3 January 2024
Israel Held Hostage – and Biden Too
By Gwynne Dyer
Israel is withdrawing some troops from Gaza, because the reservists who were called up for the fighting amount to 10%-15% of the country’s workforce and the economy is showing the strain. But “nobody is talking about doves of peace flying,” said a senior Israeli official. The intense fighting in Gaza will continue “for six months at least.”
The people around Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu regularly describe the war in Gaza as ‘existential’, but that’s nonsense. The ‘existence’ of Israel is in no danger whatever. The only thing facing an existential risk is Netanyahu’s government, which would immediately collapse if the shooting stops.
The extreme right-wing and religious nationalist parties who made Netanyahu’s coalition possible are hoping that prolonged fighting will drive the Palestinians (22,000 dead so far) out of part or all of the Gaza strip and/or the West Bank.
As national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir put it, the war “presents an “opportunity to concentrate on encouraging the migration of the residents of Gaza.”
They want that land for more Jewish settlements, and if Netanyahu made peace they would instantly abandon him.
Even worse than that, from Netanyahu’s point of view, is the fact that a return to ‘normal’ would allow his trial on corruption charges to resume. That could ultimately send him to jail, and anything is better than that. Even endless war.
At this point you are probably saying to yourself: ‘But Netanyahu must know that the war has to end some time. What’s his strategy?’ Alas, he probably doesn’t even have a strategy. He just knows that if the war goes on long enough, something might turn up to save him. If it stops, he’s politically doomed.
Why else does he refuse to hold any discussions about what will happen after Hamas is eliminated? He won’t talk about how Gaza will be rebuilt, or who should pay for it. He won’t talk about who should run the place after the war, not even with his own cabinet or his military leaders, let alone with his loyal supporters in the United States.
Why else would Netanyahu now be preparing for a back-up war with Hezbollah in Lebanon? He and his ministers are constantly warning that such a war may be ‘necessary’ – “the situation on the Lebanese front will not be allowed to continue,” one said – even though it is obvious that Hezbollah does not want a war now.
Hezbollah is a formidable organisation that fought the Israeli army to a standstill in their last major confrontation in 2006. Deliberately going to war with it when Israel is already fighting Hamas in the Gaza Strip makes no sense in terms of the country’s interests – but in terms of Netanyahu’s personal interest, it makes perfectly good sense.
Some Israeli military leaders may also see a short and victorious campaign against Hezbollah (if such a thing can be arranged) as a chance to restore their reputations, shredded by their failure to prevent the slaughter of 1,200 Israeli civilians by Hamas on 7 October. But this is entirely Netanyahu’s show.
The Israeli prime minister is holding his entire country hostage in this war, and the five million Palestinians in the occupied territories as well. He is also bringing the US government, and particularly President Joe Biden, into the deepest disrepute. And yet Biden will not repudiate him. Why not?
He is not deceived by Netanyahu, whom he clearly sees as a fraud and a scoundrel. His loyalties lie elsewhere. “You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” Biden said recently. “I am a Zionist. Were there no Israel, there would not be a Jew in the world who is safe.”
What does that even mean? Israelis certainly don’t see it as their responsibility to protect Jews elsewhere. On the contrary, the Zionist dream has failed them, because Israel today is the only country in the world where Jews are seriously unsafe.
Biden’s self-identification as a Zionist is very much a relic of his own youth, when idealistic young Americans sat around campfires singing ‘Hava Nagila’. It was sweet, innocent, and very stupid.
They meant well, and they didn’t have a clue about the cost to others (Palestinians) of founding Israel – any more than they understood the cost to others (First Nations) of founding their own country. Joe Biden is now old enough to know better. Israel is not special, just another country with a complicated past, and most young Americans of today know that.
Biden rightly despises Netanyahu as a person, and yet he refuses to call time on him because he is still romantically entangled with Israel. That could cost him next November’s presidential election and give us all four more years of President Donald Trump. Somebody should have a word with him.
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 10. (“Hezbollah…show”)