Just hours after a bomb exploded on a Tel Aviv bus, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a truce with the very people his government blamed for the blast – the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza.
Wednesday’s decision to pull back from the brink of a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip despite the attack, which wounded 15 people, belies Netanyahu’s international image as an uncompromising, bellicose hardliner.
Indeed, the eight-day campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza was the first major military operation he had ordered after seven years in power – a remarkable record in a country that has repeatedly gone to war in its 64 year history.
“People don’t realise that Netanyahu is trigger unhappy,” said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“He is very cautious and very restrained. You could see that this past week. He set very well-defined boundaries and was very careful not to go wild,” he added.
Opposition politicians were swift to portray this discretion as a failing, hoping that it will cost Netanyahu votes at a Jan. 22 general election, which all opinion polls prior to the Gaza conflict had said he would win.
“The government displayed weakness and hesitancy in implementing its goals and the promise of achieving complete calm for the residents of Israel,” said Yair Lapid, a television personality-turned-politician running in the January ballot.
Israeli daily Maariv also stuck the knife in, printing a cartoon showing a glum-looking Netanyahu carrying an object under his arm marked “backbone for rent”.
A group of 16 soldiers marked their disdain by writing out “Bibi (is a) Loser”, with their bodies and posting the photograph on Facebook. The image went viral and the army is investigating.