Polls show Israel in lockstep with Netanyahu on Gaza war

Call this tunnel vision, in at least three ways. Opinion leaders have focused on the destruction in Gaza and the rising civilian deaths more than they have the source of the conflict, which is Hamas’ war on Israel and explicit commitment to an extermination policy. Those who attempt to intercede in the fighting to produce a cease-fire see that as an end in itself. Israelis living under the threat of Hamas’ attacks see the tunnels as an existential threat, and therefore give Benjamin Netanyahu almost unprecedented support to continue prosecuting the Gaza war — poll results that may shock those following the media coverage of the conflict:

Domestic support for the Israeli leader’s prosecution of the war in Gaza, which has left more than 1,200 Palestinians dead, has only grown over the past three weeks, as the Israeli public and political class rally behind an aggressive, definitive campaign against Hamas and its rockets and tunnels. The deep support among Israelis, from left to right, for the military’s Gaza offensive and Netanyahu’s leadership is almost unprecedented, political analysts say.

A poll this week for Israel’s Channel 10 news, conducted by the Sarid Institute, found that 87 percent of Jewish Israelis support continuing the Gaza operation. A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 95 percent of Israeli Jews think the operation in Gaza is just, and 4 of 5 oppose a unilateral withdrawal. Just 4 percent said the Israeli military has used excessive force.

And in another survey this week, by the University of Haifa, 85 percent of Jewish Israelis said they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with Netanyahu’s leadership.

The American parallel would be the 1991 Gulf War and the near-unanimity of Americans in support of George H. W. Bush’s leadership. Bush’s approval went into the 90s briefly — all too briefly, as the election the next year proved. That, however, took place in the context of the American two-party federal system, not in a multiparty parliamentary system like Israel. Having that kind of support in a system where coalitions form and break apart on a regular basis is astounding. It allows Netanyahu carte blanche to set policy in the near term, and will force would-be intercessors to deal with the fact that Netanyahu really does represent Israel and not just his own war policies.

“Israel has never been this hard-line, maybe not since the 1967 war” against Egypt and other Arab states, said Amotz Asa-El, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jewish think tank in Jerusalem. “A sweeping majority of Israelis want a protracted, systemic, thorough uprooting of Hamas and its military capabilities.” …

“Netanyahu has always been the leader of the right wing,” Asa-El said. “But now he is leading the consensus.”

The difference this time is the tunnels. Israelis knew about the tunnels for years, but not their extent, and certainly not the plans Hamas had for making use of them. The discovery of large amounts of tranquilizers and handcuffs, as well as the intel on the alleged Rosh Hashanah plot, makes it clear that the tunnels are an existential threat to Israeli communities around Gaza, and they want them demolished before any withdrawal takes place. On top of that, the range of Hamas’ missiles have improved (even if their aiming has not) to threaten Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, which means most Israelis now live under the missile threat. Hamas has made it impossible for Israelis to stop now, or to even consider the possibility of ending or easing the embargo.

In fact, Netanyahu may have a little trouble with the hawks. The Post notes that Netanyahu has acted to restrain those who want Israel to march all the way across Gaza to root out and destroy Hamas no matter the cost to the Gazans. Netanyahu wants to destroy the tunnels and perhaps create a “no man’s land” in northern Gaza to deny Hamas some ground for its missile launchers, and has acted to restrain those who want all-out war. As long as Hamas keeps launching missiles, though, that’s what we will continue to see.

The US and the UN are used to putting pressure on Israel to stand down on military operations, but that usually succeeds when Israeli opinion is split. “World opinion” may matter to Israel and Israelis, but not as much as staying alive. The outside intercessors may see a limit to their influence with Israel — so perhaps they’d be better off trying to influence Hamas away from starting wars that they can’t win in the first place.