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Crunch time for Netanyahu?

May 23, 2024   ·   0 Comments

By Gwynne Dyer

It has not been a good week for Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyhu, chief
decision-maker in the war in the Gaza Strip that has already cost at least 35,000 civilian deaths.
(Some thousands of those 35,000 may have been Hamas fighters, but thousands of other civilians
still lie undiscovered in the wreckage of their homes. The number stands.) 
The week began with the Israel Defence Force (IDF) launching its assault on Rafah, the last
undestroyed city in the Strip – but at the same time, Hamas fighters reappeared in Gaza City, the
first city the IDF destroyed. This feels like Whack-a-Mole. Is something wrong with the IDF’s
game plan?
Then on the weekend Netanyahu got two ultimatums from his allies. One came from Benny
Gantz, an old political opponent of Netanyahu but a member of his three-man ‘war cabinet.’
Gantz demanded that Bibi produce a credible plan by 8 June for ending the war, freeing the
hostages and creating a multinational civilian administration for Gaza. “If you choose the path of
fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss, we will be forced to quit the government,” Gantz
said.
By ‘the abyss’, Gantz was referring to Netanyahu’s apparent preference for permanent Israeli
military rule in Gaza, a prospect that also alarms the third member of the ‘war cabinet’, Defence
Minister Yoav Gallant. But the ultimatum that probably disturbed Bibi more came on Sunday
from US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
The United States does not issue formal ultimatums to its allies. Sullivan merely ‘urged’
Netanyahu to connect his war to a “political strategy” for who runs Gaza afterwards (something
Bibi has steadfastly refused to do). But reading between the lines, it was a message from
President Biden that he is running out of patience with Netanyahu.
Then it got worse for Bibi. On Monday Karim Khan, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal
Court (ICC), requested arrest warrants for six named individuals associated with the Gaza War
on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity: two Israelis and three leaders of Hamas.
Netanyahu led the Israeli list.
The Israeli prime minister is no stranger to criminal charges. Indeed, he was on trial on
corruption charges that could end with a jail sentence until the war paused that process (perhaps
one of the reasons he is in no hurry to end the war). But he was outraged at being mentioned in
the same breath as a bunch of ‘Palestinian terrorists.’
Naturally, all the suspects were ‘outraged.’ Yahya Sinwar, accused of being responsible for
murder, hostage-taking and rape, is not answering the phone, but a Hamas spokesman protested
that the Court’s decision “equates victim with executioner.” (Rule No. 1: Claim victim status.)
Israel’s extreme-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, called the ICC move “a display of
hypocrisy and Jew-hatred” that “we haven’t seen since Nazi propaganda.” (Rule No. 2: Claim
victim status.)  But the question remains: will any of this make the least bit of difference to the
outcome?
Certainly not the IDF’s little difficulties. The war is really over, in the sense that Hamas clearly
cannot be eradicated, but it will continue so long as it serves Netanyahu’s purposes (and
Hamas’s, too)   
Is Benny Gantz’s threat to leave the government real? Maybe, but his departure will not bring the
government down so long as Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist allies remain loyal.

Will Jake Sullivan’s warning about Joe Biden’s growing impatience work? Very unlikely,
because Netanyahu thinks he’s bluffing, and he’s probably right.
The pattern is clear, from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence to the nuclear plant in Dimona, the
establishment of West Bank settlements, and Israeli operations in Gaza today. The United States
pleads for moderation, Israel pretends to listen but does what it wants, and the US eventually
accepts it. 
The only thing that is likely to have a lasting effect, bizarrely, is the International Criminal
Court’s seemingly quixotic attempt to bring the leaders of both sides to justice.
It cannot actually put them in jail: 124 countries have ratified the ICC treaty, but most major
military powers, including Israel and the US, shun it. However, having an arrest warrant in your
name in 124 countries can be a major nuisance.
Karim Khan, the ICC’s Prosecutor, is not “one of the great antisemites in modern times,” as
Netanyahu predictably said. He is a British lawyer, born in Edinburgh, who became a King’s
Counsel in London before going on to be an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.
His first act in his current job was to revive an investigation into the brutal actions of the Taliban
and Islamic State. The second was an investigation into the Ukraine war that led to an ICC arrest
warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin. For him, Bibi is just another day.


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