Netanyahu denies suggesting reservist refusals may have factored in Hamas attack

Gantz slams widely reported remarks, seemingly a bid by PM to shift blame over massacre; PM: Hamas went to war because it wants to kill us all, not because of any internal argument

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference at the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. (Dana Kopel/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference at the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. (Dana Kopel/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reportedly appeared to intimate that protests by reserve soldiers against his coalition’s judicial overhaul legislation earlier this year may have been a factor in the Hamas terror group’s decision to launch its brutal incursion on October 7, in an apparent attempt to deflect responsibility for failures that led to the slaughter of 1,400 people in southern Israel and the ongoing war against Hamas.

He later denied making any such comments.

Several Hebrew media outlets reported on Sunday afternoon that Netanyahu believes that, after the war, Israel must probe any connection between Israeli “insubordination” and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar’s motivation to launch the deadly onslaught, referring to some reservists’ refusal to show up for reserve duty over the highly divisive legislative package.

According to tweets by Channel 13 reporter Moriah Asraf Wolberg, comments to this effect were made by the prime minister during a briefing with diplomatic reporters at which she asked him a question, and the Prime Minister’s Office has a recording of the session.

She tweeted: “I asked the prime minister if he felt guilty and if he had prepared for war as the IDF had warned, and he replied: 1. No warning was received. 2. I warned about [reservists’] refusal to serve and I said that at the moment of truth, it wouldn’t happen. The day after [the war], the connection between the refusals [to serve] and Sinwar’s moves will be probed.

“One of the reporters sought to clarify: Are you saying that’s what motivated Sinwar? Netanyahu replied that that’s not what he said, but it will be probed.”

After Minister Benny Gantz blasted Netanyahu for the reported comments on Sunday evening, the Prime Minister’s Office rushed to deny that he had made them.

“As opposed to what has been reported, the prime minister absolutely did not say that [reservists’] refusals are what led Hamas to attack Israel. The prime minister said before the war that our enemy should not misread us — because, at the moment of truth, everyone will report for service, as indeed happened,” the PMO said in a statement.

File: A reservist signs a declaration intending to end their volunteer reserve duty, outside the IDF headquarters and near the Tel Aviv Museum in Tel Aviv, July 19, 2023. (Courtesy, Ben Cohen)

Netanyahu later Sunday tweeted that “Hamas went to war against us because it wants to kill all of us and not because of any internal argument. Hamas was wrong and will therefore be eliminated. Only together will we win.”

It would not have been the first time Netanyahu cast blame on the military for the failures that led to the devastating onslaught on October 7. The prime minister issued a rare apology last week and retracted a claim posted online saying that security chiefs had not warned him about an impending Hamas attack, and that all security chiefs had consistently assured him Hamas was deterred.

Netanyahu has also denied reports that Egyptian intelligence officials had warned the country over an impending attack.

On October 25, Netanyahu came close to admitting some responsibility, saying that “everyone will have to give answers,” including himself, on the failures that led to Hamas’s massacre, but only after the war.

Minister Benny Gantz during a tour in the Galilee, northern Israel, October 29, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

In his response to Netanyahu’s reported remarks on Sunday, Gantz praised the reservists and Israeli society as a whole for their response to the war, and accused the prime minister of “evading responsibility and mud-slinging in a time of war.”

“The prime minister must clearly and unambiguously retract his words,” he added. “Together, all of Israeli society, we will win.”

The Brothers and Sisters in Arms reservist protest group, which since the outbreak of war has directed its resources and organizational knowhow toward aiding the home front effort, accused Netanyahu of “sticking a knife in the backs of soldiers during war.”

“We will not be confused by spin that tries to cover up the weakness of the prime minister in the face of ministers who want to drop an atomic bomb,” the group’s statement read, referring to widely panned comments by Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, who suggested that dropping a nuke on the Gaza Strip was an option in the war.

“Unlike you and your son who is a keyboard warrior in Miami, we are helping the IDF win,” the protest group said, referring to Netanyahu’s son Yair. “The whole nation is an army and only you continue to tear the nation apart. You will not succeed.”

A group of tech entrepreneurs and employees, also set up initially to counter the planned judicial overhaul, also issued a statement blasting Netanyahu: “We are still mourning friends and family who fell and were murdered, we are worried about colleagues who showed up for battle, days after they were called anarchists, traitors and ‘Tanzim,’ and our prime minister is deep in the campaign [against us]. If it weren’t dangerous, it would be sad.”

In the months before the Hamas onslaught, top security and defense officials had warned that the country faced potential threats from enemies emboldened by the rifts in Israel surrounding the overhaul legislation. Netanyahu fired and then later reinstated Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who warned in March that the divide over the coalition’s bid to subjugate the judiciary was harming the military and constituted a tangible threat to Israeli security.

The military also had warned that reservist refusals in response to the overhaul had begun to take a toll on its capabilities.

Israel launched its war against Hamas after the terror group carried out its brutal assault on southern Israel communities, killing some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking over 240 hostages, including small children and the elderly. In response to the killings, Israel vowed to eradicate the terror group and has since hit thousands of Hamas targets inside the Strip with airstrikes and ongoing ground operations.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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