For three decades, Netanyahu-Hamas tacit alliance has been one of the most politically successful and humanely disastrous enterprises of the Middle East.
One hundred and one days since October 7, it's time for me to revisit another part of my Room 101 - meeting one's worst fears - where I find my country's PM and the masterminds of the massacre providing “access of evil” to Israel/Palestine. In doing so, I recall how, on the onset of (the First) Lebanon War, an op-ed made the headlines with a plea: “Be Quiet Now, there’s shooting” (שקט, יורים) – a demand to shelve intra-Israeli wrangling and criticism while the fighting goes on. We’re at war, shame on those who blame.
It was wrong then – and disastrous now. Israelis should not be quiet; quite the contrary: they should raise their voice to both better fight Hamas and bring about better days once the war is over.
One should not be quiet about the military calamity. Hamas has been planning the attack for about two years, possibly since Operation Guardian of the Walls (May 2021). There were ample intelligence warnings, not least by the IDF spotters situated on the Gaza border, all women. Clouded by an overarching “conception” and (masculine?) arrogance, IDF commanders dismissed these fateful alerts. Moreover, the US House Foreign Affairs Chair confirmed Egypt’s claim that it warned Israel about an impending Hamas attack days before it happened, but was ignored (Egyptian Intelligence said that the warning was delivered directly to Netanyahu’s office).
Initial findings reveal that the Israeli heads of security discussed, on the night before the attack, the possibility of Hamas attacking, but ultimately preferred not to transfer IDF forces to the south. Most of the forces were deployed in the West Bank, many protecting the settlers’ celebration of Sukkot. Once Hamas invaded, the scant IDF forces fought bravely but were overwhelmed by Hamas’s superior numbers, firepower and plans.
Bibi has besieged, I believe, Israelis' minds, and hearts. This is my attempt to help end this mental siege by decoding what I find so hard to fathom.
Beyond the military debacle, Israelis reap what their premier, Benjamin Netanyahu (aka Bibi) has sown for over three long decades. I wrote on Bibi and Bibism before, and here I go again. It may seem like an obsession. It is, in more than one way, as the etymology of "obsession" - laying siege - reveals: Bibi has besieged, I believe, Israelis' minds and hearts. Bibi - and Bibism: a noxious ultranationalist cult of personality cultivated by few power-hungry at the expense of all others.
This is my counter-obsession, an attempt to help end this mental siege by decoding what I find so hard to fathom: the complete and constant lack of care, honesty, decency and responsibility by Bibi and his coalition and cronies. For me, it's visceral, and nauseating. Maybe because they are my own, maybe because they summon bad memories, maybe because their callous conduct threatens my core beliefs about the human potential to learn, to genuinely repent and reform. They haven’t, and I realize that many of them never will. Unfortunately, the trite but right advice for people in toxic relationships to go “no contact” won’t suffice with politicians who govern our lives. We must first oust them. The rage and outrage should ultimately foster the collective courage to bring them down, and never again let them rise.
Netanyahu facilitated the carnage with his fearful, hateful divide-and-rule strategy.
At the heart of Bibism lies Bibi's power-hungry strategy of divide-and-rule, employing his expertise in sowing fear, hate and resentment. Netanyahu has spearheaded and spread this strategy throughout his political career. To perpetuate his own power, he spared no one. The “divide” was directed at all: the West, the US, the Arab world, the Jewish world, Palestinians, Israelis, his own party, even his close circle of cronies.
Netanyahu labored to deepen divides within Israel’s chief ally, the US, pitting the congress against the presidency, one party against the other. Greater divisive efforts were directed to Israel’s neighbors, coaxing Arab leaders to further disengage the Palestinians. The latter were targeted even more. Netanyahu has pursued what he called “differentiation” (Bidul in Hebrew). The goal was to obliterate the Palestinians’ chances of gaining statehood by persuading Israelis that “there is no Palestinian partner for peace.” The means: severing the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and bolstering Hamas to undermine the more moderate Palestinian Authority (PA).
