IDF says Netanyahu was warned 4 times in 2023 about how enemies saw internal discord

PM denies military gave indication that Hamas could attack amid judicial overhaul upheaval, says to the contrary, it claimed terror group had no interest in attacking from Gaza

Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, March 18, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, March 18, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received four communiques from the Military Intelligence Directorate in the spring and summer of 2023 warning him about how the country’s enemies were viewing the upheaval in Israeli society at the time, the Israel Defense Forces revealed on Thursday.

In response to a freedom of information request filed by the Hatzlacha nonprofit on the matter, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that “during 2023, between March and July, four different warning letters were passed by the intelligence directorate, which showed how Israel’s enemies… viewed the harm to cohesion in the State of Israel and the IDF in particular.”

Hatzlacha, which describes itself as aiming to promote a fair society in Israel, said that seven months ago, in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 Hamas terror onslaught, it filed a request for the information regarding warnings given to Netanyahu before the unprecedented attack.

The IDF did not release the content of the letters sent to Netanyahu, however, saying that as they were issued by the Military Intelligence Directorate, they fell outside of the Freedom of Information Law.

The Hamas-led October 7 massacre followed months of societal upheaval in Israel as Netanyahu’s hard-right government attempted to push through its controversial legislation overhauling the country’s judicial system. The effort sparked an unprecedented mass protest movement, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets on a weekly basis.

During the widespread demonstrations, more than 10,000 IDF and Israeli Air Force reservists froze their service in protest of the legislation, which they warned would greatly harm Israel’s democracy and, as a result, its security.

Defense officials repeatedly warned that the country’s defense capabilities could be harmed as a result of the drastic plan, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said publicly in March 2023 that the rifts over the legislation had spread to the military and posed a tangible threat to Israeli security, prompting Netanyahu to fire him (and reinstate him two weeks later amid a further national outcry). Just days before October 7, IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar was reported to have instructed all pilots to return to service by October 17, warning they could otherwise be dismissed.

Following the October 7 terror onslaught, in which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people — most of them civilians — and seized 252 hostages, some have sought to draw a connection between the societal divisions caused by the judicial overhaul and the unprecedented attack in southern Israel.

Israelis protest against the judicial overhaul implemented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Netanyahu rejected the IDF’s assertion on Thursday that he had been warned of the potential harm that could be wreaked upon Israel amid the upheaval.

“Not only is there no warning in any of the documents about Hamas’s intentions to attack Israel from Gaza, but they instead give a completely opposite assessment,” Netanyahu’s office claimed in a statement.

The main focus of the IDF’s missives was not Hamas, Netanyahu alleged, claiming that the Palestinian terror group was only mentioned two times across four documents, first on March 19 and later on May 31, 2023.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the first instance in which Hamas was mentioned was an assessment that the terror group was more interested in harming Israel “in other arenas” than it was in launching attacks from Gaza. In the second instance two months later, Netanyahu’s office asserted that the IDF recommended Israel join the “regional deescalation trend” and move toward resolving things with Hamas vis-à-vis Gaza.

“The assessment in the documents that Hamas was not interested in escalation and was interested in a resolution with Israel was consistently shared by all security bodies, who went so far as to claim that Hamas was deterred,” the statement continued.

Furthermore, the statement said Netanyahu himself had also warned about the negative consequences that divisions in Israeli society could have on the country’s enemies, citing a statement delivered by Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting on July 17, 2023, in which he said that the government wouldn’t accept “insubordination” from reservists who refused to serve.

“The prime minister warned that this internal debate was ‘eroding our ability to deter our enemies who can easily be tempted to attack us,'” the PMO said.

Netanyahu has consistently refused to take prime personal responsibility for Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, which his government failed to foresee or prevent. He hinted at “failures” during a recent interview with American television psychologist Dr. Phil, but declined to say whether they were military or political.

Top defense officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, have said in the aftermath of the unprecedented Hamas massacre that they bear responsibility for the military’s failure to protect Israelis on the Gaza border.

Israel’s Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva became the most senior official to resign over the failures last month, in a move likely to be followed by other security officials at some point.

Netanyahu has insisted on waiting for a state commission of inquiry to make determinations regarding the culpability of the government — which he says cannot take place while the war in Gaza is ongoing.

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