A Guardian's cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a puppet-master controlling little dummies of UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Former British PM Tony Blair has triggered furious debate alleging that it uses historic anti-Semitic imagery.

The cartoon by Steve Bell published in the London-based newspaper suggests that the escalating conflict in Gaza is an electoral stunt by Netanyahu ahead of January's parliamentary elections

Netanyahu is depicted threateningly leaning towards the reader, backed by a line of missiles coloured in the Israeli flag colours, topped by the words "VOTE LIKUD" - the Israeli prime minister's party.

However, critics claimed that the cartoon also echoes the anti-Semite rhetoric according to which Israel and Jews secretly control western decision-makers.

Bell and the Guardian were soon accused of being 'Nazis' and 'anti-Semites'.

The Daily Telegraph opened a debate on the cartoon on its website but was soon forced to take down the comments because of netizens' fury and insulting remarks.

"That Nazi c*** Bell wants nailing to a f****** windmill," Jewish Times columnist Giles Coren tweeted to the Telegraph's James Delingpole, before backtracking.

A complaint against Bell was lodged with the Press Complaints Commission.

Underfire Bell said: "the coverage of Operation Pillar of Defence has been so skewed in favour of the Israeli side, particularly I regret to say on the BBC, that I do personally feel quite a strong need to make the counter argument".

He said the cartoon was about "the cynical manipulation of a situation by a specific politician" and "NOT about cynical manipulation by 'the Jews'. I refute completely any charge of antisemitism, since I would never conflate the two."

Mr Bell added: "I also refute the charge that I am somehow deliberately repeating the antisemitic 'trope' of the puppet master. The wilful manipulation is Netanyahu's not mine.

"I can't be held responsible for whatever cultural precepts and misapprehensions people choose to bring to my cartoon. My intention, I think, is fairly clear."

A Saudi paper, al-Watan, triggered the same wave of outrage in 2008, when it published a similar cartoon depicting a Jew controlling puppets of both US presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain.

The cartoon published by Saudi paper al-Watan in 2008 (cifwatch
Charles Lucien Léandre
Another \'anti-semite\' cartoon dated 1898 by Charles Lucien Léandre showing Rothschild with the world in his hands (WikiCommons)