March 26, 2024 - 11:55am

Since 7 October Benyamin Netanyahu has had one overriding political objective: avoid facing the electorate. He has long been a divisive figure, arousing hatred and admiration in roughly equal measure, but the events of the last six months have tilted Israeli public opinion decisively against Bibi.

Netanyahu knows full well that the next election will conclude his long dominance of national politics. To postpone this fate, since October he had been playing an awkward balancing game to maintain the support of various partners in his “emergency coalition”, from Benny Gantz of the centrist National Unity opposition party to Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir from the religious settler parties. This has put Bibi in an increasingly difficult position, with his centrist coalition partners and the United States applying pressure in one direction, and Ben-Gvir and Smotrich pushing him down an alternative route.

And so last night’s resignation of Minister without Portfolio Gideon Sa’ar, alongside his fellow New Hope Party minister Yifat Shasha Biton, suggests that tensions within the coalition may yet bring an early end to Netanyahu’s time in power.

On Palestinian issues Sa’ar is just as Right-wing as Bibi, but he broke with the Likud party after criticising the PM’s corruption. Two weeks ago, he demanded a seat in the three-man War Cabinet, which was understood by the Israeli public as an overture to get back into Likud and repair his relationship with Bibi. Yet if Netanyahu had accepted him into the War Cabinet, he would have had to include Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, and so Sa’ar was unsuccessful.

He then used his resignation from the emergency coalition to criticise the direction of the war, saying it is not “close to achieving its goals”, and lambasting the recent “slowing down of military progress”, which he denounced as “contrary to the national interest”. In lowering this pressure, he argued, Israel “lost significant leverage to arrive at a new hostage plan”. Sa’ar concluded by stating that while the general public “sympathises with the goals of the war, [it] understands that a change of direction is required to achieve them”.

Saar’s resignation shows how the tensions in Netanyahu’s coalition are starting to tell. In particular, the continuing need to placate the far-Right is alienating other important groups, whether due to ideological or policy differences, allegations of incompetence, political positioning, or all three.

It is a sign that the emergency government in place since 11 October may be coming to an end. Bibi’s reckoning, perhaps, is more imminent than he thinks.

David Swift is a historian and author. His next book, Scouse Republic, will be published in 2025.