To be sure, Israel planted the seeds of the divisive strategy vis-à-vis the Palestinians far before. In the 1980s Israel allowed the emergence of Hamas to offset the PLO, when the latter seemed as the more militant and extreme organization. But while most Israeli leaders realized this mortal mistake during the First Intifada, and sought instead more moderate Palestinians to negotiate with, Netanyahu saw Hamas’s fanaticism as an asset to leverage (he saw the same in, and likewise boosted, Iran – a different albeit related “access of evil” Netanyahu forged with regional extremists).
The tacit alliance between Netanyahu and Hamas goes way back. Both began their politics in 1987/88. Two years later, we have the first mention of Netanyahu addressing Hamas in Hebrew media (Maariv, March 9, 1990). It seems that already then Netanyahu preferred Hamas to the PLO – in the name of “pluralism” – and already then belittled the American administration.
The Netanyahu-Hamas tacit alliance has been one of the most politically successful and humanely disastrous enterprises of the Middle East.
Palestinian “pluralism” did wonders to Netanyahu’s power. Hamas effectively made him a prime minister through its 1990s suicide attacks, which undermined the 1993 Oslo Accords, and mobilized both Israelis and Palestinians against each other, leading to the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin (November 1995) in a wake of an incitement campaign led by Netanyahu. In 1996, executing a most heinous series of attacks, Hamas greatly contributed to Netanyahu’s electoral victory over Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres. Ultimately, the Netanyahu-Hamas tacit alliance has been one of the most politically successful and humanely disastrous enterprises of the Middle East.
It only got worse. In his arrogant and faux rhetoric, Netanyahu repeatedly pledged to crush Hamas, but in practice aided it in release of leaders and activists, in funding, and in rejecting the PA’s appeals for negotiation. For example, when Netanyahu first became PM, in 1996, Mousa Abu Marzook, a political chief of Hamas, was held by the US that was willing to extradite him to Israel at the requests of PM Rabin and Peres. Netanyahu quickly upended his predecessors’ decision, leading to the release of Abu Marzook against security advice.
To be sure, there is no love lost between Netanyahu and Hamas; the tacit alliance has been a coalescence of interests and mindsets, signaling “red lines” to each other. When Hamas crossed Netanyahu’s lines, in its double 1997 suicide attacks in Jerusalem, Netanyahu ordered the Mossad to assassin Khaled Mashal in Jordan, a move the Mossad advised against, considering the fragile Israeli-Jordanian peace. Thus, even when targeting Hamas, Netanyahu did so at the expense of Israel’s moderate allies. And, in the wake of the botched assassination, Netanyahu ordered the release of Sheik Ahmad Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, back to Gaza.
Netanyahu was voted out of office in 1999, returning in 2009; and again in 2021, returning in 2022. Each return was preceded, as in 1994-96, by a massive inciteful campaign, and each time he returned with vengeance. During his 2008/9 campaign, Netanyahu denounced his predecessor PM Olmert for negotiating peace with the PA and for being soft on Hamas, pledging to swiftly dismantle the organization. Notably, however, it was the 2008 IDF operation Cast Lead, under Olmert, that came closest to expelling Hamas from Gaza.
With their expansionist agenda and rhetorical acrobatics, Netanyahu and his government found Hamas a perfect propaganda “asset.”
A decade later, Hamas still standing, and growing strong, Netanyahu revealed in a Likud party discussion (March 11, 2019) his doctrine: “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state must support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas. That’s part of our strategy…” Two months later, his confidant, General Gershon Hacohen said, “We should speak the truth: Netanyahu’s strategy is to prevent the two-state solution, so he made Hamas a closest partner. Overtly, Hamas is an enemy; covertly, an ally.”
Netanyahu’s strategy was largely shared by his allies among the settlers in the West Bank. Their expansionist agenda and actions have radicalized Palestinians for generations, and increasingly devoured military resources. The current government’s platform plainly manifests their intent, starting with a solemn pledge: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and indisputable right to all areas of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel - in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea and Samaria.”
This “Jewish supremacy” approach infected Israel per se (within the pre-1967 “green line”). Netanyahu struggled to square the circle, on the one hand arguing that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens… Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it,” on the other, calling Israel a “Jewish, democratic state,” where Arabs “have equal rights like all of us.”
