Netanyahu Must Go

It’s no secret to readers of this column where I stand on Israel’s war in Gaza.

Israel must destroy Hamas as a military and political force in the territory while minimizing harm to civilians. It must do what it can to rescue its hostages without jeopardizing the overriding goal of destroying Hamas. It must, by diplomacy or force, push Hezbollah back from Lebanon’s southern border, so that 60,000 Israelis can return safely to their homes in the north. It must take the battle directly, as it did last week in Damascus, to Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s patrons, whether in Syria, Qatar or Iran.

And for all of that to happen effectively, Benjamin Netanyahu must go.

I’ve written versions of this column before, but Netanyahu’s disastrous engagement with Hamas before it carried out the Oct. 7 massacre and his conduct of the war since have made it vital. The need was again made painfully obvious last Thursday, when Nir Barkat, a center-right Israeli minister and former Jerusalem mayor, got destroyed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Barkat is a decent and courageous man who could be a credible future prime minister. But he crumbled when the program’s host Joe Scarborough challenged him to explain Netanyahu’s policies before Oct. 7.

Why — to paraphrase Scarborough and his co-hosts — was Netanyahu asking Qatar to fund Hamas to the tune of hundreds of millions just weeks before the massacre? Why was the bulk of the Israeli military nowhere near Gaza in the first hours of the attack? Why does the Israeli government have such fumbling answers when it comes to legitimate humanitarian needs in Gaza?

Barkat offered, feebly, that the policy had been mistaken and that everything would be investigated after the war. When an Israeli minister is forced to humiliate himself on American TV because he can muster neither the sophistry nor the servility that a smoother answer would require, it’s a sign he’s in the wrong government.

Where does Israel find itself after six months of war? Not in a good place. Netanyahu and his generals keep insisting, Westmoreland-like, that victory in Gaza is around the corner while providing tallies of Hamas fighters killed.

But Hamas isn’t defeated and Israeli soldiers have been forced to recapture the same places — like Gaza City’s Al Shifa hospital — that were supposed to have been cleared of terrorists months ago. Only a handful of hostages have been rescued and many of those who remain are presumed dead. The perception of Israeli invincibility and competence has been shattered. As my colleague David French has noted, the approach that Israel has employed in Gaza in recent months — destroying the enemy but ignoring civilian needs for security and basic necessities — replicates the strategy that led to disaster in the early years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

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