Israel-Hamas War Update: The Divide Between IDF and Netanyahu Widens

The growing divide between Israel’s military commanders and the civilian government over the war in Gaza was on full display this week, raising questions about how Israel will proceed with the next phase. of war.

The rift has been quietly growing for months, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies at times appearing to blame Israel’s security services for failing to prevent a surprise attack led by Hamas. beginning on October 7. More recently, the military has appeared frustrated. by the Netanyahu government’s struggle to maintain military exemption for ultra-Orthodox Jews, at a time when Israel’s forces are stretched thin.

But the biggest and most public breakthrough came on Wednesday, with unusually blunt comments from the armed forces spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, reflecting the concerns of military leaders. that the government’s failure to articulate a vision for a post-war Gaza could squander the gains that have been made. against Hamas. “If we don’t bring something else to Gaza, we will end up with Hamas,” he said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 13.

“Who is that person, what is that thing?” he asks. “The political leadership will decide. But to get to a situation where we actually weaken Hamas, that’s the path.”

Admiral Hagari also appeared to criticize Mr. Netanyahu’s frequently repeated calls for “absolute victory” against the Palestinian armed group. “The idea that it is possible to destroy Hamas, to make Hamas disappear – that is throwing sand in the public eye,” he said.

That prompted Netanyahu’s office to quickly respond, saying that the Israeli cabinet had made “the destruction of Hamas’s military and administrative capabilities” one of the goals of the war and that the Israeli military “will absolutely However, we are committed to this.”

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, spokesman for the Israeli military (center), stands on a rooftop in Gaza while escorting a group of journalists in January.Credit…Avishag Shaar-Yashuv for The New York Times

Netanyahu, no stranger to political conflict, is embroiled in multiple fronts, openly feuding with members of his own party, with the leaders of other parties in his ruling coalition and with Biden administration. But the public rift with military leaders is especially striking amid wartime pressure for unification.

“There is a huge lack of trust. “The army no longer trusts the political leadership, some of them no longer trust the army,” said Gadi Shamni, a retired Israeli general. “The military sees a lack of overall strategy, a growing rift with the United States and agitation against its commanders.”

Far-right members of Netanyahu’s cabinet insist that the all-out war against Hamas continues and that the prime minister has given no public indication that he is ready to back down. When the army this week instituted a pause in daylight fighting along a key road corridor to allow more aid to be distributed in southern Gaza, Mr. Netanyahu initially indicated that the change had been made. existing without his knowledge – even though he made no move to cancel it, either.

The Israeli military said on Wednesday it was easing some wartime restrictions on Israeli communities near Gaza and had come close to defeating Hamas forces in Rafah, both suggesting that commanders Israel found the war had abated somewhat.

Since the October 7 attack, which Israel says killed about 1,200 people and took about 250 hostages, evidence has emerged that Israeli officials knew of Hamas’s plans for activities but do not take them seriously. Mr. Netanyahu also encouraged deals with Hamas that sought to “buy quiet” in Gaza through cash, Israeli work permits and infrastructure projects, a strategy that has failed to prevent block the attack of Hamas.

Herzi Halevi, the Israeli army chief of staff, said he accepted some responsibility for the defeat; Mr. Netanyahu has not yet done that explicitly. The prime minister and his allies said blame must wait until after the war, and at times blamed Israel’s security services.

And the Israeli military has supported the recruitment of more ultra-Orthodox soldiers, citing the need for more conscripts to boost the war effort. But under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, Netanyahu moved to ensure the community’s long-term exemption from military service remained unchanged.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men clash with police during a protest against joining the Israeli army in Bnei Brak, Israel, this month.Credit…Amir Levy/Getty Images

But analysts say the most important concern for the Israeli military is ensuring that hard-won tactical gains against Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, are not wasted. To do that, Admiral Hagari said, there must be an alternative to Hamas in Gaza.

For now, Netanyahu has sought to avoid making a decision on how to manage the region once the fighting stops. The United States and other allies say the Palestinian Authority, which oversees parts of the occupied West Bank, will ultimately be in charge of Gaza, while far-right coalition partners face political survival. Netanyahu’s reliance will support permanent Israeli rule in Gaza.

As a result, overwhelmed by competing pressures, Netanyahu mostly said no. He has excluded both the Palestinian Authority and new Israeli settlements in Gaza, and vowed to continue the offensive until Hamas is destroyed. He said little about who would be ultimately responsible for the region’s 2.2 million residents.

General Shamni said that Admiral Hagari’s comments seemed to be intended to pressure Mr. Netanyahu to maintain his stance. “You have to decide, tell us what you want,” General Shamni said. “You don’t want the Palestinian Authority, fine. Instead tell us what you want. A military administration? They don’t even talk that much.”

“The government as a whole has no position,” he added.

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said last month that Netanyahu’s inability to make a clear choice pushed Israel toward two unattractive outcomes: either an Israeli military regime in Gaza or the end of Hamas. will eventually return to power.

“We will pay the price in blood and many victims, for no reason, as well as a heavy economic price,” Mr. Gallant said in a televised speech.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza face increasing chaos. There are no police to enforce law and order, and public services such as trash collection are virtually non-existent. In southern Gaza, thousands of tons of humanitarian aid were stranded at sea The Gaza side of Israel’s main border crossing because aid groups say distributing goods is too dangerous.

Amir Avivi, a retired Israeli major general who chairs a hawkish forum of former security officials, said Israeli military leaders are increasingly worried that they could be asked to shoulder the burden. that burden. “That’s the last thing they want,” General Avivi said, although he personally favors permanent Israeli control there.

Gen. Avivi said some believe the war’s goals have been achieved as much as possible and wish to end the campaign in Gaza and shift the focus to rising tensions with Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group.

Smoke billows during an Israeli bombardment of the village of Khiam on Lebanon’s southern border on Wednesday.Credit…Rabih Daher/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Even before the war, Netanyahu’s government included ultra-Orthodox parties and religious nationalists who did not always see eye to eye with the country’s defense establishment. Thousands of Israelis reserve army announced last year that they would not volunteer for duty to protest Netanyahu’s plans to weaken the country’s judiciary.

Those gaps appear to have widened still further in recent months.

Faced with a deadline from the Israeli Supreme Court, Netanyahu’s coalition has introduced a bill that would establish permanent immunity for ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service. This practice has long caused resentment among most of the country’s remaining Jews, who had to shoulder the burden of military service.

Now, after hundreds of thousands of Israelis were called up to emergency reserve duty and hundreds died in battles in Gaza, the measure has sparked a new wave of anger. Earlier this month, General Halevi, the Israeli army chief of staff, jumped into the conflict, saying there was a “clear need” to recruit more ultra-Orthodox soldiers.

“Every such battalion that we form, an ultra-Orthodox battalion, reduces the need to deploy thousands of reservists thanks to conscripts,” General Halevi said in a statement. “And this is a clear need right now, so we strongly encourage that and we want to get it right.”

Johnatan Reiss, Myra Noveck And Rawan Sheikh Ahmad Report contributions.

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