With their expansionist agenda and rhetorical acrobatics, Netanyahu and his government found Hamas a perfect propaganda “asset,” as Bezalel Smotrich, currently Israel’s Minister of Finance, readily declared in 2015. With the genocidal Hamas intact, the belligerent settlers felt off the hook – it’s Hamas (alongside other Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, Jewish liberals, Israeli leftists, the media, the academia, the courts, the entire world), not them, that should be blamed.
There is a personal angle to Netanyahu-Hamas tacit alliance. Since 2017, Yahya Sinwar is the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a co-founder of its security apparatus, and the mastermind behind the October 7 massacre. During his early Hamas years, Sinwar was quickly renowned as “the butcher of Khan Yunis.” He took great joy and pride in sadistically killing at least a dozen Palestinians whom he accused of collaborating with Israel.
Israel imprisoned Sinwar for life – or rather, until Netanyahu ordered his release. Faced with the 2011 mounting “social justice” demonstrations, Netanyahu reckoned that to remain in power he needs to placate the Israeli public by releasing the captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit (a motivation explicitly disclosed by his cabinet secretary). The enormous price mattered little, and he approved what PM Olmert refused to: a massive release of over one thousand Palestinian prisoners, including Sinwar, who used his prison time to learn Israeli society – and Hebrew.
It worked. Netanyahu stayed in power, and Sinwar assumed power. Seven years later, the affair persisted. Amidst another round of bolstering Hamas, Sinwar wrote to Netanyahu, in his handwriting, in Arabic – and Hebrew: “Take a calculated risk” (see below). Netanyahu, never wary of risks at the expense of others, took another one (and found enough people, right and left, to follow suit).
With Qatar's insidious role, the Netanyahu-Hamas Affair became financial too, benefitting both.
The affair was also financial. Netanyahu encouraged Qatar to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to the Gaza Strip, knowing fully well that the money ultimately serves Hamas for funding its mushrooming militia, arsenal and sprawling underground network.
The dire security implications were well known to those in the know. Indeed, Netanyahu himself spoke on 19 April 2017 of Hamas’s preparation for “a surprise attack… a large-scale operation... Infiltrating the settlements, seize them and occupy them for the first time since '48… [using] special forces that they trained up to the size of a battalion in order to abduct, kill, both communities and outposts.” He was warned that the plan still stands, and mocked, as usual, his critics, boosting that he already took care of it, “setting Hamas back a decade.”
The financial facet may be worse still. Documents leaked in the Raven Project (see MEMRI), a cyber operation carried on behalf of the UAE, include what appear to be secret correspondence between the heads of the Qatari regime: “Three documents are from 2012, mentioning an alleged $15 million grant to Benjamin Netanyahu and an alleged $5 million grant to Avigdor Lieberman (for the Likud-Beiteinu bloc), in their upcoming election campaign. The other two letters are from 2018 regarding an alleged $50 million grant to Benjamin Netanyahu for the same purpose.” At the time, Netanyahu demanded the entry of Qatari-funded fuel trucks into the Gaza Strip (despite the incendiary balloon terror), explaining: “At this moment - this is the right step.”
From the Minister of Finance to the Emir's office: “I have the pleasure of referring to the high directives of His Excellency Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Aal Thani, Emir of the country, in his letter number DA-1091-2018, dated 10/29/2018, regarding the withdrawing of quick money support to his excellency, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel and the head of the Likud party, in the amount of US $50 million (fifty million US dollars) as participation in support of the upcoming election campaign for the Likud in the Knesset. This amount should be delivered in cash to the state security service under the section of emergency supports.
This affair awaits further investigation, but some aspects are already worth considering. The alleged distinction between Netanyahu and Lieberman, who run together in a united party, may indicate that the Qatari “grants” were personal transfers (for if the funding were institutional, it would have made more sense to transfer it to their joint party). The documents reiterate that the transfer is executed in cash, rather than digitally, both in 2012 and in 2018. It may be motivated by trying to make it harder to trace. According to the NYT investigation, the cash suitcases from Qatar were first transferred through Jordan to Israel, and from there, accompanied by an Israeli intelligence officer, delivered into the Gaza Strip. Was a similar procedure used to transfer cash suitcases to Netanyahu’s residence?
