Netanyahu’s victory and the exploitation of fear and anger
Most reports on the outcome of the recent Israeli elections have focused on the effects on the local and regional context. However, the relevance of the result of the elections spreads far more widely, and can be considered to have a far broader international impact. While the Taliban’s victory over the US in Afghanistan offers the potential for a positive message of heroism, Netanyahu’s political agenda offers a perfect recruitment base with a message of suppression and suffering.
The Israeli elections have resulted in the victory of the man who is accused of corruption. Benjamin Netanyahu is, according to the Financial Times, ‘arguably the most right-wing prime minister Israel has had’ and he is not a right-wing newcomer either. Rather, he can be considered a survivor, going for his fifth term. He aligns with both Trump and Putin, he has managed to improve both the economic and the security situation in his country, despite the turmoil in neighbouring states, and he has promised some bold policy measures like annexing all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. A two-state solution seems to be disappearing beyond the horizon, and the Palestinian political position seems weaker than ever.
All this is happening against a background of a political landscape in the wider Middle-East that is undergoing plastic surgery, a complete make-over; the dramatic end of the project that sought the creation of a caliphate, the winning attitude amongst the surviving political elite in Damascus, the continuous build-up of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the crisis in Sudan and Algeria, and the negotiations with the Taliban, the next leadership of Afghanistan, just to mention a few of the intriguing developments.
Is anybody courageous enough to predict what this complex mixture will bring for the coming five to ten years? It does not appear so. All the commentaries that I read focus on the small picture only. Commentators mainly cover questions such as: What will happen next in Israel? What does this mean for the two-state solution? After all that was, at some point, the main hope for a durable peace in Israel. Some will take it a little bit further and state that the election result is a blow to the position of the Iranian regime. However, the relevance of this topic spreads more widely than just the local and regional context.
Let me give it a try. Let me put some ingredients in the mix and see what is for dinner.
It is certainly true that the recruitment base for international terrorism has changed over the last decade or so
The suffering of a great number of Palestinian people and the lack of prospect for a long-term solution have long been an inspiration for a generation to revolt. The suffering in Gaza and the desperation in the refugee camps in the region have helped to recruit young people from all over the world to join the rebellion out of solidarity. It is certainly true that the recruitment base for international terrorism has changed over the last decade or so. The US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the war rhetoric of President Bush, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Islamophobia and suppression in Chechenia are all elaborately covered in the narratives to mobilise support for armed resistance. Furthermore, the situation of the Palestinians has always continued to play a role: either as a major part of the narrative of the international ‘anti-Muslim’ conspiracy, or as a small but relevant extra piece of evidence that ‘the world couldn’t care less’. This newest election result will not help to counter that narrative. On the contrary, this result may bring it back to the forefront and once more give it a central position as a recruitment base.
The jihadist movement is reconsidering its strategic options. Since the loss of its position in Syria and Iraq, it needs to re-strategise. There are reports that the leadership of the different factions such as Boko Haram, Mujao, Al Qaida and Al Shabab, once split over differences in agendas and political visions, are coming together to join forces out of strategic needs. The negotiations on the political future of Afghanistan play an important role in this respect. The international jihadist movement feels that it is, to some extent, represented by the Taliban at the negotiating table. Syria and Iraq may have been lost, but Afghanistan could still be won.
Syria and Iraq may have been lost, but Afghanistan could still be won
It wouldn’t be the first time they declared victory in that country. It looks like history repeats itself in a strange, inverted manner. Afghanistan could very well be the starting point of and a new base for the Mujahedeen, and for a new wave of terrorism worldwide. As we know, after the defeat of the Russians in 1989, the Mujahedeen spread across the world, and established cells that eventually contributed to the creation of Al Qaida which base was in Afghanistan. In that same Afghanistan, there is a clear deadlock and the US is planning to pull out as soon as possible. The Taliban will certainly frame it as their victory. The international jihadist movement wouldn’t mind to go back in; it may even use Afghanistan to regroup and re-unite, especially after the loss of territory in the Middle- East.
Mixing the explosive ingredients
And while the Taliban’s victory over the US in Afghanistan offers the potential for a positive message of heroism, Netanyahu’s political agenda offers a perfect recruitment base with a message of suppression and suffering. Suffering that is accepted, if not supported, by the US and others. It may prove to be an explosive mixture.
Netanyahu’s re-election could be a blessing in disguise for the cause of the jihadis
The Financial Times states that; ‘Annexing the West Bank would endanger Israel’s future’. It would kill all remaining hope for peace, as the election results in Israel could trigger the revival of the narrative of suffering and hopelessness of the Palestinian people. Netanyahu’s re-election could be a blessing in disguise for the cause of the jihadis. They might use it to claim that ‘the West supports the suppression of Muslims in Israel, in the refugee camps and in the occupied territory, that the peace process was never taken seriously and that the Muslims are the victim of history’. These messages may resonate with a young generation that feels that the world is treating them unjust with policies that contribute to their victimisation.
Adding pepper and salt
The rise of right-wing extremism, as a reaction to violence that claims to be based on religious interpretations, is not helpful either. It serves to evoke sentiments of victimhood on the other side. Add to this the mix of potentially under-governed areas that may very well pop up in Sudan and Algeria, the regions with non-existent state structures such as Yemen and Libya, the possible return to an extremist base in Afghanistan, the continued anger, frustrations and unfinished business in Syria and Iraq and it becomes clear that all ingredients to fuel rebellious and violent movements are at hand.
The re-election of Netanyahu is, according to Haggai Matar in +972 Mag, ‘a result of the increased security, improved economy, the international connections of the PM and fear’. The last element is interesting. Haggai refers to the ‘constant demonising of Palestinians, the media, the criminal justice system and Netanyahu’s depiction of Iran as an existential threat’. Many Israelis are likely to have voted for Netanyahu (at least partly) out of fear. That may very well be true. Fear is a strong emotion that is rooted in historic realities of many people in Israel. There is good reason to be frightened: history has proved that already. The other dominant emotion is anger. If fear and the anger are ignored for too long, these emotions become the guiding principle for politics and policies. That is exactly what is happening in the region and beyond. Anger and fear are exploited by politicians for their own survival or long-term political interests.
Netanyahu’s exploitation of fear thus opens the possibility of the exploitation of anger and vice versa. It may increase the recruitment base and mobilising force of terrorist movements that are looking for a new mission and a fresh battlefield. In the bigger picture, the short-term good news of improved security and economics could facilitate increased regional violence.
In the long run, Israeli voters may not have done themselves a favour. The ingredients may cater for an unsavoury meal.