Netanyahu’s Motives for Gaza War

As Israel’s war with Hamas continues, Israelis are increasingly angry at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s inability to free the remaining 136 hostages in the Gaza Strip.

Protesters have called for Netanyahu’s resignation, while hostage families stormed the Israeli parliament demanding a deal for their release. For the first three months, Jewish Israelis strongly supported the war and the government’s goal of defeating and dismantling Hamas.

However, this consensus is rapidly fraying. More Israelis, including the hostage families, argue that the war’s continuation puts the lives of the hostages in greater danger. There is also growing doubts about Israel’s ability to decisively defeat and destroy Hamas, as they continue to fire rockets into Israel. Netanyahu’s unpopularity in Israel and his responsibility for the failures that led to Hamas’ attack on October 7, 2023, have led to growing discontent.

Netanyahu’s only hope to restore domestic support is to continue the war and achieve the “total victory” over Hamas, which could lead to his Likud party losing the next election and he being out of office. To hold his coalition government together and avoid an election, Netanyahu must appease the far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties in his government.

For the ultra-Orthodox parties, this means ensuring their constituents receive government subsidies and welfare benefits, not requiring them to serve in the Israel military, and maintaining the religious status quo in Israel. For the far-right parties, it means supporting Israeli settlers in the West Bank and expanding settlements, and preventing anything that strengthens the Palestinian Authority.

To keep his far-right allies in the government, Netanyahu must block any post-war plan that gives the Palestinian Authority control over Gaza. The Biden administration opposes Israeli presence in Gaza, advocating for a revitalized Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu insists on Israel’s security control, but its specifics remain unclear.

Israeli Jews are primarily focused on the fate of hostages and Israeli military casualties, with the families of the hostages and their harrowing experiences in captivity keeping public attention. The deaths of Israeli soldiers in Gaza also receive significant attention, with 24 soldiers killed on January 23.

Most Israeli Jews have served in the military, and military deaths resonate powerfully in Israeli society. However, the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza is often overlooked due to little coverage in the Israeli media.

Families of hostages are speaking out against the Israeli government’s inability to free the hostages, creating pressure and empathy for their plight. Many people feel that the state fundamentally failed its citizens on October 7 due to its failure to prevent or stop the massacre and abductions.

It is now especially incumbent on the government to bring the hostages home, as even if Israel defeats Hamas but doesn’t free the hostages, it will leave an open wound in Israeli society and damage the relationship between the Israeli state and its citizens.

The hostages in Gaza are kept underground in tunnels that are hundreds of miles long, making it difficult to locate them. The only possible solution is to negotiate another deal with Hamas, but Netanyahu and his defense minister argue that more military pressure on Hamas will lead to a more acceptable deal.

However, other members of the war cabinet and increasing numbers of Israelis believe that Israel should make a deal to release the hostages, even if it means ending the war without defeating Hamas. The only feasible option is to strike another deal with Hamas.

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