Netanyahu slammed for post blaming intelligence chiefs for Oct. 7 failure; apologizes

PM deletes tweet hours later, then apologizes and says he fully backs security chiefs, after Gantz upbraids him: ‘When we are at war, leadership must display responsibility’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with troops in southern Israel on October 24, 2023. (Kobi Gidon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with troops in southern Israel on October 24, 2023. (Kobi Gidon/GPO)

In a late-night tweet Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated previous claims that he was not warned by security chiefs about an impending Hamas attack, and claimed all security chiefs had consistently assured him Hamas was deterred, drawing sharp criticism over the apparent attempt to blame them and evade responsibility for the disaster. He deleted the post some nine hours later, and issued a rare apology shortly afterward.

“Contrary to the false claims: Under no circumstances and at no stage was Prime Minister Netanyahu warned of Hamas’s war intentions,” read the original tweet, posted shortly after 1 a.m. local time, hours after Netanyahu held a joint press conference with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz.

The tweet elaborated: “On the contrary, all the security officials, including the head of military intelligence and the head of the Shin Bet, assessed that Hamas had been deterred and was looking for a settlement. This assessment was submitted again and again to the prime minister and the cabinet by all the security forces and intelligence community, up until the outbreak of the war.”

At the press conference, Netanyahu had been asked about a written warning about the growing likelihood of war ostensibly issued in recent months by the head of the Shin Bet and the head of IDF military intelligence, and said the question was “inaccurate.”

About an hour after he deleted the post, Netanyahu issued a rare apology for the statement, writing on X late Sunday morning: “I was wrong. The things I said following the press conference should not have been said and I apologize for that.”

He added that: “I give full backing to all the heads of the security services. I am sending strength to the [IDF] chief of staff and the commanders and soldiers of the IDF who are on the frontlines and fighting for our home.”

Netanyahu’s statement, seeming to place blame on security officials for the failures leading to the October 7 massacre rather than accept any responsibility himself, drew sharp criticism Sunday morning, including from within his emergency government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks (left) as Defense Minister Yoav Galant (center) and head of the National Unity party Benny Gantz (right) during a joint press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. October 28, 2023. (Dana Kopel/POOL)

“The prime minister must retract his statement and stop addressing this matter,” Gantz tweeted in response on Sunday, in what appeared to be the first public disagreement between the two since the National Unity party leader joined the coalition following the outbreak of war.

“On this morning in particular, I want to support and strengthen all the security forces and IDF soldiers, including the IDF chief of staff, the head of military intelligence, the head of the Shin Bet,” Gantz added. “When we are at war, leadership must display responsibility, make the correct decisions and strengthen the forces in a way that they will understand what we demand from them… the prime minister must retract his statement.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, who has refused to join the emergency war government, tweeted that “Netanyahu crossed a red line tonight” and must apologize.

“While IDF soldiers and officers are fighting bravely against Hamas and Hezbollah, [the PM] is trying to blame them, instead of supporting them. The efforts to evade responsibility and place blame on the security establishment weakens the IDF while it is fighting Israel’s enemies,” Lapid said.

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, considered a close Netanyahu ally, said Sunday morning to Kan public radio, “Responsibility is something you take at the start of your job, not midway.” Cohen noted that when he led the Mossad, “everything that happened in the agency, from top to bottom, was my responsibility.”

Cohen, who left his post in June 2021, said that he did not want to address “whether there were any warnings” leading up to the devastating October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Cohen added that he had not been privy to intelligence reports since he left his role, but that the heads of intelligence services are the ones ultimately responsible for understanding intelligence reports and passing that information to the appropriate channels.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen during a toast ceremony for the Jewish New Year on October 2, 2017 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir also joined the criticism of Netanyahu’s since-deleted post, writing that “the problem isn’t specific warnings, but rather the entire mistaken concept. The policy of containment, the imaginary deterrence, and buying temporary quiet for an exorbitant price” were the cause of the entire problem.

Ben Gvir added, however, that such a discussion “is not for now,” but that there will be “a lot of time afterwards for an accounting,” alluding to the position he will likely adopt after the war against Netanyahu’s policies of trying to contain Hamas.

Netanyahu’s late-night tweet came just hours after the prime minister took questions from reporters for the first time since the outbreak of the war, during a Saturday night press conference alongside Gallant and Gantz.

During that appearance, the prime minister once again stopped short of taking direct responsibility for the Palestinian terror group’s deadly onslaught.

“After the war everyone will have to give answers, myself included,” he said, repeating comments he made earlier in the week. But, he stressed, “there was an awful debacle.”

He also refused to commit to setting up a state commission of inquiry — the most powerful and consequential investigative panel — to investigate the failings that enabled the Hamas atrocities. “There will not be a stone left unturned,” he said, adding that his focus right now was only on winning and “saving the state.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Herzi Halevi, October 23, 2023. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Netanyahu was also asked whether his government’s judicial overhaul efforts had distracted attention from security challenges, and said the legislative proposals to weaken the courts are “no longer on the agenda” and that disagreements had been resolved in the face of war.

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, which began with a brutal surprise attack by Hamas, questions have swirled around governmental responsibility for the intelligence and operational failures which enabled the cross-border incursion to occur.

On October 7, over 2,500 terrorists led by Hamas crossed the border with the Gaza Strip and began a murderous rampage through southern regions, killing over 1,400 people, most of them civilians. The gunmen also abducted over 230 people, including the elderly and infants, who are now being held captive in Gaza.

Hamas terrorists breached Israel’s security perimeter around Gaza under the cover of thousands of rockets, and then operated with relative impunity for much of that Saturday.

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