Israel’s leadership crisis worsening

Helena Cobban
5 min readOct 24, 2023

In yesterday’s essay here on Globalities, I started to dig through the many layers of the continuing Gaza-Israel crisis and concluded that now and for the foreseeable future, “Just continuing to bomb Gaza from the air seems to be something that Israelis and the U.S. political leadership can all agree on … “ Once those airborne weapons fall silent, I noted, two things would happen:

  1. The day of intense political/military reckoning that PM Netanyahu has for so long feared will very speedily come due….
  2. The differences of interest between the leaders of Israel and the United States will become much more evident. (And this will not be helpful for Biden in his presidential bid next year.)

My analysis of Israel’s gathering governance crisis was based to a large extent on the excellent reporting that Amos Harel has been contributing to Haaretz over these past few days. (I should have credited him for that.) Today, he and other Haaretz writers have additional far-reaching pieces about the crisis. And in the New York Times, reporter Isabel Kershner writes about the sense of unease, and of distrust in their government, having grown so great among Israelis that PM Netanyahu, his defense minister Yoav Gallant, and the IDF chief of staff had to publicly issue,

an unusual wartime statement on Monday evening assuring a traumatized public that the three were “working in close and full cooperation, around the clock, to lead the state of Israel to a decisive victory,” and professing “total and mutual trust” among them.

I’ll dive a little deeper into some of this new reporting, especially Harel’s latest, a little later. Let me just note first, though, that in Israel the military censorship especially at a time of conflict is extremely strict. (I know that. I’ve reported from there.) Hence, the fact that this reporting gets published tells me that high-up people in the IDF censoring bodies are happy to allow these latest reports to be published.

So, the latest Amos Harel piece. Here’s his lede:

The growing wait for a ground maneuver in the Gaza Strip is shredding the nerves of the public, the military and the government.

As Israel heads into the 18th day of the war, the delay leaves a window of opportunity for a deal to free hostages, but comes with concerns of a further escalation with Hezbollah and Iran, as well as doubts about the nature of the ground maneuver required and the results it may be able to achieve.

Even though public support and legitimacy for a ground incursion that could lead to Israeli losses is still high after the horrendous terror attack perpetrated by Hamas, the crisis of trust between the government and the military and within the government itself is worsening.

The whole piece is definitely worth reading. He provides good background for some of what Kershner has in the NYT, including clear evidence that the military echelon is trying to blame the PM for the delay in launching the ground operation.

Harel, who I believe is a scion of a family very distinguished in Israel’s history, writes this:

This is not a war of choice; it is an existential war for our very survival in this land. Once the IDF was given the mission to eliminate Hamas’ military and organizational capabilities, there could be no other outcome than a massive ground incursion. The military has no doubt in its ability to achieve the mission placed upon it, but the public needs to know there will be losses.

And it is not, apparently, only the military who are angry with Netanyahu right now. In this Haaretz piece Ravit Hecht writes of growing anger with him in the high ranks of his own party, Likud. She writes:

“Every decision Netanyahu has made over the past two years has been bad, including the [judicial] reform,” says one Likud minister. “He either makes no decisions at all, or he makes bad ones.”

And she quotes one Likud minister (possibly the same one?) as saying:

“There is complete unanimity regarding the fact that after the war, Netanyahu is done. As we speak, Likud is preparing to place Netanyahu’s head on a platter to save the party. If he does not draw the necessary conclusions, others will draw them for him.”

So anyway, lots of evidence is now coming out about the deep crisis that’s gathering in the Israeli leadership.

This affects, of course, the rationality (or otherwise) of the decisonmaking they engage in during and in the days after this crisis. It also very deeply affects the standing of the United States in the global power balance. In my piece yesterday, I wrote a little about the dangers of the high degree to which Pres. Biden has become entangled in Israel’s warmaking. In today’s NYT, a group of reporters write that, “the Pentagon has sent a three-star Marine, Lt. Gen. James Glynn, along with other officers to help the Israelis with the challenges of fighting an urban war.”

This deployment of high-ranking U.S. officers to Israel runs parallel, of course, to the transfer of large quantities of U.S. military materiel to the country as it continues its no-holds-barred air assaults on Gaza. The despatch of Gen. Glynn (and presumably also of an accompanying team) is intended, Pentagon spokespeople say, to provide “advice” on how to conduct ground operations in densely populated areas, not to instruct the IDF on what to do. However, the much-vaunted “expertise” that the US military, and particularly the current Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, claim to have in this field is the experience they feel they gained from the (actually very deadly) operations they took to clear ISIS out of the Iraqi and Syrian cities of Mosul and Raqqa.

These NYT journos note that, “The Associated Press put the number of civilians killed during the effort to rid Mosul of Islamic State fighters at between 9,000 and 11,000.” And they quote experts saying that Hamas has had a lot more time to prepare its defenses in Gaza than ISIS had in Mosul.

What they fail to note is that most of the civilians caught in Mosul and Raqqa during the U.S. military’s intense operations to seize those cities from ISIS had places in the surrounding countryside to which they could flee. The 2.3 million Palestinians of Gaza do not.

Oh, and by the way, who else might want to flee if there is a massive conflagration of large-scale conflict in West Asia? Quite possibly many of the estimated 600,000 American-Israeli dual citizens currently living in Israel (and the West Bank settlements), or the 86,000 dual American-Lebanese citizens thought to be living in Lebanon. It feels rather ominously significant to me that today, the WaPo is reporting today that,

The Biden administration is preparing for the possibility that hundreds of thousands of American citizens will require evacuation from the Middle East if the bloodshed in Gaza cannot be contained, according to four officials familiar with the U.S. government’s contingency planning.

… Anyway, these new reports in the corporate media today seem to strengthen my earlier contentions that (a) Netanyahu feels he needs to keep the war going to delay his day of domestic judgment; (b) the Israeli military has no viable option either to seize all of the land of Gaza or in any way to “eliminate” Hamas; © the entanglement of the U.S. government is extremely deep, and therefore (d) this war will lead to growing political crises not only for PM Netanyahu but also (internationally and quite likely also domestically) for Pres. Biden.

Stay tuned.

Originally published at https://globalities.org on October 24, 2023.

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Helena Cobban

Veteran analyst of global affairs, w/ some focus on West Asia. Pres., Just World Educational. Writes at Globalities.org.