Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologised for a post in which he cast blame on the country’s security services for failing to anticipate Hamas’s October 7 attack, saying he was “wrong” to make such comments at a time when unity is paramount.
In a social media post late on Saturday, Netanyahu took a dig at his own intelligence services, saying they had failed to warn him of a looming Hamas assault and instead assured him the group was “deterred”.
“At no time and no stage was a warning given to Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding war intentions of Hamas,” Netanyahu wrote in the now-deleted post on X, formerly Twitter. “On the contrary, all security officials, including the head of army intelligence and the head of the Shin Bet, estimated that Hamas was deterred and interested in an arrangement.”
‘Leadership most show responsibility’
The remarks quickly drew strong rebukes from fellow Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu’s allies, who said it was the time for unity rather than finger-pointing.
“When we are at war, leadership must show responsibility, decide to do the right things and strengthen the forces,” said Benny Gantz, a former defence minister who joined Netanyahu’s war cabinet after the attack.
“Any other action or statement harms the people’s ability to stand and their strength. The prime minister must retract his statement.”
Yair Lapid, an opposition leader and former prime minister, accused Netanyahu of crossing “a red line” and undermining the army.
Netanyahu quickly deleted the contentious post and apologised for undercutting his security services in a follow-up statement, guaranteeing that they have his “full backing”.
“Things I said … should not have been said and I apologize for that,” Netanyahu wrote on X. “I give full backing to all the heads of the security branches … Together we will win.”
טעיתי. דברים שאמרתי בעקבות מסיבת העיתונאים לא היו צריכים להיאמר ואני מתנצל על כך. אני נותן גיבוי מלא לכל ראשי זרועות הביטחון. אני מחזק את הרמטכ״ל ואת מפקדי וחיילי צה״ל שנמצאים בחזית ונלחמים על הבית. יחד ננצח.
— Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) October 29, 2023
While Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs have owned up to their shortcomings leading up to the attack, Netanyahu has dodged responsibility, creating a growing rift between him and the departments.
Netanyahu has said that there will be time to ask tough questions, including of himself, after the war.
Netanyahu’s response has added to public concerns that he is prioritising his political interests over national security, as he battles a draw-out corruption trial that could threaten his power.
“[Netanyahu] is not interested in security, he is not interested in hostages, only politics,” said opposition lawmaker Avigdor Lieberman, once Netanyahu’s defence minister, in a radio interview.
Al Jazeera correspondent Sara Khairat said Netanyahu’s public “war of words” with his cabinet comes as he takes more heat for not owning up to the government’s failures.
“Interestingly, [Netanyahu] apologised for the tweets … but has not yet, despite criticism, apologised himself or taken any of the blame for not being able to prevent the attack, at a time when the unity government is supposed to be united,” Khairat said from the occupied West Bank.
‘Second phase’ of war
Netanyahu’s public clash with his intelligence units comes as Israel begins what he has characterised as a “second phase” of its war in the Gaza Strip, with additional ground incursions adding to relentless aerial bombardments.
“We are only at the start,” Netanyahu said at a press conference. “We will destroy the enemy above ground and below ground.”
Israel has been hammering Gaza for three weeks in response to a surprise Hamas onslaught on Israeli territory that killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians. Israel’s aerial strikes have killed 8,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians and many children, and decimated much of the enclave’s infrastructure.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed calls on Sunday for a “humanitarian pause” to the war, saying the situation in Gaza was growing “more desperate by the hour”.
On Sunday, thousands of Palestinians stormed United Nations warehouses for food and basic needs in a sign of desperation. Israel has said that it would allow more aid trucks to enter the Palestinian enclave.