Benjamin Netanyahu’s motivation in killing a Palestinian commander in Gaza was partly political, a former Israeli negotiator said today: Netanyahu aims to show that his chief rival to be prime minister, Benny Gantz, cannot be counted on to provide security to the country. In the wake of the attack, a “convoy” of Netanyahu’s political allies in the Likud party have issued statements that Gantz is not trustworthy because he will depend on the Joint List of Palestinian parties in order to become prime minister, the negotiator said.
Moty Cristal, a former peace negotiator and lt. colonel in the Israeli army, spoke on i24 News today and said that the timing of the attack was not “purely taking advantage of the window of opportunity” to kill Baha Abu al-Ata, the leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza. In fact, Cristal said, Avigdor Lieberman has said that when he was Defense Minister (2016-2018), Netanyahu rejected his recommendation that Israel kill Abu al-Ata. Islamic Jihad reportedly attacked Israel in September — when Netanyahu was forced off a stage in Ashkelon out of concern that he was within range.
Cristal said there was likely a “strong combination” of political motives in Netanyahu’s decision to attack, in the form of Gantz’s “ticking clock.” Gantz has eight days to form a new government in a charge from the Israeli president. One of his only ways to do so is to form a tenuous “minority” governing coalition with the 44 members of his party and other center-left Jewish parties and the outside support of the 13 members of the Israeli parliament from the Joint List of largely-Arab parties.
Israeli rightwingers have repeatedly smeared the Joint List in recent months as a fifth column on which the center-left is dependent. Netanyahu also went in for fearful race-baiting against Arabs in the recent campaign. saying they want to “annihilate” Jewish Israelis. Gantz and center-right kingmaker Lieberman have promised that they would never include the Joint List in a coalition government.
The accusations against Gantz and the Joint List have been repeated by Netanyahu Likud Party loyalists in the last day, Cristal said. These politicians are part of Netanyahu’s personal firewall: a potential governing coalition that will guarantee him immunity from prosecution on corruption charges that are expected to be filed against him in coming weeks.
The assassination in Gaza led to scores of rockets from Islamic Jihad and then Israeli attacks killing seven inside Gaza; and the hostilities have thrown Israel into considerable fear. Schools and businesses in Israel were shut down today; and i24 News anchors reflected worry over what will happen tomorrow.
The crisis has also highlighted tensions with Iran that may serve Netanyahu politically. Iran is in the headlines as the supporter of Palestinian resistance forces including Islamic Jihad. Yossi Alpher at Peace Now says that Netanyahu may see political advantage in leveraging tensions with Iran to show that he is Israel’s necessary leader, or to get Donald Trump to support him more visibly. Michael Oren’s article in the Atlantic warning of a war with Iran must be seen as a communique from Oren’s former boss, Netanyahu, Alpher says– possibly “to generate a Trump campaign to influence Israeli public opinion in Netanyahu’s favor, either during the final month of coalition maneuvering or during a third round of elections early in 2020.”
There is also a chance, Alpher says, that hostilities with Iranian proxies would “hasten formation of an emergency national-unity government,” uniting Gantz and Netanyahu, in which Gantz would have to drop his insistence that he would not serve with a prime minister under investigation.
H/t James North.