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Can Netanyahu still be a hero?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses media during a joint press conference with French President in Jerusalem on October 24, 2023. Macron's visit comes more than two weeks after Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip and killed at least 1,400 people, injured thousands and took 222 people hostage.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses media during a joint press conference with French President in Jerusalem on October 24, 2023. Macron's visit comes more than two weeks after Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip and killed at least 1,400 people, injured thousands and took 222 people hostage. | CHRISTOPHE ENA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

In the fog of war, if we are honest, we often find it difficult to determine who is a hero and who is a war criminal. There is no better situation to illustrate this than the present Hamas-Israeli conflict.

One can argue that the Israeli bombardment of Gaza has been quite “over the top” to quote President Biden. No one really knows the exact casualty figures as the information coming out of the conflict area is mostly from Hamas operatives, a questionable source indeed. 

However, one thing that cannot be denied is that most of the flak taken for the alleged 30,000 plus dead, and many wounded, has been Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is viewed by many in the international community as an out-of-control despot ethnically cleansing the Gaza strip, not so much to protect his country, but to grab more land for the notion of “Greater Israel.”

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Considering the situation and the man himself, is this an accurate portrayal?

One would think that this would be an easy question to answer since the International Criminal Court has actually issued an arrest warrant for him. 

Case closed?

Not so fast. There are a number of issues one must understand in order to arrive at the best conclusion, apart from partisan manipulations.

The first is the man himself.  This is not a wild-eyed tyrant acting on his own behalf, although many who oppose him, even in the Knesset, think so. Rather, this is, whether you like his conclusions or not, a thinking man looking to the future. Ironically, as dark as the situation in Gaza is presently, even the Palestinians might eventually benefit by having the noose of Hamas removed from their necks. Indeed, one might argue that they voted Hamas in as their own government and thus deserve the consequences, but collective minds can be changed.

Netanyahu lived in the USA for part of his life (his family briefly lived in Pennsylvania where he attended High School — he also attended MIT), and he knows full well the western values that would be expected as a leader. He was later drafted into the Israeli military.

This is not a man who is not unaccustomed with war and death; his own brother was killed in the raid on Entebbe, Uganda in 1976. 

Yet, his past actions show that he is not, as many think, a steel willed man not willing to give an inch. During his first tenure as Prime Minister in 1997, he agreed to a partial Israeli withdraw from Hebron. In 1998, he held extensive peace talks with Yasser Arafat that led to an exchange of land in return for diminishing terrorist acts.

So, the canard that the Middle East is dealing with an out-of-control Caesar bent on erasing an ethnic population simply does not play out. Keep in mind both he and the Israeli government is reacting to a major terrorist action on their own soil — over 1,200 Israelis killed and hundreds taken hostage. Was this a time to quietly negotiate? No one, except on the wildest fringe of pacifism, would say so; it was a time for decisive military action.

Which brings us to the tactics itself.

Consider: What action do you take when your enemy is embedded in the general population, and is hiding in schools, hospitals, bedrooms, in extensive tunnels, and uses women and children as shields?

Obviously, in such a situation, your military plans and strategies are limited.

To displace the enemy, you would have to strike where they are. The IDF, facing a foe that was nearly invisible because of where their lair was, had no choice but to strike in heavily populated areas. No sane human being delights in such methods or the innocent victims of such, but, as we mentioned, choices were limited.

We would be amiss if we did not mention that there are many Israelis that, in fact, oppose Netanyahu. Of course, there are general political oppositions to his office simply because of a differing political bent. But we are talking about Israeli citizens demanding more action to release the hostages. Their feeling is that the Israeli government in general, and Netanyahu in particular, are not negotiating with enough urgency — that they are more focused on heavy military engagement than getting their citizens back.

Moreover, a lot of the underlying fear is that there will be a “land for hostages” deal, in which case, there is the fear that Netanyahu et al, are “letting the country go.”

One would have to be sympathetic to both the families of the hostages, and any Israeli family that lost a loved one to protect the land that may be given away to a terrorist entity.

Yet, no one really knows how all this will play out and who will blink first.

Moreover, no one really knows how Netanyahu is negotiating, or what he feels is the best way to get those hostages back.  We would have to assume that there are back-channel talks being held, and while we know that there is a pensive feeling throughout the Israeli population, cooler heads must prevail in order for the country to demonstrate a united front and not a country coming apart at the seams.

Considering the complexities of the current crisis, it remains to be seen how ultimately Netanyahu will be seen by Israel and the world once the dust has settled and the peace, temporarily or permanently, arrives. It could be that Israel will be fighting an insurgent war for many years to come. Greater challenges may be ahead.

They say that history is written by the victors, and if that is so, only a consensus of Israelis will be the final judge of Netanyahu. But, as they say, the jury is out until this segment of Middle East history plays its final note.

That, as many concede, may be quite a while.

Joseph M Bianchi is an independent journalist whose work has appeared in national and international publications. He is also the author of Common Faith, Common Culture and the novel, Unnecessary Noises.

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