Meanwhile, Netanyahu has come under some scrutiny for the timing and publicity of the announcement, which his critics say stems from his desire to distract from weeks of negative press. Local newspaper Haaretz and opposition politicians have called it “Operation Netanyahu Shield.”
“I think the IDF activity on the border with Lebanon is dictated by military need, not by politics,” Shapland said. “But the extent of the media coverage of that activity is dictated by Netanyahu’s political calculations. He needs to divert attention from his domestic problems, both political and legal.”
Soon to become Israel’s longest-running head of state and well-loved by many Israelis for his aggressive stance on security, Netanyahu has come under fire for a raft of corruption allegations. On Sunday, Israeli police recommended his indictment on fraud and bribery charges in what’s now the third corruption case pending against him. He has denied the charges.
The prime minister also faced a barrage of domestic criticism after agreeing to a cease-fire with Gaza’s Hamas militants in mid-November that proved highly unpopular and prompted the resignation of Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Netanyahu justified the cease-fire by stressing that there were military threats elsewhere of greater urgency than Gaza and that warranted more IDF attention, but said at the time he could not disclose what those threats were. According to Shapland, “Publicizing what the IDF is doing on the border with Lebanon is part of that PR effort.”
Eurasia made a similar assessment. “Instead of batting away concerns about Gaza and corruption, Netanyahu can focus on Hezbollah, Lebanon, and Iran, playing to his strength as the so-called Mr. Security.”
The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment at time of publication.
While Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party has enjoyed growing popularity and elections are scheduled for late 2019, Eurasia believes the Israeli leader will call early elections in the spring before potential indictments and while his support is still strong. Netanyahu has said that if indicted, he will still run for re-election and not step down.