Opposition slams Netanyahu for reportedly casting blame for Oct. 7 on IDF reservists

Lapid tells Netanyahu to ‘stop it,’ while Liberman and Michaeli renew calls for PM’s ouster

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, October 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, October 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Opposition party leaders slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday for continuing to deflect blame for Israel’s failure to prevent Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 onslaught, after the premier reportedly suggested that protests by reserve soldiers against his coalition earlier this year may have been a factor in the terror group’s decision to launch the brutal assault.

“Every time, he does the same thing: tweets and then deletes, says it and then denies it. That’s his method,” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said at the outset of his Yesh Atid party’s faction meeting at the Knesset.

“Except this time, it won’t work for him. I am telling Netanyahu, we will not let you conduct this one-sided discussion,” he continued, adding that his party had originally not intended to play the blame game during wartime.

Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman and Labor chief Merav Michaeli went further in their criticism, calling on Netanyahu to resign.

During a Sunday night off-camera briefing to reporters, Netanyahu linked the reservist protest movement — in which thousands of reservists threatened to refuse to show up for duty if the government advanced its highly controversial judicial overhaul bills — with Hamas’s decision to launch its October 7 attack, according to some Hebrew media reports, which the premier has denied.

If true, this is the second time Netanyahu has pushed blame for the major intelligence and operational failures on members of the defense and security establishment, following previous comments that suggested that responsibility lay with the heads of Israel’s intelligence services. Netanyahu has not joined a long list of other senior officials who have acknowledged their own responsibility for the severe strategic failure.

Directing remarks toward the premier on Monday, Lapid said that Netanyahu should “stop this.”

“Instead of slandering our best fighters and civilians by night, focus on what matters: returning the hostages, defeating Hamas, [and] improving the shameful performance of your government on behalf of the citizens of Israel,” Lapid added.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman holds a faction meeting in the Knesset on October 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

Liberman attacked Netanyahu for a “failed” Gaza policy. He likened Netanyahu’s past strategy of using economic incentives to keep Hamas’s hostilities in check to the UK’s failed appeasement strategy towards Nazi expansionism.

Pointing to then-UK prime minister Neville Chamberlain passing leadership to Winston Churchill, Liberman said that he expects Netanyahu to resign. He added that instead of taking responsibility for the failed strategy, Netanyahu is trying “to roll responsibility onto someone else.”

Michaeli also reiterated her call for Netanyahu to step down, saying that “Netanyahu has already proven, time and again, that he is willing to harm the vital interests of the State of Israel for the sake of his personal survival.”

Specifically, she said that the premier is beholden to political extremists who are necessary to shore up his coalition. Before the war, Netanyahu held a thin, 64-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset. Benny Gantz’s National Unity party joined his emergency government, and Netanyahu added its 12 MKs to his wartime coalition.

“Netanyahu, who again incited against reservists and pilots yesterday, knows that without the messianists, without the Smotriches, he does not have 64 and his government will fall,” Michaeli said, referencing Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotritch, a far-right senior government minister.

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

“Therefore, he is selling us all to messianists at the risk of opening a third front in the West Bank and needlessly killing soldiers and civilians,” Michaeli added.

Smotrich on Monday released a letter proposing sterile zones in the West Bank, presumably free of Palestinians, to help protect Jewish settlers, whom he said the government has abandoned. Settler violence against Palestinians has spiked during the war, and the government has faced criticism for failing to rein it in, including from the United States.

But the West Bank is not Israel’s only shaky front in addition to the main war zone in Gaza. While Hezbollah and Israel have not officially declared their current hostilities to be an active war, residents of Israel’s north are increasingly calling it so.

Liberman also said that the government needs to take a stronger hand against Hezbollah attacks in the north, saying Israel’s current controlled response policy is insufficient.

Labor party head Merav Michaeli visits the families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, during a protest outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. October 14, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

“We have to change the policy. We can’t only respond,” the hawkish opposition party head said, arguing that the war cabinet’s current thinking was obsolete.

“I hope that no one plans to tolerate fire from Yemen by Houthis toward Israel,” Liberman added.

Liberman, Lapid, Labor party MK Efrat Rayten, and Shas party head Aryeh Deri were scheduled to meet later Monday with representatives of the families of the more than 240 hostages currently held in Gaza.

Ahead of the meeting, Michaeli said that Israel should make returning the hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 its “supreme goal.”

Speaking at the outset of her party’s Knesset faction meeting, which included representatives for hostage families, Michaeli criticized the government’s policy of prioritizing victory over Hamas, and said that there “is a feeling that it is not certain that we will make any effort to make this [hostage return] happen.”

Michaeli also said that a month into Israel’s war, the cabinet should start discussing a plan for the day after victory. The US has reportedly expressed concern over Israel’s lack of answers for how the Gaza Strip would be governed should Israel succeed in rooting out its current terrorist leadership.

“We must work hand in hand with the United States, Europe, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority to formulate a framework that will allow Israel to leave Gaza when Gaza is demilitarized and where Hamas will not be able to reestablish itself,” Michaeli suggested.

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