doing exactly that.

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