OpinionIsrael at War

Netanyahu resists

The prime minister’s supreme value has always been the future of the Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, May 13, 2024. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, May 13, 2024. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.
Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies.

Almost immediately after the recent terrible incident in Rafah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before the Knesset. His gestures were decisive and his face gaunt, as it has been since Oct. 7.

His statement was pure Netanyahu. He called the incident a “tragic mistake” and pledged an investigation. Nonetheless, he gave an emphatic “no” to those who demanded that Israel stop its military operations in Rafah. Thus, he hit back at the unilateral recognition of a nonexistent Palestinian state by Ireland, Spain and Norway. He rebuffed the United Nations, the European Union and the various persecutory international “courts.” He gave a strong riposte to the likes of French President Emmanuel Macron and many others, along with the media amen chorus, who have all been rushing to blame Netanyahu for anything and everything.

Shortly after, of course, it became clear that the fire that killed several dozen civilians in Rafah was the fault of Hamas, which had stowed a cache of arms among the civilian population—as it often does.

Netanyahu declared before the Knesset, “Citizens of Israel, if you want weakness, despondency, surrender—listen to the [media] studios. But if you want power, spirit and victory—listen to the warriors. The goals of the war have not changed: To be victorious over Hamas, return all the hostages, ensure that Gaza won’t pose a threat to Israel and return the residents of the north safely to their homes. These remain our objectives. If we surrender, we won’t get all our hostages back. If we surrender, we will give a great victory to terrorism, a great victory to Iran, to its axis of evil and to all those seeking our destruction.”

This is a clear expression of Netanyahu’s essential goal: To ensure Israel’s safety while observing the laws of war. Indeed, even after the Rafah incident, the United States made it clear that the requested civilian evacuations had been carried out, along with the delivery of humanitarian aid. There is no justification for the pressure put on Israel, organized for political reasons by the United Nations and Europe. Let us not dismiss the likelihood that pure racism is also a factor in this pressure.

Netanyahu knows all this. He also knows that his goal is a personal one. He was prime minister when Israel suffered its greatest disaster since 1948. Now he fights to restore Israel’s security. This is a vital battle both for Israel and himself. Whether he will seek to remain prime minister after the battle is an open question.

No one who has read Netanyahu’s autobiography should be surprised by his strong stance. He states that his beliefs compel him to do everything possible to help Israel in its quest to secure not only itself but the future of the Jewish people. He learned from his childhood that this is the supreme value. His father Benzion Netanyahu was a friend of Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Benjamin has lived with the memory of his brother Yoni, who was killed in the stunning 1976 hostage rescue operation in Entebbe. 

Netanyahu and his brother Iddo have followed in Yoni’s footsteps, both serving in Israel’s special forces unit Sayeret Matkal. This legacy was never more apparent than in Benjamin’s confrontations with President Barack Obama over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It was expressed as well in his efforts to secure Israel’s economic future through technological innovation.

But today, he believes all this could be lost if Hamas is not destroyed. So, he resists. He wants more Arab nations to join the Abraham Accords. He earned the trust of many of them through his staunch stance against Obama’s pro-Iran appeasement. He knows that in the Middle East, weakness breeds war while strength creates alliances and peace. He will never accept an Israel that is, as Golda Meir said, a small country dependent on the opinion of others.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu is no fanatic. He is a secular, very Jewish pragmatist. He has already said that even if the religious parties in his coalition object, he does not intend to occupy Gaza in perpetuity or rebuild the settlements dismantled 20 years ago.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy famously told the Americans after the Russian invasion, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” Netanyahu needs ammunition, not affection. He’s used to criticism, even at home. The Israeli people are split 50-50 in their views of him. Some love him and some hate him. He is controversial and always has been. But at his core, he is a fighter for the only ideal that matters: That the Jewish people, like any other people, have the right to live in peace in their homeland.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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