Benjamin Netanyahu's failings before Hamas attack on Israel from Gaza

The failures Benjamin Netanyahu will have to answer to after the war

  • Netanyahu has been criticized for focusing on Iran, Hezbollah and the West Bank
  • His government was taken in by Hamas intentions to govern Gaza and not fight
  • Netanyahu’s controversial overhaul of the judiciary offered a ‘shot of encouragement’ to terrorists, security figures warned
  • READ MORE: Biden thinks Netanyahu could be replaced after the war 

Four days after Israel’s 9/11 Ofir Shai was clear whose failings were to blame for not preventing it – Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.

Shai, a son of Israel’s former economy minister Izhar Shai, delivered a heartfelt eulogy for his brother Yaron, who was among the 1,400 Israelis killed by Hamas terrorists invading from Gaza on October 7.

In front of a large crowd, interrupted by sirens, he condemned what he called Netanyahu’s ‘government of shame,’ describing it as ‘clownish’.

He said: ‘My little brother was killed by murderous terrorists filled with hate, and the one who opened the door for them, with its debased actions, was the government of Israel.

‘You abandoned the soldiers of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). You abandoned the people who live along the Gaza border. You abandoned the state of Israel. You abandoned my beloved brother. I expect you all to take responsibility and resign.’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced criticism over his policies prior to the Hamas terrorist atrocity on Oct. 7

Left-wing opponents of Netanyahuduring a rally calling on him to resign in Tel Aviv, Israel, 28 October 2023

Netanyahu has urged that any political reckoning be postponed until after the war, and the destruction of Hamas, but when that time comes he will face a wave of anger.

Polls show the Israeli Prime Minister’’s already plunging popularity imploded in the wake of the Hamas atrocity. His approval rating is down to 30 percent.

The criticisms being leveled at him over actions before October 7, are fourfold.

First, that he underestimated the threat Hamas posed. Second, that his focus on overhauling Israel’s judiciary left the country distracted and vulnerable.

Third, that he did not heed warnings from senior security figures. And, fourth, that, as Prime Minister, he bears responsibility for a series of operational mistakes.

In addition, there has been further criticism of Netanyahu’s actions since the Hamas attack – including his public attempt to blame the security services rather than take responsibility, and his response to those impacted by the horrific onslaught.

Underestimating the threat of Hamas

In recent years, Netanyahu, his critics say, focused more on the threat from Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, than that of Hamas.

He and his officials came to see Hamas and its leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, as more interested in governing and seeking to develop the economy, improving the living standards of Gaza’s 2.3 million population.

Tel Aviv allowed about 18,000 Palestinian laborers from Gaza to work in Israel, where they were able to earn 10 times more money working in industries like construction.

Hamas, Netanyahu and his officials believed, was contained in Gaza.

Netanyahu was said to be focused on the threat of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Iran

Supporters of Iranian proxy terror group Hezbollah at a funeral in Lebanon on October 27 

Instead, they turned their attention to the existential threat of Iran, the potential for an attack from Lebanon by Hezbollah, and also to events in the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s government included supporters of Jewish West Bank settlers who demanded a security crackdown amid a rising tide of violence there.

Forces were stationed more heavily in the West Bank, home to half a million settlers, and Israel’s military was then caught off guard by the attack from Gaza on its southern flank.

In the wake of Oct. 7 retired general Yaakov Amidror, former national security adviser to Netanyahu, admitted there had been a ‘huge failure’ of the ‘military apparatus in the south.’

He said that, before the attack, some of Israel’s allies had been suggesting to Tel Aviv that Hamas was becoming ‘more responsible’ in its governing of Gaza.

‘We stupidly began to believe that it was true,’ he said. ‘So, we made a mistake.’

Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a former Middle East negotiator, said Israel had been focused on the violence in the West Bank, and left a ‘thin, under-prepared presence’ in the south near Gaza.

Palestinian youths in Ramallah, West Bank clash with Israeli Defence Forces during skirmishes at a checkpoint on October 27, 2023

The funeral of Yaron Shai, who was killed by Hamas on October 7. In a eulogy his brother, Ofir, (center) criticized he government of Benjamin Netanyahu

At the same time, Israel had also turned its attention away from Hamas as it pushed to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.

When unusual movement of Hamas forces in Gaza began in the middle of the night Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, still didn’t know what was about to unfold, and there was even a delay in waking up Netanyahu.

It turned out to be the worst worst breach of Israel’s defenses in 50 years, with Hamas using bulldozers, hang gliders and motorbikes to attack.

Netanyahu’s administration had fallen for two years of Hamas subterfuge, and was tricked.

During that time the terror group had indicated it did not want to fight, all the while keeping its true plans secret.

An Israeli army spokesman said: ‘We believed the fact they (Gazans) were coming in to work and bringing money into Gaza would create a certain level of calm. We were wrong.’

Israel ‘distracted’ due to Netanyahu’s overhaul of the justice system

For much of this year Israel had been in turmoil over Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary.

He argued the country’s unelected judges had too much power over parliament, and he was backed by an alliance of ultranationalist and religious parties.

