Minister under fire for saying: 'Apologize -- what for?'

IDF intel chief says he ‘bears full responsibility’ for not warning of Hamas attack

Maj. Gen Aharon Haliva admits ‘intelligence failure’ in not alerting to coming assault; national security adviser says country’s leaders, past and present, failed

Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva speaks at the annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy (ICT) at Reichman University in Herzliya on September 13, 2022. (Gilad Kavalerchik)
Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva speaks at the annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy (ICT) at Reichman University in Herzliya on September 13, 2022. (Gilad Kavalerchik)

The head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate said Tuesday he bears responsibility for the intelligence failures that led to the Hamas terror group carrying out its surprise onslaught on October 7 that killed some 1,300 people in Israel, most of them civilians.

“In all my visits to Military Intelligence Directorate units in the last 11 days, I sat down and stressed that the beginning of the war was an intelligence failure,” Maj. Gen Aharon Haliva said in a missive.

“The Military Intelligence Directorate, under my command, failed to warn of the terror attack carried out by Hamas,” Haliva said. “We failed in our most important mission, and as the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, I bear full responsibility for the failure.”

“What needs to be investigated, we will investigate, in the deepest and most comprehensive way, and draw the conclusions,” he added. “But now, there is only one task, to fight back and to win.”

Haliva was the latest in a string of defense officials to say they bear responsibility for the deadly invasion carried out by Hamas, after the head of the Shin Bet security agency and IDF chief of staff, who made similar remarks in recent days.

Meanwhile, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi came under fire Tuesday for seemingly indicating he did not feel the government had anything to apologize for.

In comments to Army Radio, Karhi said “I keep hearing ‘apologize, take responsibility, ask for forgiveness’ — for what?”

After a wave of criticism in the media and on social media, Karhi issued an apology in which he said that the quote was taken out of context: “I apologize! God forbid I did not intend to sound crass or to shirk responsibility. The opposite! I immediately added that of course there is responsibility for leadership — my intention was to say that we should not be dealing with that during a time of war.”

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi heads into a cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

In the devastating Hamas onslaught, over 1,500 terrorists abruptly breached the border fence from the Gaza Strip and then murderously rampaged for several hours through southern areas, slaughtering those they found. More than 1,000 of their victims were civilian men, women, and children, including dozens of babies. Some victims were mutilated, and some were raped or tortured. The gunmen overran communities, butchering entire families in their homes as well as seizing military posts and killing soldiers.

Bodies of the victims of the mass assault by Hamas on southern Israeli communities on October 7, 2023, await advanced examination for identification at the National Center of Forensic Medicine (Abu Kabir) in Jaffa, October 16, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Some 200 people of all ages — including children — were abducted and taken hostage in Gaza. Alongside the initial assault, Hamas fired over 5,000 rockets aimed at towns and cities across Israel. Gazan terror groups have continued to rain rockets on southern and central Israel since the attack, causing more deaths and injuries.

Several hours before the attack, the defense establishment identified unusual movement in the Gaza Strip, leading to a late-night phone call between senior officials, but the signs were largely dismissed.

A handful of ministers have acknowledged and taken responsibility for the failures that contributed to the Hamas onslaught, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Education Minister Yoav Kisch and Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed Israel will destroy Hamas, has not made any statements accepting personal responsibility for the failure to prevent the onslaught.

During a press conference Tuesday, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi admitted the government “did not fulfill our mission.”

Pressed about Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for 12 of the past 15 years, taking direct responsibility for the situation, Hanegbi said “the moment will come when everyone will deal with it, former and current prime ministers, army chiefs, defense ministers.”

“Countless people will surely have to take stock of how they thought that Hamas would be deterred from going into this madness that it brought on itself. The issue of responsibility will be examined,” he continued.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks to reporters at the Israel Defense Forces’ Tel Aviv headquarters, October 14, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“Nobody can dispute that the State of Israel did not fulfill its mission,” Hanegbi said and conceded he personally had made a “mistake” in assessing just a week before the assault that Hamas was deterred from attacking for years to come.

“First of all, that was my mistake, and it reflects the mistake of all those who carry out the assessments — over many years, but especially recently,” he said.

On Monday, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar wrote to members of the agency that “despite a series of actions we carried out, unfortunately, on [October 7] we were unable to generate a sufficient warning that would allow the attack to be thwarted.”

“As the one who heads the organization, the responsibility for this is mine,” Bar said. “There will be time for investigations. Now we are fighting.”

Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi admitted the military had failed in its duty to protect Gaza border regions, and vowed an investigation.

“The IDF is responsible for the security of the country and its citizens, and on Saturday morning in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip, we did not handle it,” he said. “We will learn, we will investigate, but now is the time for war.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks to troops in southern Israel on October 15, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says at least 2,800 Palestinians have been killed and 9,600 wounded in Israeli retaliatory bombardments since the fighting erupted. Israel says it is striking terror targets in the Strip, which are embedded within the civilian population. It has urged residents of northern Gaza to head south in recent days, as it prepares to intensify its operations in the Gaza City area.

The Hamas attack was the deadliest day in Israel’s history and came almost to the day fifty years after the opening of the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Egypt and Syria launched coordinated surprise attacks on Israel that initially suffered heavy losses until able to turn the tide of the war and secure victory.

In the wake of that war, and amid public discontent, then-prime minister Golda Meir resigned the following April, as did her cabinet.

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