Also intriguing is the fact that Lieberman resigns from his position as Minister of Defense in November 2018, attacking Netanyahu’s appeasement towards Hamas: There was a significant escalation, and Netanyahu decided to halt the IDF attack against Hamas, and transfer the Qatari money to Gaza, arguing that Hamas “begged for a ceasefire.” Lieberman’s resignation, however, allegedly happened right after the last recorded round of money transfers, including an even larger amount (50 million), delivered exclusively to Netanyahu.
Finally, the report is based on documents disclosed in 2019, and we have no indication whether, how much, and to whom, additional funds were subsequently transferred. The affair raises more questions than answers. The documents may have been forged; a possible culprit and motivation: UAE wanting to tarnish Qatar. But, for now, connecting the known dots portrays a deeply disturbing picture.
While Qatar helped Hamas, and possibly Netanyahu, the latter helped Qatar too, sustaining its global legitimacy, also in the eyes of the west, and the US, instead of ostracizing this great financer of fundamentalist-fascist in, and beyond, the Middle East, not least in US academia. The US can, for example, threaten Qatar in removing the US Al-Udeid airbase (the largest military installation of the United States in the Middle East, and a basing hub for the U.S. Central Command, CENTCOM), without which the regime will become remarkably fragile. Qatar might then be more enthusiastic to do whatever it can to pressure Hamas into releasing all Israeli hostages. It would be a grave mistake to ask Qatar – rather than moderate Gulf countries and the international community – to help rebuild Gaza after the war. Netanyahu’s government, by praising Qatar, continues to bolster it.
Netanyahu employed his hateful fearmongering strategy of divide-and-rule against Israelis
Netanyahu has helped Hamas in another devastating way – weakening Israel by employing his hateful fearmongering strategy of divide-and-rule against Israelis themselves: Israeli vs. foreign workers and refugees, Jews vs. Arabs, religious vs. secular, Mizrahi vs. Ashkenazi. The list goes on, and may go way back. The noted military historian and journalist Sir Max Hastings wrote a book about Bibi’s brother, Yoni, and in one of his conversations with the 27-year-old Bibi, the latter confided in him what he thinks about the IDF’s “Golani” Brigade, where many Mizrahi Jews serve: “They’re okay as long as they're led by white officers,” Bibi said and “grinned” (Going to the Wars, p. 259). One of Bibi’s tragedies may have been that he is loved by those he despises, and is despised by those whose love he seeks. "Despised" or hated? I suspect he prefers the latter.
His coping mechanism: Throughout his political career, Netanyahu have gradually created a self-conceited cult of personality, often dubbed Bibism. Netanyahu and his Bibists have tirelessly agitated various groups against the Other – typically denoting those who oppose Netanyahu as treacherous leftists, who couldn’t care less about Jews and Judaism and would readily betray the Jewish State. An early case in point is Netanyahu’s 1997 whisper to a noted Rabbi, “The leftists forgot what it means to be Jewish; they think they can trust our security in the hands of Arabs.”
More recently, over the past year, Netanyahu and his government invested most of their efforts to undermine Israel’s democracy, diverting state resources to “the base,” mostly ultra-religious and ultra-nationalist supporters, ignoring all warnings about the ill effects of such a move, not least on the IDF. Facing indictments on corruption and fearing jailtime, Netanyahu has done his utmost to placate his base and eradicate the independence of Israel’s judicial system.
While Abraham Lincoln warned that “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Netanyahu sees and seizes division as an opportunity, toxicity as a cure, and hatred as boosting his cult. In a revealing statement, Natan Eshel, Netanyahu’s top advisor, admitted, “Hatred unites our base… we need to amplify it all the way.” Eshel, who has been convicted of inappropriacy taking pictures of women, texted to Israeli media, amidst the war, “Whining! Not a single good word? Only damaging the morale?”
Netanyahu, who likened himself to Bibisitter, has become the gravest danger to the safety of Israeli children.
