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Pressure mounts for Netanyahu

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

There are a lot of questions that hang over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. And among them, what comes next for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? He's facing increasing pressure from both around the world and from voters at home. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: In some parts of the world, the impact of the war on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political fortunes may be an open question, but analysts say inside Israel, most voters have made up their minds.

ALON PINKAS: Let me put it this way I don't think he's going to survive October 7.

KENYON: Alon Pinkus is a former ambassador and foreign policy adviser to former Israeli foreign ministers. He says people could be forgiven for wondering how Netanyahu could still be on his political feet, given the events of the past several months. He says Israeli coalition politics have something to do with it.

PINKAS: And he's kept above water only because, A, he does not have the decency or the moral composure to resign and B, more practically, because there is a coalition that wants to survive. And their survival depends on maintaining the coalition, so he's maintained within that coalition.

KENYON: But Pinkas says Netanyahu will be held responsible for a military operation that is not achieved any significant strategic goal. He says Hamas has not been neutralized. Much of the Gaza Strip is in ruins, with an apparent massive civilian death toll. He also thinks Netanyahu has done substantial damage to Israel's reputation, even with its closest allies.

PINKAS: He has mismanaged relations with the U.S. He has turned a justified and justifiable war in the aftermath of October 7, within a few short weeks, into complete hostility, animosity and criticism of Israel worldwide.

KENYON: Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King's College London, says few would dispute that Israel had to answer the Hamas attack of October 7, but at this point, questions about when it will end are on the rise.

LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: Netanyahu's created - got a problem - how he brings this to an end. How - at what point can he say, we've done what we need to do, and it's now time to hand over Gaza to some authority that can run the place?

KENYON: Freedman also says, considering that Netanyahu faces serious corruption charges and there have been massive public demonstrations calling for him to step down, it's not surprising to hear critics say he doesn't want to see this conflict end for some time to come.

FREEDMAN: And there is a view that he's not particularly keen for that moment to come because when that moment comes, then the issue of his own position and possible elections becomes moot.

KENYON: For his part, Netanyahu says if reports that the International Criminal Court in The Hague may issue arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials are true, it would be an outrage of historic proportions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: And in targeting Israel, the ICC would be targeting all democracies because it would be undermining their inherent right to defend themselves against savage terrorism and wanton aggression.

KENYON: In a column for the generally conservative Jerusalem Post, deputy editor-in-chief Tamar Uriel-Beeri said that the government should bring about elections with the understanding that the Israeli people have lost all hope and trust in their government. Political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin says, currently, Netanyahu appears to have enough support to hang on to his job. But even where he'd leave office, she says it's not clear his main rival, security hawk Benny Gantz, would make major policy changes.

DAHLIA SCHEINDLIN: It's unlikely he would manage this war significantly differently. I imagine the biggest difference is that he would try to conform to international expectations that there is a clear set of criteria for when the war will end and how.

KENYON: For the moment, the biggest choices facing Netanyahu include whether to prioritize a hostage deal with Hamas or launch the long-promised military incursion into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Peter Kenyon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.