The rifts and disarray among Israel’s top leaders erupted into the open on Sunday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to blame the military and security establishment for the failures that led to the surprise Hamas assault on Oct. 7 — even as Israeli forces were broadening their ground war in Gaza.
The comments by Mr. Netanyahu on X, formerly Twitter, prompted a furious response, including from within his own war cabinet. The post was deleted, and the Israeli leader apologized in a new post, saying: “I was wrong.”
Among the first to call out Mr. Netanyahu’s comments was Benny Gantz, a centrist former defense minister and military chief who, for the sake of national unity, left the ranks of the parliamentary opposition to join Mr. Netanyahu’s emergency war cabinet in the days after the Oct. 7 massacre. At least 1,400 people were killed in the Hamas attacks, the deadliest day for Israel in its 75-year history, and more than 220 people were taken as hostages to Gaza.
Although many senior officials, including military and security chiefs and the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, have accepted some responsibility for Israel being caught so off-guard, Mr. Netanyahu has declined to do so. He has said several times, most recently at a news conference on Saturday evening, that after the war tough questions would be asked of everybody, including himself. Mr. Netanyahu has been in power for 14 of the past 16 years.
Mr. Netanyahu’s refusal to publicly accept blame has further shaken confidence in his leadership, which had fallen even before the war, in part because of his efforts to push through a judicial overhaul that sparked huge nationwide protests. Opinion surveys since Oct. 7 have indicated overwhelming public trust in the military and plummeting faith in government officials.
The news conference on Saturday was an attempt by the government to show unity: Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Gallant and Mr. Gantz appeared alongside one another, and the prime minister answered questions from reporters for the first time since Oct. 7.
Many of the questions focused on responsibility for the Hamas attack. Hours afterward, Mr. Netanyahu sought to deflect blame from himself, instead directing it at the security establishment — and specifically the heads of military intelligence and the Shin Bet internal security agency.
“Under no circumstances and at no stage was Prime Minister Netanyahu warned of war intentions on the part of Hamas,” his post read. “On the contrary, the assessment of the entire security echelon, including the head of military intelligence and the head of Shin Bet, was that Hamas was deterred and was seeking an arrangement.”
“This was the assessment presented time and again to the prime minister and the cabinet by all the security echelon and the intelligence community, including right up until the outbreak of the war,” it added.
Mr. Gantz responded with a sharp post expressing his full support for the military and the Shin Bet, which is playing a key role in the war, and urging Mr. Netanyahu to retract his statement.
“When we are at war, leadership means displaying responsibility, deciding to do the right things and strengthening the forces so that they will be able to carry out what we are demanding of them,” Mr. Gantz wrote.
The centrist leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, said Mr. Netanyahu had “crossed a red line.” Another former military chief, Gabi Ashkenazi, told Mr. Netanyahu to remove his post, adding, “We are at war.”
Following the backlash, Mr. Netanyahu’s post was removed. In a new post late Sunday morning, showing an unusual level of contrition, he wrote: “I was wrong. Things I said following the news conference should not have been said and I apologize for that.”
Expressing his support for the security branch heads, the military chief of staff and commanders and soldiers in the field, he added: “Together we will win.”