Just months before the election of the new Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, the IDF killed Hamas’ military leader Ahmed al-Jaabari in response to ongoing airstrikes on the areas surrounding Gaza. The conflict and Operation Pillar of Defense ensued, leaving 160 Palestinians and 6 Israelis dead. The events of the conflict have proven to be mostly favorable — until the ceasefire — to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in public opinion polls and will likely have a minimally positive effect on the elections come January. He was set to win before, and he will most likely still win.
On October 28, a few days after Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and the Yisrael Beiteinu party announced that they’d be joining together for the election, several polls estimated that the coalition would win a plurality between 35 and 43 seats out of the Knesset’s 120 seats. One month later, after the bulk of the Gaza-Israel conflict, a Haaretz/Dialogue poll estimated that it would win 39 seats, which falls right in the previous estimated range and reveals minimal change in public opinion.
Many Israelis view the conflict as a conditional victory while leaders played up its success. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that the goals of Operation Pillar of Defense were “fulfilled completely. Hamas has suffered and its senior officers have been killed,” and the Israelis accomplished this without launching a ground invasion as they did in 2008’s bloody Operation Cast Lead. Additionally, they demolished a substantial portion of Hamas’ stockpiled weapons arsenal — including some sourced from Iran — demonstrating their advanced defense technology in their Iron Dome System that intercepted rockets at a commendable 84% success rate.
The Gaza conflict provided Netanyahu with an opportunity to emerge as a leader whose first priority is the security of his people and the protection of his country from terrorism. The week-long operation also allowed him to strengthen ties with a crucial source of support, President Barack Obama, and this “showcase of cooperation between Obama and Netanyahu after a long period of tension and unstable personal relations between the two,” according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, is sure to help Netanyahu politically. Indeed, Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations says that “the offensive in Gaza has not lessened [Netanyahu’s] standing. Over 90% of the populace who responded to a recent poll said they supported the operation Gaza."
However, many Israelis disapproved of the ceasefire. They remain skeptical of the truce, which Hamas broke within hours, and worry that cutting the operation short weakened the goal of deterring Hamas from launching future air strikes. A Maariv survey found that 49% of those surveyed believed that the offensive should have continued, 31% were in favor of the ceasefire, and 20% had no opinion. Hamas emerged stronger than they had in past conflicts, vastly expanding the areas within their rocket fire range, taking on Israel more boldly than they have in years, and gaining legitimacy in the region.
According to Abraham Diskin, political science professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the government’s actions in deciding to hit Hamas while also showing restraint and cooperating with the US will ultimately help Netanyahu with centrist voters. These voters are grateful that the conflict did not escalate to the point of launching a long and brutal ground invasion. Many will support Netanyahu because in what many regard as a weak field of candidates, "no other leader has the credibility of Netanyahu on security issues," says Ofer Kenig from Jerusalem's Israel Democracy Institute.
Just a few years ago, Netanyahu was among the opposition criticizing the government’s actions as not tough enough on Hamas. Faced with the same criticisms after the ceasefire, the current prime minister assures the public that he is not through with dealing with the organization that many nations classify as terrorist. Upon reminding him of his past declaration that he would eradicate the Hamas government while prime minister, Netanyahu confidently says, "I intend on also being the next prime minister.”
He probably will be.