With the U.S. engaged in the delicate balance of expressing unequivocal support for Israel in fighting Hamas militants with minimizing civilian casualties, former President Donald Trump ignored diplomatic niceties by condemning Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump’s assessment that Netanyahu and Israel were not prepared—although he later rolled the criticism back—echoed that of commentators in Israeli media, both mainstream and social, who hold the prime minister directly responsible for the intelligence failures preceding the attacks by Hamas on October 7.
Netanyahu may have vowed that every member of Hamas is a “dead man”, but there are questions over whether his own premiership can survive the biggest breach of Israeli security since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
“Netanyahu bears overall blame for this catastrophe,” Yossi Alpher, a former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intelligence officer and ex-senior official with Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, told Newsweek. “He should have resigned on (last) Saturday morning when he realised where his policies had brought us.” Newsweek has contacted Netanyahu’s office for comment by email.
Two days after the Hamas attacks, which Reuters reported has so far claimed at least 1,200 Israeli lives, Alpher published on his website analysis that detailed security failures and the political backdrop leading up to the attacks he said Netanyahu created.
Alpher added that it was notable that before a Knesset [supreme state body] vote on controversial judicial reforms removing the Supreme Court‘s power to cancel government decisions it did not like, known as the “reasonableness bill”, Netanyahu had refused to meet with senior intelligence officers. They were attempting to explain the damage to Israel’s deterrent profile.
Alpher said that the campaign of this Netanyahu government “has sought to radically weaken the judicial branch of government in Israel” and the bill, which sparked nationwide protests, “was the culmination of some of their efforts.”
Netanyahu and his allies said that the measures were reforms needed to rebalance powers between the courts, lawmakers and the government. However, Alpher said figures within the armed services and intelligence community believed it had sent “a message of weakness and Netanyahu is responsible for that.”
Within this context, Alpher added that the ruling Israeli right in Netanyahu’s coalition government covets the territory of the West Bank and rejects a Palestinian state there and a two-state solution.
Hamas disputes the legitimacy of the state of Israel, amounting to a shared rejection of a two-state solution, which has been used by Israeli right-wingers to justify coexistence with Hamas in Gaza without political negotiations, Alpher said.
This all explained some of the public’s loss of confidence in Israel’s political leadership and why the IDF’s deployment as an occupying army in the West Bank amid growing numbers of settlers left it unprepared to act quickly near Gaza as the attack unfolded.
To this end, officials in Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet, as well as IDF intelligence, also “share direct blame for not having given an early warning,” said Alpher. He added that he believes their failures will be clarified after the war.
IDF’s Slow Response
As hundreds of Israelis were killed and dozens taken hostage, there are reports of a slow response by the IDF to the areas by the Gaza Strip that Hamas had overrun. “The IDF chief of staff also shares some blame because the IDF performed so poorly around the Gaza Strip on Saturday morning,” said Alpher.
The element of surprise in Hamas’ attack was helped by Israel mistakenly believing in “economic peace” in which Gazans would refrain from violence if they had full stomachs.
Alpher said that Hamas played into this as Israel allowed increased financial aid to Gaza and agreed to let thousands of day-laborers enter Israel.
The belief was that, if Hamas is going to attack, “it’s going to be as part of a broader Islamist coalition together with Hezbollah and additional Iranian proxies and maybe even Iran in the form of Iranian missiles,” said Alpher.
“Here, intelligence had been warning we have to be on the lookout for signs of a multi-front Islamist attack on Israel,” he added. “What was understood here is that Hamas would not attack alone.”
When asked if the prime minister “took his eye off the ball,” senior Netanyahu adviser Mark Regev told Britain’s Channel 4 News that “obviously mistakes were made” and that claims about the army’s response will be investigated. Regev added that there is “strong support for a national unity government” formed by Netanyahu.
Jonathan Schachter, a former adviser to Netanyahu, said how comparisons have been made with the intelligence failures that led up to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. There was an investigation by the Agranat Commission, once the war had finished. The then-Prime Minister Golda Meir was also blamed for the country being caught by surprise. Although she was cleared of direct responsibility, her government faced infighting, and Meir resigned in 1974.
“I think there’ll be a time to investigate, there’ll be a time for accountability and responsibility—but, right now, the time is to fight,” Schachter told Newsweek.
“There’s agreement, which is reflected in the creation of this expanded emergency government, to have as broad a consensus as possible to fight the war,” said Schachter. He is a senior fellow of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at the Hudson Institute.
“There seems to be understanding across the board that now is not the time to be pointing fingers and assigning blame. Now is the time to take care of the task at hand,” Schachter added.