Opponents argued the plan would push the country toward authoritarian rule by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his parliamentary allies.

Police use a water cannon on a road leading to the Prime Minister’s office as protesters demonstrated following a parliament vote on a contested bill that limits Supreme Court powers to void some government decisions, in Jerusalem July 24,

Netanyahu had received repeated warnings from his defense chiefs that the crisis of the judicial system was impacting the work of the security services.

Ronen Bar, the head of Shin Bet, warned publicly that the situation was a ‘shot of encouragement’ to the ‘terrorist organizations and the axis of evil countries’.

Martin Indyk, President Barack Obama’s former special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, said it was an additional factor in Israel being caught off guard by Hamas.

‘That roiled the IDF in a way that was, I think we discovered, was a huge distraction,’ he said.

Critics of Netanyahu claimed his government neglected basic functions while focusing on attacking the Supreme Court, and that terrorists saw weakness amid the chaos.

‘They wasted a whole year on nonsense,” Arnon Bar David, head of Israel’s Histadrut trade union, said. ‘Government offices haven’t been functioning for a year now, so obviously they can’t cope with emergency situations.’

Intelligence warnings

On Sept 11, less than a month before the Hamas attack, Herzi Halevi, the IDF chief of staff for the IDF, gave a public speech and his message was clear – don’t be over-confident and do be prepared for an attack.

‘We must consider every statement of our enemies, in words or deeds. Not to underestimate them, nor to glorify ourselves,’ he said. ‘We must be more prepared than ever for a multi-aspect and extensive military conflict.’

Six weeks earlier Halevi had reportedly turned up at the Knesset with classified information suggesting that Hamas and others would see the crisis over the judiciary as an opportunity.

However, Netanyahu and other politicians did not meet with him, the New York Times reported.

Herzi Helevi, Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, had warned against underestimating the threat

There were also warnings emanating from Egypt, which has in the past mediated between Israel and Hamas.

Speaking in the days after the Hamas attack an Egyptian official said: ‘We warned them an explosion of the situation is coming, and very soon, and it would be big. But they underestimated such warnings.’

Operational failings

Israel withdrew troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and Hamas took over in 2007.

Since then it has built up hi-tech surveillance systems and spy networks,

It knew where Hamas leaders were and successfully carried out surgical strikes while they slept, also destroying many miles of underground tunnels.

However, despite that, Hamas was able to keep a lid on its planned atrocity for months, training hundreds of terrorists to carry it out.

Amir Avivi, a retired Israeli general, said Israel relied to heavily on technology, and in response Hamas had gone back to ‘stone age’ tactics.

Its terrorists stopped using cell phones and computers.

‘The other side learned to deal with our technological dominance and they stopped using technology that could expose it,’ he said.

A salvo of rockets is fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on November 1, 2023

That fueled a belief among Israeli officials that Hamas would not attack.

In turn, that led to operational mistakes such as deciding a year ago not to monitor radios used by Hamas because there did not appear to be a threat.

Netanyahu blames his own security services

Three weeks after the Hamas attack, in a tweet at 1am, Netanyahu said he had not been warned by his own security chiefs.

The post read: ‘Contrary to the false claims: Under no circumstances and at no stage was Prime Minister Netanyahu warned of Hamas’s war intentions.

‘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.’

Netanyahu visits Israeli police after publicly criticizing his own security services

Netanyahu faced an immediate backlash, including from his own allies, for throwing Shin Bet under the bus.

Benny Gantz, a member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet, responded: ‘The prime minister must retract his statement and stop addressing this matter.

‘When we are at war, leadership must display responsibility, make the correct decisions and strengthen the forces.’

Yossi Cohen, former head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and an ally of Netanyahu, said: ‘Responsibility is something you take at the start of your job, not midway.’

Yossi Cohen (r), former head of Mossad, said the Prime Minister should take responsibility 

Nine hours after he posted it, Netanyahu deleted the tweet.

He wrote: ‘I was wrong. The things I said…should not have been said and I apologize for that.

‘I give full backing to all the heads of the security services.’

Netanyahu criticized for response to crisis

The heads of the army and Shin Bet, and other members of the government, quickly apologized and took responsibility for the failure to detect the attack before it happened.

But it was 18 days before Netanyahu came close to doing so.

At that point he told the nation: ‘This failure will be investigated thoroughly. Everyone will need to provide answers, myself included, but all of this will happen only after the war.’

In the days after the attack he did not make public visits to the injured in hospitals or go to funerals of victims.

He did not meet with families of the 200 Israeli hostages being held in Gaza until more than a week after the attack.

That was two days after Joe Biden spoke to families of U.S. citizens being held.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with representatives of Israeli hostages’ families in Tel Aviv on October 28, 2023

Senior Israeli officials defended Netanyahu from criticism, saying he was ‘fully focused on winning the war.’

But he also faced criticism from those who said his government had failed to come to their aid in the wake of Hamas’s murderous rampage.

Ruvi Dar, a clinical psychologist giving counseling to Israeli survivors, said: ‘The government is completely incompetent. Any support that the refugees are getting right now is completely grassroots. Absolutely nothing by the state.’

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