Afraid of prison and his political options running out Israel’s longest serving prime minister push the region to the brink of war.

There is nothing like bombing Gaza and anti-Palestinian riots in Israel to deliver the country’s scandal-plagued Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a break from the scrutiny of mounting corruption cases and another deadlocked election.

Israel’s pummelling of Gaza has killed more than 200 people and could easily be a more brutal sequel to the 1997 political satire film 'Wag the Dog'. Then, a desperate US president plagued by mounting political woes at home reaches for war to distract the country and the world against a much weaker opponent - Albania.

Barry Levinson's 1997 dark political comedy has become a byword for desperate politicians seeking distractions.

Netanyahu didn't orchestrate the latest flare-up - but his policies of colonial expansion, supported by much of the Israeli political spectrum, have turned the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem into a tinderbox. And it couldn't have come a moment too soon for Netanyahu.

"It's entirely likely that Netanyahu will cynically use the current violence between Israel and the Palestinians to pressure his political rivals to rally around him in a time of crisis," says Antony Loewenstein, an independent author and filmmaker who lived in Jerusalem from 2016-2020.

After four elections have ended in a political stalemate leaving Netanyahu without a working majority and the country's courts opening up again after the coronavirus lockdown - Netanyahu seemed to be destined to be dragged out of Israel's political scene kicking and screaming.

Netanyahu, 71, is the first serving Israeli Prime Minister to go on trial and is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. If he can cling to power, he might just be able to escape prison.

It's against this Israeli political backdrop that Netanyahu, an increasingly isolated and cornered politician, is making decisions, says Loewenstein speaking to TRT World.

"It's even likely that the war was launched or certainly deepened by Netanyahu with an eye for evading his corruption case and keeping him in the prime minister's chair. History has shown that cynicism isn't an impediment for Netanyahu to make calculated, political decisions," added Loewenstein.

Netanyahu, who at one point was a close ally of Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister in the early 2000s and who is also known amongst Arabs as the 'Butcher of Beirut,' also had mounting corruption cases during his premiership.

Sharon took dramatic political steps, such as dismantling settlements in Gaza and instead just blockading the territory to distract his political opponents. Netanyahu will likely seek to emulate the political tactics of Sharon, who ultimately only vacated the prime minister's chair after suffering a heart attack in 2006.

"It's clear if there is someone that benefits from all of this it's Benjamin Netanyahu," says Rami Younis, a Palestinian writer and film-maker living in Lyd, a Palestinian majority town which Israel conquered in 1948.

When Israeli forces closed Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, a central hub for Palestinians living in the city, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, simmering tensions burst their dams. 

"Closing Damascus Gate was basically giving the middle finger to the Palestinian population," says Younis speaking to TRT World.

Protests by young people were met with extreme police violence. Just like Sharon's provocative visit to the al-Aqsa compound in 2000, which sparked the Second Intifada, Israeli politicians are acutely aware of Palestinian red lines. And crucially able to exploit them.

Then Israeli courts made another controversial and highly provocative decision, scheduling a hearing for residents of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem on their appeal against their houses being taken from them and given to settlers, on the 10 May, which in Israel is called Jerusalem Day. 

Jerusalem Day marks the day Israel conquered and occupied East Jerusalem after 1967.

"To schedule the court hearing during what they call Jerusalem day, what was that?!" says Younis in disbelief and suspicious that such decisions have only heightened tensions.

"This is not to take the agency of the Palestinians who are protesting the occupation," added Younis.

Netanyahu has not managed to stay atop of Israel's fragmented political landscape as one of the country's longest-serving prime ministers without learning how to wade in the dark art of cynical politics.

"What Netanyahu didn't expect was the uprising of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. That's brand new," says Younis. Running street battles in Israel has seen Palestinians going up against extreme right-wing Jewish nationalists. It's also an indication of how far the Israeli leader is willing to go to keep his grip on power.

The Israeli opposition in the face of a Palestinian uprising in Israel, East Jerusalem and Gaza has all but melted away. Netanyahu, who has often been referred to in Israel as "Mr Security", is playing one last card.

"I personally believe, and many Palestinians believe, and for that matter, much of the Israeli media and politicians believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is behind all of this," says Younis.

Source: TRT World