ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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Only 15% of Israelis want Netanyahu to keep job after Gaza war, poll finds

Survey finds most want to reject reported US demands to ease fighting and think military pressure will get hostages back; optimism for future security sags after post-Oct. 7 bump

IDF armored forces at a staging area in southern Israel near the border with Gaza. January 1, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
IDF armored forces at a staging area in southern Israel near the border with Gaza. January 1, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Only 15% of Israelis want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stay in office after the war on Hamas in Gaza ends, though many more still support his strategy of crushing the terrorists in the Palestinian enclave, according to a poll published on Tuesday.

The lack of support for Netanyahu dovetailed with other polls published since the disastrous October 7 attacks, in which Hamas terrorists stormed into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking over 240 people hostage.

The Israel Democracy Institute survey, a monthly gauge of Israeli sentiment on current events, also found drooping levels of optimism for the country’s future security and democratic character, reversing a two-month trend, with war cabinet minister Benny Gantz coming up as the leading name to helm the country following the war.

In the poll, 56% of those questioned said continuing the military offensive was the best way to recover the hostages, while 24% thought a swap deal including the release of thousands more Palestinian prisoners from Israel’s jails would be best.

The survey asked respondents whether Israel should shift the war in Gaza into lower gear as the army appears set to do, though it framed the move as coming in light of reported American demands. Put that way, some two-thirds of Israelis disagreed with such action.

The army announced this week that it would begin withdrawing some troops from Gaza, in line with plans outlined by officials for a lengthy low-intensity campaign focusing on remaining Hamas strongholds and “pockets of resistance.”

The US, which has backed Israel’s right to self-defense and rejected calls for a ceasefire, has pressed Israeli leaders to transition away from the high-intensity bombing campaign and ground incursion after months of devastating fighting that has left broad swaths of the Strip in ruins.

At the same time, Israeli military officials have indicated the plan was always to transition to a lower-intensity phase, which would last many months more. There has been little sign of dissatisfaction among the army’s top professionals with the emerging end of the high-intensity stage, and top generals have increasingly indicated such a transition is becoming appropriate.

The poll did not appear to gauge general public support for transitioning stages as the army has set out. Rather it asked: “According to reports, the United States is demanding that Israel shifts to a different phase of the war in Gaza, with an emphasis on reducing the heavy bombing of densely populated areas. Should Israel agree to this demand?”

To this, 66% responded in the negative, while 22.7% said yes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the war until Hamas is crushed and the more than 100 hostages still held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza are freed.

While there is nearly unanimous sympathy for the plight of the families of the hostages, the poll showed that many disagree with calls for a so-called “all-for-all” deal that would see Israeli free the thousands of Palestinian prisoners it holds for terror-related crimes in exchange for the return of the 129 hostages still in Gaza — not all of them alive. Rather, many back Netanyahu’s contention that military pressure will lead to their freedom.

Israelis walk past candles and photographs of the victims killed and held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza since the October 7 massacre, on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv. December 31, 2023. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The survey found that 56.1% of respondents thought Israel should continue intense fighting so soldiers could find and free hostages, while only 24% agreed that Israel should “release all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in return for the release of all the hostages, even if this means agreeing to Hamas’s demand to halt the fighting” and end the war entirely.

Jewish and Arab Israelis appeared as mirror images, with 65% of the former pushing for a military solution and 62% of the latter calling for a deal. A full 25% of Arab respondents admitted that they had no answer for the wrenching issue.

The survey was conducted some 10 days after the army admitted on December 15 that its soldiers had accidentally shot and killed three hostages who had managed to escape their captors, sparking fresh questions regarding military action as the appropriate tool to secure the freedom of hostages. A truce in December saw 105 hostages freed in exchange for 240 Palestinian inmates. Talks for a fresh truce have sputtered in recent weeks.

Hamas has stated repeatedly that another hostage deal will not happen unless Israel agrees to end the war entirely, which Jerusalem has said is a nonstarter.

Released Israeli hostage Aviva Siegel marches with young members of Kibbutz Kfar Aza during a five-day march from Tel Aviv to the Jerusalem Knesset on December 28, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

Many Israelis think the government and military have had only moderate success in meeting the wartime goals of toppling Hamas and bringing the hostages home, the poll showed. Only 26.8% thought Israel had met the goal of toppling Hamas to a large extent, while 14% thought Israel had largely succeeded in bringing the hostages home.

War cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, at a press conference at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

While the October 7 assault exposed worrying holes in Israel’s vaunted defenses, the survey had found the number of people expressing optimism for the country’s security situation over the near future rising from 35% in September to 46.5% in November. In December, however, that figure fell back to 40%, while a brief bump in those expressing optimism about the country’s democratic future — likely tied to a controversial judicial overhaul being set aside — also dropped slightly in December.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The poll also found that bellicose sentiments toward Gaza did not fully extend to the northern border, where Hezbollah rocket attacks from Lebanon have raised the prospect of war. Only 50.9% backed opening up a second front in the north.

The survey polled 605 Hebrew speakers and 151 Arabic speakers over the internet and phone in late December. It carried a margin of error of +-3.55%.

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