CIA assessment concludes Netanyahu is likely to defy US pressure to set a post-war plan for Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Jerusalem on February 18, 2024. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters


A CIA assessment circulated among US officials this week concluded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely judges he can get away without defining a post-war plan, even as the Biden administration has launched a full-court press to pressure him to bring an end to the conflict in Gaza.

Netanyahu “probably believes he can maintain support from his security chiefs and prevent defections” from the right wing of his coalition by discussing the future of Gaza in “vague terms,” the June 3 report, reviewed by CNN, reads.

The assessment  which has not been previously reported  represents one of the most up-to-date intelligence assessments about Netanyahu’s mindset that has been circulated among senior US officials, according to a source familiar with internal reporting.

It comes amid a clear shift in how the Biden administration views Israel: less as a trusted partner and more as an unpredictable foreign government to be analyzed and understood.

The CIA declined to comment when asked about CNN’s reporting.

The assessment highlights how the Israeli leader is defying pressure from members of his own government and the Biden administration to define an “end state” for Gaza and warns that what Netanyahu has said publicly is likely true: that he will only engage seriously on post-war issues after meeting “what he sees as key security benchmarks, which may take months.”

According to the assessment, those benchmarks include completing “major military operations” — something analysts have said is deliberately vague as well as eliminating Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif.

Deif is the commander of the Qassam Brigades and, as a senior commander of the military wing of Hamas, is believed to have been deeply involved in the planning of the October 7, 2023, attacks in Israel.

Israel has tried to target Deif multiple times in the past, and although he has been injured, he is believed to still be alive.

The report is consistent with what CNN and others have reported in the days since President Joe Biden announced a three-pronged peace deal proposal on Friday.

It comes as senior Biden administration officials, including CIA Director Bill Burns, are meeting with key mediators between Israel and Hamas at a particularly tense moment in negotiations.

Burns has been the primary US negotiator on a potential agreement.

The US has publicly characterized the deal as an Israeli proposal and has said it is waiting for Hamas to approve the terms. But Israel has been tepid at best about the proposal. Privately, officials have long been clear-eyed about the difficulty of getting both sides to reach an agreement.

The relationship between Biden and Netanyahu a world leader whom he once claimed to “love” — has been increasingly strained as the civilian death toll in Gaza has mounted as a result of Israel’s bombing campaign. Biden and other American officials have grown more and more critical of Netanyahu in public.

Although initially the administration was deeply reluctant to discuss Israeli politics in public, officials have in recent weeks and months inched closer to frank assessments of Netanyahu’s motivations.

“There is every reason for people to draw the  conclusion” that Netanyanhu is prolonging the war for his own political gain, Biden said in a TIME magazine interview this week.

In one early and stark moment in March, the US intelligence community said publicly that it assessed Netanyahu’s “viability as a leader” was “in jeopardy,” pointing to public distrust of the prime minister’s ability to rule and predicting “large protests demanding his resignation and new elections.”

Netanyahu faces a domestic reckoning over the military and intelligence failures that led to Hamas’ devastating attack on southern Israel on October 7. He also faces deep divisions inside his own government. Even amid stiff pressure from Biden to wrap up the war, he faces equally strident pressure from right-wing officials in his fragile governing coalition to continue fighting.

The CIA assessment highlights that, within Israel, there is no consensus on the postwar plan for Gaza, indicating each cabinet minister’s ranging views on postwar governance, security and reconstruction.

Netanyahu, for example, is depicted alongside a blurb noting he “prefers a coalition of moderate Arab states to manage the territory with eventual participation” from other leaders.

Other Israeli leaders are depicted as having various views on future governance that are diametrically opposed to those attributed to Netanyahu.

Overall, the assessment illustrates how Israel’s coalition government remains deeply divided over several critical post-war issues – supporting the CIA’s broader conclusion that a lack of unity among Netanyahu’s political rivals could enable his continued defiance of any pressure to define a plan for Gaza once the conflict ends.

“My major disagreement with Netanyahu is, what happens after Gaza’s over?” Biden told TIME. “What does it go back to? Do Israeli forces go back in?”

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