TEL AVIV (AP) — On a warm afternoon in Israel’s largest city, tens of thousands of rioting protesters suddenly fell silent after sunset to observe a moment of silence in honor of an Italian tourist and two British Israeli sisters. who died the day before in a couple of terrorist attacks. Among the crowd, protesters waved British and Italian flags in solidarity.

But the demonstration here on Saturday was not about terrorism, nor about the eruptions of Palestinian-Israeli violence over the past week on Israel’s eastern, western and northern flanks. Instead, the crowds of Israelis who gathered just two miles from where the Italian tourist was killed were protesting an issue born entirely in Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform, the source of weeks of massive, sometimes violent throughout the country.

After weeks of escalating tensions, Israel’s dueling crises – one over national security, the other over domestic politics – are increasingly bleeding one another, fueling a perfect storm that analysts say has left Israel vulnerable on more fronts simultaneously than at any point in recent years. memory.

Protests in Tel Aviv on Monday after a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“It is a gift that we are giving them,” former Israeli defense intelligence official Dennis Citrinowicz told NBC News in an interview, referring to Israel’s adversaries such as Hamas, Iran and the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

He said the only way to ensure Israel’s deterrence against radical forces is to «find a way to defuse the current instability in Israel,» including in its politics. «Without doing so, our enemies will continue to try to exploit this situation.»

Israel’s fiercest enemies, like Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, gleefully predict that the nation will soon implode under the weight of its own internal divisions. While that seems unlikely, such sentiments speak to a time of intense distraction for Israel’s security apparatus.

Case in point: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, recently fired by Netanyahu and then not fired on Monday, has warned that judicial review is so divisive and damaging to military morale that it threatens Israel’s national security.

“I decided to put the disagreements behind me,” Netanyahu said in reversing his decision to fire Gallant, citing the need to “stand together 24 hours a day on all fronts in the face of security challenges.”

In less than a week, Israel has exchanged fire with Palestinians and Palestinian-linked groups in the occupied West Bank, the coastal Gaza strip to the west, and Lebanon and Syria to the north. The only neighboring countries whose borders with Israel have remained peaceful of late are Egypt and Jordan, the first two Arab nations to make peace with Israel decades ago.

With the exception of the clashes in the West Bank, all of the recent incidents were in retaliation for rocket fire at Israel, which in turn was in retaliation for Israeli raids on a site in Jerusalem that is sacred to Jews and Muslims during the Passover and Ramadan.

Meanwhile, outbreaks of Palestinian violence against Jewish settlers in the West Bank have emboldened ultranationalist ministers within the Israeli government to demand a more aggressive Israeli response and an expansionist settlement policy. Growing demands on him have placed Netanyahu between his own far-right allies and leaders in the US who are pleading with him to show restraint in the West Bank, where most nations consider Jewish settlement illegal.

Netanyahu Judicial Reform Israel Politics
Judicial reform proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the source of weeks of massive, sometimes violent demonstrations.Ohad Zwigenberg/AP

Netanyahu’s government, the most far-right in Israel’s history, has such a slim majority that a few defections threaten to bring it down, a reality that gives disproportionate influence to the most extreme members of his coalition. After three tumultuous months in rule, a new poll by Israel News Channel 13 suggests support for Netanyahu’s Likud party is plummeting, with the party poised to fall far short of a majority in parliament if they were to be held. new elections now.

Historically, however, military conflict and external security threats tend to temper criticism of the government in power, as the US learned after 9/11, in what is known as the «rally around» effect. of the flag». Critics argue that Netanyahu, who has capitalized on his reputation as a defender of Israeli security over decades of political success, is deliberately stoking the conflicts now to distract attention from the domestic morass.

“The timing is very good for Netanyahu and his government because it buys them some time,” said Merissa Khurma, who heads the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center. «If they can outsource an enemy, that will help them.»

Israeli authorities blamed the rockets fired from Lebanon on Friday on Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip and routinely fires at Israel, rather than on any Lebanese-based group whose barely functioning government is in the midst of of its own deep political crisis. . However, the attacks raised a new kind of concern for Israel.

They suggested that Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah, which controls much of southern Lebanon, is moving ever closer to Hamas, a Sunni group that has not always seen eye to eye with Hezbollah. A publicized meeting between Hamas and Hezbollah leaders in Beirut on Sunday offered further evidence of warmer ties and possible coordination between two groups that have fought wars against Israel in the past.

Militants in Lebanon fired a heavy barrage of rockets into Israel, the Israeli army said, forcing people crossing Israel's northern border to take refuge in bomb shelters, injuring at least two people and escalating regional tensions a day after Israeli police raided Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site.
Smoke billowed last Thursday after rockets, fired from Lebanon, hit the northern Israeli town of Bezet. Fadi Amon / AP

In another clear sign of how Israel’s political crisis is spilling over into national security, US intelligence documents are being reviewed by Israeli civilians and their own staff. The Netanyahu government strongly disputed that claim, which, if accurate, would be an unprecedented violation of Mossad’s tradition of staying out of Israeli politics.

Despite recent Israeli diplomatic progress with the United Arab Emirates and other former enemies, any attempt by Israel to use its new relationships with Arab states to defuse Palestinian tensions is complicated by deep political challenges from the Palestinians themselves.

While the Palestinians face deteriorating economic and social conditions, the internationally backed Palestinian Authority that partially runs the West Bank has not held an election since 2006, one factor among many that has diminished its foreign support. Hamas, elected to power in the Gaza Strip shortly after Israel’s withdrawal in 2005, is designated by the United States and many other nations as a terrorist group.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have reached their highest level in years following clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians inside a revered Jerusalem mosque.
Palestinians stand behind masked members of the Islamist Hamas movement in Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Friday. Mohamed Abed / AFP – Getty Images

Amid a declining Israeli commitment to a two-state solution, neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority have succeeded in making good on their promises to create an independent state, to the dismay of Palestinians across the region, and violence has escalated.

Paul Salem, who heads the Middle East Institute in Washington, said Arab states in the Persian Gulf are «generally sympathetic» to the Palestinian cause but are hesitant to actively participate given what he called «years, if not decades, of very poor Palestine. leadership.»

“They have been radical or corrupt and ineffective extremist Islamists,” Salem said. «In both cases, these countries would like to support them, but they think the Palestinians should do their homework.»

And while Israeli leaders in recent years had grown hopeful that the Gulf Arab states were coming to the conclusion that Shiite-led Iran, not Israel, posed the greatest threat to the region, that expectation has been questioned by the recent agreement negotiated by China. rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Sunni power in the Gulf.

“As someone who has dealt with Iran for so many years, I don’t think Iran is the biggest threat to us,” said Citrinowicz, a former Israeli defense official, now at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies. “I think right now the threat is the Palestinian problem. The threat is this internal instability in Israel. We have to stick together.»