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Did Netanyahu fail in Gaza?

By Tuvia Brodie
9/2/2014, 9:09 AM

It appears that public support for Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has evaporated.  On July 23, 2014, his approval rating was 82 per cent. On August 25, 2014, that rating had fallen to 38 per cent (“Massive drop in support for Netanyahu — poll”, Times of Israel, August 25, 2014). Two days later, it stood a 32 per cent (“Majority of Israelis Think Israel Didn't Win Gaza Operation”, Arutz Sheva, August 27, 2014).

Benjamin Netanyahu is a successful politician. In Israel’s rough-and-tumble political arena, he has become the second longest-ruling PM in Israel’s history. Only the legendary David Ben-Gurion served longer.

Netanyahu has been successful because he is smart. He is skilled. He knows how to appeal to Israel’s often-fickle voters. He knows what voters want. He knows how to keep Israelis feeling secure and confident (see “The summer Israel’s security bubble wrap burst”, Haaretz, August 29, 2014).

But now, under pressure from Hamas, the US and the UN, he appears to have made a mistake. He has provoked Israelis to lose their confidence. He appears to have completely ignored—or misread—the intensity of voter feelings about Israel—and this war.

By signing a cease-fire with Hamas that leaves Hamas free to attack Jewish Israel at will, Netanyahu looks like he isn’t defending the Jewish homeland. He looks like he isn’t defending Israel. He isn’t defending Jews.

Reader comments to the Times of Israel report (above) support such a conclusion. Israelis are angry: “the PM has been too passive in the face of Israel’s enemies… Netanyahu always has Israel on defense, aiming for a draw at best… Israel will steadily lose ground if it is never on offense against its enemies” (ibid).

In Israel, a super-majority of Israeli Jews maintain a strong attachment to a Jewish Israel (see “A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews, 2009", Asher Arian (z”l), The Guttman Center for Surveys of the Israel Democracy Institute for The AVI CHAI – Israel Foundation, Jerusalem, 2012). That sense of attachment is ignored at a politician’s peril.

That’s why this latest cease-fire agreement appears especially galling. Instead of fighting to defeat an enemy who hates Jews, Netanyahu stops fighting. He left Israel’s south unprotected (“Home Front Command orders southern bomb shelters kept open”, Jerusalem Post, August 27, 2014). 

Worse, this cease-fire looked like it helped Hamas--and did nothing for Israel. While Israel claims that Hamas got ‘nothing’ from this agreement, some report that Hamas will get a reduction of the Gaza blockade, an extension of the Gaza fishing zone (which had been limited for security reasons), and the opening of crossings for freer passage of people and funds.

But if we don’t know for certain what Hamas gets, we do know this: any benefits Israel is to get remain “to be specified” (ibid).

Netanyahu accepted this arrangement? What kind of deal was this? It seemed to give more to Hamas than to Israel’s Jews.

It’s no surprise that Netanyahu’s approval ratings plummeted. In war, voters want more than uncertainty, especially when dealing with a foe whose goals are so certain. In war, voters want to feel a sense of confidence. They want to feel that the benefits of war outweigh the costs.

Today, after 67 soldiers and 6 civilians have been killed, Israel’s south looks as exposed, unprotected and unsafe as it was on July 8, 2014, when the war with Gaza started. Hamas has not been defanged (“‘We will never disarm,’ vows Hamas chief”, Times of Israel, August 29, 2014).  

What kind of message does that send to our enemies?

We know what kind of message: just one day after the agreement, Muslims sent that message to Israel from Syria (“Mortar Shells Continue to Pound Golan Heights”, Arutz Sheva, August 27, 2014). Now, we are warned to stay away from the northern border region (“Public Requested to Steer Clear of Syrian Border”, Arutz Sheva, August 28, 2014). Now, Iran announces it has started to arm Arabs in Judea-Samaria (“Iran says it has begun arming West Bank”, Times of Israel, August 28, 2014). Now, Islam demands Jewish blood (“Spanish Cleric: 'Allah Destroy the Jews, Spare None of Them'”, Arutz Sheva, August 27, 2014).

The Muslim war against the Jewish Israel hasn’t stopped. It’s just started--again.

Israelis are fed up. At the moment, they don’t believe Netanyahu has handled this war well. He appears to have failed the Jewish people he is supposed to protect (“Polls: Israelis unhappy with truce, feel less secure than before Gaza operation”, Jerusalem Post, August 28, 2014).

He’s in trouble. Israel’s politicians see it (“MK Herzog: Netanyahu Lost the Public’s Trust”, Arutz Sheva, August 28, 2014). On August 28, 2014, he looked weak.

He’s earned that label—unless, of course, he’s got an ace or two up his sleeve. Do you think his ratings will rise again?

Only the G-d of Israel knows what will happen next.

Stay tuned.