Despite their complicated and often uneasy relationship, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant agree on one thing: Iran is behind Israel’s security problem.
The socio-economic polarization in Israel, the country’s political and judicial crises, the ongoing settlers’ pogroms in the West Bank, the repeated calls for religious war by Tel Aviv’s far-right ministers – all of these myriad problems are suddenly negligible. The problem is Iran.
Though Iran, as a common enemy, often unites all major Israeli political parties, the supposed Iranian threat this time around, is quite different.
“We are in the midst of a terrorist onslaught that is being encouraged, directed and financed by Iran and its proxies,” said Netanyahu of a Palestinian attack that killed a settler and wounded another near the occupied Palestinian city of Al-Khalil (Hebron) on August 21.
The attack came only two days after another, which killed two Israeli settlers near the town of Huwwara, near Nablus, in the northern West Bank.
Huwwara, a small town of 5,500 people, was the site of an outright pogrom by large mobs of armed Israeli Jewish settlers on February 26.
Amnesty International described what occurred in the town as follows: “On the night of Sunday 26 February, hundreds of state-backed Israeli settlers carried out a spree of attacks against Palestinians (in Huwwara) … Settlers torched dozens of Palestinian cars, homes and orchards and physically assaulted Palestinians, including with metal bars and rocks.”
Typically, every Palestinian attack on Israeli soldiers, armed settlers or even civilians is preceded by a multitude of deadly Israeli army raids or settler attacks on Palestinian communities.
Not a day passes without Israeli violence in occupied Palestine. Reports by the United Nations, Palestinian, Israeli and international rights groups indicate that this year is the most violent in the West Bank in nearly two decades.
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 30 Israelis since January 2023, according to a statement to the UN Security Council by UN Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland on August 21.
Wennesland described the violence as a “concerning trend”, attributing it to a “growing sense of despair about the future,” UN News reported.
The UN humanitarian agency, OCHA, had similar findings. It said that nearly 600 settler-related ‘incidents’ were reported in the Occupied Territories in the first six months of 2023. Settler attacks have resulted in “Palestinian casualties, property damage or both.”
Neither Wennesland nor OCHA mentioned Iran in their statements, nor did the constant stream of reports on Israel’s ongoing violence, incitement or, at times, outright calls for genocide by settlers and their leaders in Netanyahu’s government.
As for the reason behind the “sense of despair” mentioned in Wennesland’s UN briefing, the Israeli anti-settlement organization, Peace Now, may have an answer.
In a statement issued on August 17, the Israeli group said that Netanyahu’s government is advancing a plan for ‘unprecedented investment’ of nearly $200 million in illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“There are clauses that have not yet determined the allocation amounts, so the total amount is expected to increase significantly,” Peace Now said on its website.
Since a large sum of the funds is described as ‘undefined’ grants, the illegal settlements are allowed “to use the money for almost any purpose.”
This can only mean expansion of the illegal settlements, construction of new outposts, ethnically cleansing Palestinians and paving the way for full, de jure annexation of the West Bank.
The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ is not being used lightly here.
Aside from the ‘incremental genocide’ happening daily throughout the Occupied Territories, at times large communities are being expelled, en masse.
The Norwegian Refugee Council recently reported on the eviction of nearly 500 Palestinians from seven communities in the West Bank in a matter of 20 months, many of them from the Ras At-Tin Bedouin community, north of Ramallah.
“Entire Palestinian communities being wiped off the map, a shameful legacy of unrelenting violence, intimidation and harassment perpetrated by Israeli settlers and, in some cases, encouraged by Israeli authorities,” Ana Povrzenic, NRC’s Country Director for Palestine commented on the findings.
The list is endless, and nothing suggests that Iran is relevant to any part of this discussion.
The direct link between the Israeli occupation and Palestinian relations cannot be denied by any honest observer.
But neither Netanyahu nor Gallant is expected to be honest in their depiction of what is occurring in Palestine now.
As if reading from the same script, Gallant agreed with his boss on the alleged Iranian threat. “The most significant change on the ground is related to Iranian financing and intent,” Gallant said, declaring that “Iran is looking for any way to harm the citizens of Israel.”
The irony is that the Netanyahu-Gallant political conflict since March has fueled the greatest political crisis, arguably, in the history of the Israeli state. The crisis is enduring.
Yet, now both are emerging as the stalwarts of Israeli security against a supposed Iranian threat. But why would the two agree on anything? And why Iran, in particular? And why now?
Both Netanyahu and Gallant stand to gain from diverting attention from the reasons behind the ongoing rebellion in Palestine.
For Netanyahu, blaming Iran allows him to stoke the fire of instability in the Middle East, unite all Israelis behind their supposed defender and avoid any accountability for the ongoing human rights violations in Palestine.
As for Gallant, blaming Iran elevates the military and all branches of intelligence services; instead of being seen as failing to stop homegrown Palestinian struggle, he wants to paint an alternative image of a heroic army fighting an ‘existential threat’ hatched elsewhere.
This is not a simple case of lacking self-awareness, but a deliberate diversion of the actual problem: the Israeli occupation and apartheid.
Throughout the years, Israel has insisted that Palestinians are not political actors capable of making their own collective decisions, and that some bogeymen elsewhere – the Arabs, the Iranians, the communists, the Islamists, and so on … – are to blame.
But Tel Aviv is wrong. For Israel to understand the reasons behind the growing Palestinian resistance in all of its forms, it needs to look at the devastated refugee camps of Jenin, Balata and Nur Shams – not Tehran – for the answers.