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  • Mark Lavie

Netanyahu must go—but will he?

As Israel’s war against Hamas intensifies, two things are becoming clear:

· Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must go.

· He won’t go quietly.

Israelis have slipped back into using two terms not heard since Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel, 50 years and one day before Hamas did the same: “fiasco” and “concept.”

The first refers to the inconceivable negligence of leaving the Gaza-Israel border virtually unguarded. The second describes the policy of shoveling millions of Qatari dollars to Hamas, on the assumption that the extremist, violent rulers of Gaza would behave themselves.

The similarities between the 1973 surprise attack—a failed defense line and faulty strategic assumptions—and the disaster of a month ago are clear. In 1973, the prime minister at the time, Golda Meir, resigned immediately and was replaced on the spot.

Except she didn’t. She actually won a post-war election, and she resigned only under mass public pressure led by demonstrations of reserve soldiers who had helped turn the disastrous beginning of the war into a military victory of sorts.

This is the place to emphasize that Netanyahu is not responsible for the massacre, rape, beheading, burning and abduction of more than 1,600 Israelis on October 6. Hamas is to blame. Israel’s role is limited to its failure to stop the bloodthirsty terrorists from carrying out the rampage.

Netanyahu has been Israel’s prime minister for most of the last two decades. He made the key decisions that led to the fiasco of October 2023. He promoted the policy of buying off Hamas in exchange for (false) assurances that Hamas would stay relatively quiet, except for a few rocket salvos here and there.

He oversaw the building of a high-tech border barrier (easily defeated by Hamas invaders) and transfer of most of the troops on the Gaza front to the West Bank, where they battle Palestinian terrorists and protect settlers and their dozens of unauthorized outposts.

All of this happened on his watch. So whether he admits of not, he is ultimately responsible.

But he doesn’t accept that.

Netanyahu has been Israel’s most divisive leader. Over the past year, with his new, extremist government, he has widened the social chasms and inflamed the public arena to an unprecedented extent.

Netanyahu’s government, with three dozen Cabinet ministers, has been tragically ineffective in this time of emergency. Volunteer organizations have sprung up to fill the gap of government incompetence in helping the survivors of the massacre, supporting the families of the hostages held by Hamas, even feeding the soldiers.

Cabinet ministers who try to visit those affected by the tragedy are booed and expelled.

There’s an easy explanation for the incompetance. The Cabinet ministers were chosen solely for their political affiliation, not for their skill or knowledge in handling the affairs of their ministries. Quite the opposite. Some fired the experienced civil servants in their ministries and replaced them with political hacks. No wonder they can’t do anything.

But to be fair, they are doing some things. Hardline ministers are supporting violent elements among the Israeli settlers in the West Bank who attack Palestinians, under cover of the Gaza war, almost as if they want to ignite another war front. Others are looking for ways to funnel more millions to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sector, though every shekel is needed for the war effort.

Meanwhile, one of the more obscure ministers even nodded in the direction of dropping an atomic bomb on Gaza. For starters, Israel has never admitted having nuclear weapons, and that’s only for starters.

So is Netanyahu, who heads up this group travesty, packing his bags? Not at all.

To the contrary, he’s doubling down, adopting the time-honored tactics of making hints and then denying he said anything specific, calling reporters who quote him liars, and releasing statements only to later retract them.

His first target was his own military. He charged, not without justification, that Israel’s vaunted military intelligence dropped the ball when it failed to pick up on the signs that Hamas was planning a large-scale cross-border attack. He claimed he knew nothing about it in advance.

That last claim might or might not be true, but his attempt to deflect all blame from himself to the military backfired so quickly and broadly that he retracted his statement and apologized.

Then he briefed reporters to tell them that there must be an examination of the connection between the Hamas massacre and six months of mass protests against his government because of its radical plans to gut the judiciary. He singled out air force pilots who threatened to stop volunteering for training if his extreme measures were not halted.

That was a step too far for many Israelis. It was noted that as he defamed them, those very pilots were flying missions in enemy territory. So he "clarified" that statement, too.

But the message to his base is clear. That base is made up of fanatical supporters who believe Netanyahu is a supernatural savior figure who can do no wrong. He’s signaling to them that it’s not his fault. It’s the fault of the “leftists,” a general term for anyone who opposes him, and the military. He’s not going anywhere.

There’s a debate about whether Netanyahu should be replaced in the middle of a war. Critics warn that would broadcast weakness to Israel’s enemies. Those in favor say his divisiveness, ineffectiveness, and strategic errors are reason enough to replace now.

That’s the wrong question. The only one that matters is whether, after this colossal failure, the leader known until now as “Mr. Security” will find a way to stay in office by maintaining and deepening the divisions that have kept him there so long.

As a reporter who has been covering Netanyahu for more than three decades, I can say that no one has ever made a living by underestimating his political skills or ruthlessness in achieving his goals.

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Correspondent MARK LAVIE has been covering Israel and the Mideast since 1972. His second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” recaps his career and comes to a surprising conclusion.

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