Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was criticized for sowing panic on Friday night when he suddenly announced late in the evening that he would make an imminent televised address to the nation, and then delivered an address with no urgent content.
The move was highly unusual as no Israeli premier has addressed the nation on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, since prime minister Yitzhak Rabin announced the failed rescue attempt of kidnapped IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman in 1994.
The surprise speech came as the country is reeling from a shock attack last Saturday morning by Hamas terrorists who rampaged through Gaza border communities, killing more than 1,300 people in Israel, mostly civilians, in a devastating hours-long massacre, and taking about 150-200 hostages into the Palestinian enclave, including children, women, and elderly people. Their fate is not yet known.
Israelis tuning in to the unusually timed speech on Friday evening were likely expecting the announcement of a major development, seven days into a war with Hamas with a declared goal to dismantle the terror organization. Israel has said it is targeting terrorist infrastructure and all areas where Hamas operates or hides in Gaza and that Israeli forces have also killed some 1,500 Hamas terrorists who infiltrated into its territory since Saturday.
There has been no substantial news on the hostages or efforts to secure their release.
But Netanyahu’s short speech Friday contained nothing substantial and revelatory and appeared designed to boost morale or to allay criticism that he has not been seen with the families of the dead or hostages.
“Today, everyone knows that we’re fighting for the homeland, and we’re fighting like lions,” he began. “We are all united… Much more will be told of the heroism of our people in the dark days of deep pain of that cursed Shabbat — stories that will be etched into Israel’s identity,” he said.
He said he spoke earlier in the day with more of the families who lost loved ones or whose loved ones are missing. “Their worlds have been destroyed,” he says. “I know… We’ll never forget the atrocities that our enemies carried out,” he said, “and we’ll never forgive. And we’ll never let the world, or anyone, forget these atrocities, [of a kind] that were not done to the Jewish people in many decades.”
We’re hitting “our enemies with unprecedented force,” he went on, but “I stress: It’s only the beginning. Our enemies have only just begun to pay the price. I won’t detail what will come next. But I’m telling you, it’s only the beginning.”
Israel is garnering “immense international support,” he concluded. “We are ensuring the continuation of the war, with more ammunition and weaponry coming to Israel… We will destroy Hamas, and we will win. It will take time, but we will end this war stronger than ever.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid slammed Netanyahu after the address.
“It is not unacceptable for the prime minister of Israel to send an entire country into a whirlwind of panic while waiting for his statement on Friday night during a time of emergency and then not say anything new — not about the families of the abductees, nor about the northern front, nor about evacuation [of residents from areas deemed in potential danger],” Lapid tweeted.
“Such statements must not made by a prime minister unless he has new information to bring to his people and the country,” Lapid added.
Netanyahu’s announcement was also flamed across social media, with users calling it “hollow,” “stupid,” “another example of this man’s disconnect [from the people]” and “an escape from responsibility.”