19 February 2024

In the Fog of War: Israel, Early 2024

Cyrus Schaeygh, Professor of International History and Politics, assesses the situation in Israel as the 7 October attacks and the war on Gaza cause uncertainty and division amongst the Israeli population on matters of military funding, politics and perception.

Hamas’ massacre and Israel’s war on Gaza are jolting Israel. Uncertainty reigns; Jews see reality unlike much of the rest of the world; and the country may face considerable long-term problems.

Take military expenses. The war has already increased the budget by US$23 billion. Politically vulnerable at home, the government has borrowed much of this sum abroad. This carries economic risks, doubly as growth and tax prognoses are not good. Moreover, the military wants a permanent budgetary increase and longer mandatory service and reserve duty, partly to better protect towns close to Israel’s borders. This will have economic consequences, too, and socio-political ones to boot, for the ultra-Orthodox are to remain exempt from service. Thus, although Israelis feel acutely insecure, 53% said no to the military’s plans in a February poll.

Politics are complex, too. In late October, a Tel Aviv University (TAU) poll showed a clear Jewish-Israeli majority opposes all key Israeli-Palestinian scenarios, i.e. two states, a binational state, annexation, and status quo: a helpless “no future” view. Moreover, in polls, Benny Gantz’s centre-right National Unity party has tripled its seats to 36 although it is in principle open to two “entities” and although the massacre and war are strengthening a long-term shift further to the right. In fact, the fascist Otzmah Yehudit party is up in polls, too, from 6 to circa 9 seats; the most audible discourse on Gaza has at its worst been genocidal (mot clé: “nukes”); and support for peace negotiations and a two-state solution decreased to c. 25% and 28%, respectively, in the TAU poll. (Palestinian support is minimal as well.)

Last, there is the issue of perceptions. Jewish Israeli trust in the military’s wartime conduct is high, as is support for eradicating Hamas; only a minority believes securing the hostages’ release should be Israel’s primary objective. Hamas’ unjustifiable, horrific war crime of a massacre is accentuating a sense of victimhood vis-à-vis both Arabs and the world. Even fewer people than before 7 October “see” Palestinian suffering, whether figuratively or literally on TV and in social media. Few believe the half-century-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his governing Likud Party’s no-negotiation attitude to Palestinians are a relevant background to the massacre. Instead, many draw a direct line to pogroms if not to the Holocaust. But it is the war on Gaza that is genocidal—and Israel is finding itself in court for how officials’ rhetoric matches domicide, mind-boggling casualty figures, and the long-term health catastrophe caused by a deliberately induced severe water, food, electricity, and medication shortage. Consequently, views of Israel abroad are becoming ever more scathing, now also amongst some potentially important segments of US voters. Additionally, disconnect from Israel is growing in some quarters of the Jewish diaspora, as well.

In the fog of war, uncertainty reigns in Israel, and belligerent certainties come at an unbearable price.


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