Analysis

Hamas Rocket Rains on Netanyahu’s Victory Parade With Trump

The electoral asset of the prime minister’s sterling ties to a president reborn after the Mueller report are outweighed by perceptions that he is soft on the Gaza group

The wreckage of a home struck by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip, Moshav Mishmeret, Israel, March 25, 2019
Meged Gozani

Benjamin Netanyahu has a truly cosmic sense of timing, but Hamas has outfoxed him. Netanyahu’s visit to Washington was planned weeks in advance. His meeting with Donald Trump, with Golan Heights goodies attached, was meant to serve as the centerpiece of his election campaign. By karmic intervention and as yet another sign of the synchronicity between the two leaders, Netanyahu’s timing brought him to participate in the first day of what is expected to be Trump’s never-ending celebration of his exoneration by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

To really understand Israel and the Palestinians - subscribe to Haaretz

Haaretz Weekly Episode 20Haaretz

Netanyahu was eagerly expecting to bask in the glow of Trump’s triumph. Not only would he showcase his extraordinarily close ties to the U.S. president, he could expect wavering voters to draw the proper analogy between Netanyahu’s legal affairs and Trump’s onslaught against the “witch hunt” he claims is after him.

The rocket that destroyed a home in the central Israel community of Mishmeret, however, upended Netanyahu’s calculations. Trump, he realized, was no longer in his voters’ spotlight.

Security flare-ups, especially those stemming from terrorist groups such as Hamas, are normally expected to benefit the right. The attacks stir nationalist sentiments, allow right-wing leaders such as Netanyahu to run wild with belligerent rhetoric, and cast their center-left opponents as weakling appeasers.

Netanyahu, however, has been in power too long and has accumulated too many unfulfilled promises of crushing Hamas.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump with Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019
\ Leah Millis/ REUTERS

His vulnerability is compounded by the fact that his rivals are no ordinary leftists: He is being challenged by no less than three former army chiefs of staff with proven battle records, and is rightly concerned that wavering voters could surmise they might do a better job of vanquishing the terrorists in Gaza. And he remembers that a random stabbing of an Israeli woman in Bat Yam days before the 1992 elections paved the way to Likud defeat and Yitzhak Rabin’s ascent to power.

Netanyahu, who is in panic mode in any case because of the “submarine for kickbacks” scandal that threatens to drown him, decided to cut short his visit, cancel his speech to AIPAC and return to Israel forthwith.

His aides intimated that the prime minister must personally command the terrible retribution awaiting Hamas, but critics, including Channel 12’s military analyst Roni Daniel, maintained that the move only highlighted Netanyahu’s hysteria. Chalk up a strategic victory for Hamas, Daniel wrote.

As for Israel’s reaction, Netanyahu finds himself stuck between a rock, a hard place and a scenario that ends badly for him, no matter what he decides.

A significant military offensive, of the kind he has refrained from ordering until now, would be seen as a cynical election ploy that could blow up in his face at the first Israeli casualty. A limited response would be seen as more of the same ineffective strategy Netanyahu has employed until now. And another successful Egyptian effort to reach a cease-fire padded with concessions to Hamas would finish off Netanyahu on the spot.

Netanyahu will still have a press opportunity with Trump, in which he can signal, if he chooses, his emphatic endorsement of Trump’s declaration of victory. He will still walk away with a presidential deed to the Golan. He will still be able to corroborate his claim that his ties with Trump are the closest ever between Israeli and American leaders. And he will still be able to enjoy the fruits of Trump’s renewed strength and reinvigorated presidency in the future.

But for that to happen, he first needs to be reelected, and Hamas, it seems, is doing its best to ensure that doesn’t happen.