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Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to apologise on Sunday after a furious backlash from across the political spectrum over his claim that Israel’s security establishment had not warned him of Hamas’s plan to attack the country.
The Israeli prime minister had said in a social media post on Saturday night that “at no time and no stage” was he given advance warning of Hamas’s October 7 assault, which is the deadliest on Israel’s territory.
“All security officials, including the head of army intelligence and the head of the Shin Bet [internal security service], estimated that Hamas was deterred,” Netanyahu wrote on X.
The comments drew a storm of condemnation from Netanyahu’s allies and foes alike, with Benny Gantz — one of five men in Israel’s war cabinet and a former army chief of staff — demanding that the prime minister retract the statement.
“When we are at war, the leadership must show responsibility, decide to do the right things and strengthen the forces in a way that they can carry out what we demand of them,” Gantz wrote on X.
A second member of the war cabinet, Gadi Eisenkot — who is also a former military chief of staff — also criticised Netanyahu’s statement, calling on the prime minister to “cease from criticising the services that he’s responsible for”.
“It’s essential at this time to fully back the heads of the security services and to stand by them unreservedly,” Eisenkot added.
The row is the latest sign of the tensions within Israel’s leadership as it battles with the fallout from the October 7 attack, which is widely seen as one of Israel’s biggest-ever intelligence failures. Analysts have compared it to the country’s failure to anticipate the joint attack by Egyptian and Syrian forces in 1973 that began the Yom Kippur war.
Amid a blizzard of criticism, Netanyahu’s original post was deleted, and an apology was posted on Sunday morning. “I made a mistake. The things I said after the press conference should not have been said and I apologise for them,” he wrote on X.
“I fully back the heads of the security agencies. I give my full support to the chief of general staff and the officers and soldiers of the IDF who are on the front lines and are fighting for our homeland. Together we will win.”
Hamas militants killed more than 1,400 people and injured over 5,400 in the assault, according to Israeli officials. They were also able to take more than 200 people hostage, as the IDF initially struggled to repel the surprise attack.
Israel has since responded with a ferocious bombardment of Hamas’s infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Its air force has dropped thousands of bombs on the territory in an assault that has killed more than 8,000 people and injured over 20,200, according to Palestinian officials.
Israel has also severely restricted supplies of electricity, food, water and fuel to Gaza — an escalation of the crippling blockade it and Egypt have imposed since Hamas seized power of the territory in 2007. This has drastically worsened the already dire humanitarian conditions in the impoverished Palestinian enclave.
Senior civilian and military officials, including Israel’s finance minister, the head of military intelligence, the head of Shin Bet and the military chief of staff, have all admitted to failures in the run-up to Hamas’s assault, but Netanyahu has so far refused to take responsibility for the shortcomings.
Asked at a press conference on Saturday night whether a state inquiry would be formed to look into the failings, Netanyahu said: “After the war, everyone will have to give answers to difficult questions, and that includes me.”
He said the authorities would “leave no stone unturned” in investigating the October 7 disaster, but his “supreme mission at the moment is to save the country” and lead it to a “decisive victory over Hamas”.