In a visit to the border of Gaza Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel is prepared for an extensive military campaign, but said it was a last resort.
He may soon be tested.
Israel is already on high-alert this week after exchanging rocket fire with Hamas, the militant organization that’s governed Gaza since 2007. Now, thousands of Gazans are expected to charge the border to commemorate Land Day on Saturday. In response, Israeli forces have beefed up their presence, deploying tanks and soldiers to the border.
But Netanyahu, rarely afraid of confrontation, has taken a relatively restrained approach thus far, and it has everything to do with Israel’s upcoming elections.
"I do think that there is political pressure this time on Netanyahu. You know, we're two weeks before an election," Lahav Harkov, an Israeli analyst and journalist, told VICE News. "It's very possible that [his] response to the situation… could have a huge influence on the outcome."
With Gaza, Netanyahu is walking a political tight-rope: He needs to show he's tough on Hamas, but if he escalates the conflict, and casualties come as a result, he could end up hurting his campaign.
"I really think this is in a lose-lose situation," said Harkov. "In theory one hopes he makes the decision based on the strategic interests for Israel. But politically he's very much — It's damned if you do, damned if you don't."
This segment originally aired March 27, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
Video by: Dan Bateman, David Blumenfeld and Mohammed Abu Nahel. Additional reporting by Oren Rosenfeld.