Likening himself to Bibisitter, protecting the children-like citizens of Israel, Netanyahu has become the gravest danger to the safety of Israeli children.
Netanyahu’s double divisive strategy backfired – at Israelis, and now, in Gaza. Netanyahu, who in one of his effective election campaign clips, likened himself to Bibisitter, protecting the children-like citizens of Israel, has become the gravest danger to the safety of Israeli children.
Yet Bibi still holds fast to that his divide-and-rule strategy, and is aided by politicians who are terrified to try another path. When it comes to the Palestinians, he still dismisses the lesser evil of the Palestinian Authority or other moderate Palestinian leaders. Back in his element, Bibi now leverage Israelis’ understandable fears to again portray himself as the sole guardian angel of security – against a menacing Palestinian state, which the evil, or otherwise clueless, liberals, in and beyond Israel, plot to plant.
When it comes to Israel, Netanyahu’s toxicity still sprawls. His cronies (for example, the director of his wife’s office) continue to spread misinformation and disinformation amplifying various conspiracy theories, alleging that “the cancerous treacherous left” is to be blamed for the war, aligning with Hamas to betray Bibi and Israel (and supposedly the two are the same) – a page from the “stab-in-the-back” Nazi playbook. Netanyahu even tried to cause a rift among the families of the kidnapped. Meanwhile, while the war goes on, his accomplices continue to plunder Israel.
His cronies’ hardheartedness can still bewilder; there is no dark place it will not gladly inhabit. Yossi Shelley, the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said that the participants of the music festival, hundreds of whom were slaughtered, “contributed substantially to the chaos,” and to an Israeli citizen who protested, Shelley answered: “The government is excellent, Netanyahu is ‘the bomb,’ eat your heart out.” This is what empathy, compassion and accountability look like for Bibists.
Evil needs fervent followers, as well as “useful idiots,” and, most insidiously, hopeful people.
I don’t know if Netanyahu has wittingly lured the Israeli Leviathan into the sands, to see it butchered. It may have been an evolving, perhaps unconscious, strategy: Employing deceit, conceit and malice to wreck state institutions so that Israelis can trust nothing, and no one – but him.
Evil, whether murderous like Hamas, or noxious like Netanyahu’s, does not need only fervent followers. It also requires “useful idiots,” and, most insidiously, hopeful people. Evil leaders defy our basic humanity. We’re so eager to believe that they are still, somehow, good, honest, or that they can reform, that we keep on giving them yet another chance. That’s Domestic Abuse 101, but on a socio-political scale it is far more dangerous. Ultimately, all evil abuses hope.
In a way, Netanyahu should have understood Hamas, and specifically Sinwar, better than most. After all, in one important aspect they think and act alike: treating people like things, like dispensable pawns, abusing the hopes of others to continue causing harm while blaming everyone else for it.
Netanyahu tries to crush whatever is left of his conscience, covering up shame with callous conduct and megalomanic fantasies.
Like most of us, Netanyahu too projects, and draws his artistry from his soul. Netanyahu is so gifted at sowing fear because he is a fearful person, seeing dangers (to himself) everywhere. He is so skillful at sowing hate because he is a hateful person, despising everyone who do not fit with him and his pursuits. And he is so adept at divide-and-rule for his own divided personality, trying to get his inner shadow crush whatever is left of his conscience, cover up shame (the etymology of “shame”) with callous conduct and megalomanic fantasies.
Netanyahu is a social Darwinist: life is nothing but an all-out war where “the weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.” For the likes of Netanyahu and Sinwar, gambling with other people’s lives to stay in power is not just a “calculated risk”; it is a way of life.
It takes one to know one, but one must first know oneself, and I suspect Netanyahu doesn’t, so he failed to see Hamas for what they are.
But Netanyahu took his projection onto Sinwar a step further: believing he can bribe Sinwar: Just give him what each of us is after – individual “power, honor, money,” in the memorable words of one of Bibi’s cronies – and he won’t rock the boat. Help him stay in power, and he will help you do the same. It takes one to know one? Perhaps, but one must first know oneself, and I suspect that lacking introspection, Netanyahu couldn’t see himself – nor Hamas – for who and what they are. Netanyahu’s blind spot was failing to realize that Hamas terrorists are also driven by what he lacks: A greater cause to kill and die for.
