By ordering a brutal attack against Palestinian worshipers inside Al Aqsa Mosque on the 14th day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knew very well that the Palestinians would retaliate.
Netanyahu’s motive should be clear. He wanted to generate a distraction from the mass protests that have rocked Israel, starting in January, and divided Israeli society around ideological and political lines, in ways never witnessed before.
Unwilling to relinquish his hard-earned achievement of finally winning a decisive election and forming an entirely rightwing coalition, while fearing that major concessions to his political rivals could eventually dissolve his government, Netanyahu set his sights on the Al Aqsa Mosque.
History has proven that Israeli attacks on Palestinian holy places are a guarantor of a Palestinian response. For Netanyahu and also his national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, the price of Palestinian retaliation was worth the political gains of unifying Israelis of all political backgrounds behind them. For Ben-Gvir, in particular, the attack against Al Aqsa would reassure his far-right religious constituency of his commitment to restoring full Israeli Jewish sovereignty over Palestinian Muslim and Christian holy places in the occupied city.
What Netanyahu and his allies may have not anticipated, however, is the intensity of the Palestinian response as hundreds of rockets were fired, not only from besieged Gaza but, even more strategically important, from South Lebanon, towards the northern and southern parts of the country.
Though some damage was reported, the attacks were a political game changer, as it was the first time in years that fighters in two Arab countries coordinated their retaliatory action against Israel and hit back simultaneously.
It will be difficult for Netanyahu to claim any kind of victory after this, unless he takes his country to a major war on two fronts — three, if we are to consider the rise of armed resistance in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
However, even a major war could backfire. During the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014, Israel struggled to sustain a single military front as the war lasted 51 days, leading to an Israeli munition crisis. Were it not for the decision of the Barack Obama Administration to ship massive supplies of munition to Israel to fill its depleted arsenal, Israel could have found itself in an unprecedentedly difficult situation.