Sinwar made the opposite mistake: Believing that Israelis, like Netanyahu, are fearful, selfish hedonists, that they will not be willing to kill and die for others, for a cause greater than themselves. He was wrong. In a twist of fate, or rather faith, Hamas, which brought Netanyahu to the helm, might also be his ruin, and, I hope, its own ruin too.
But it doesn’t end with Netanyahu. His hubris attracted kindred spirits; he is surrounded with people with similar and complementary dispositions – and disregard of people. This is bad enough in peace time, but disastrous amidst war. It is hard to convey the experience of being an Israeli under Netanyahu’s mental regime, being treated as things, but perhaps two images can help.
In the first photo (left), taken upon Biden’s landing in Israel (October 18), Netanyahu pushes back Israeli president Isaac Herzog from extending his hand to greet the approaching Biden (who is not in the picture).
In the second photo, taken two days later, Netanyahu’s envoy, Gal Hirsch, a Bibist with a messianic bent, saw a photo-op, and firmly grabbed the released hostages Natalie and Judith Raanan by their hands, to quickly disappear when the cameras turned off.
Hirsch did little to facilitate their release from Hamas captivity, preferring to lecture to European diplomats over their support for Oslo. Both politicians seem to see people as mere things, either impediments to be pushed away, or instruments to be pushed with.
Between the river and the sea, Israelis and Palestinians now live Netanyahu’s favorite film - Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 Straw Dogs – and should get out, as soon as possible.
Digging deeper into Netanyahu’s psyche summons his favorite film: Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 Straw Dogs. The title takes its cue from the classical Chinese text, Tao Te Ching, where “Heaven and Earth are not humane,” both regarding all people as nothing but disposable “straw dogs.” It takes time for the protagonist David, a meek intellectual, to realize that humanity is but a veneer, and that jealousy, cruelty, and betrayal, not least by his wife, lays all to waste. But when his manly humiliation crosses the threshold of his hearth and home, he finally understands, and turns to defend his fort, his wife, and virile honor in a bloodbath.
In Netanyahu’s mind, I can imagine, his favorite movie is now coming alive – time to show the world the tough man that he is, now that he finally found a cause for which to kill (not, I presume, for which to die): his personal honor. But before Netanyahu plunges his people deeper into the abyss, he might well pay close attention to his favorite film’s final scene, when David emerges from the carnage triumphant only to realize he has lost his way home.
And yet, throughout, we must bear in mind: Netanyahu did not take Israel by a violent coup, but by choice – a repeated, democratic, public choice. In the lead-up to the 10/7 carnage, the psychodynamics above was mutual. Netanyahu was wrong about Hamas just as Israelis were wrong about him. Both had hoped to gain good from bad, valuable from vile. “Yes, Hamas is murderous, but tamed, I can use it to keep power and to thwart Palestinian independence,” Netanyahu convinced himself. And many Israelis convinced themselves: “Yes, Netanyahu is deceitful, narcissistic, paranoid and hungry for power, but he’s our narcissist, and in the cruel game of politics, in the tough neighborhood we inhabit, he can keep us safe.” This dual self-deception was mutually reinforcing, and lethal.
Netanyahu will never genuinely apologize nor take responsibility. I doubt he still possess enough conscience to truly feel guilt, and his shame will never let him blame himself, certainly not publicly. It can be different; it was different. I still recall PM Yitzhak Rabin’s strong words against the “no worries” (יהיה בסדר) culture, revealing “an arrogant and misplaced sense of self-confidence, control and superiority… signifying the lack of accountability in many facets of our life.” I also recall how, in October 1994, Rabin faced the nation and took full responsibility for the failed attempt to rescue Nachshon Wachsman who was abducted and murdered by Hamas.
We Israelis should all soul-search to understand how we turn from Rabin to Bibi. Then do our best to make better choices. Overall, it looks like Netanyahu believes bloodshed is good for the business of staying in power. Dreadfully, he might be right. Hopefully, it is up to us to prove him wrong.