Benjamin Netanyahu has not expressed a quiver of personal responsibility for the October 7th attack. His tenure must not survive its aftermath.
The calamitous October 7th surprising offensive of Israel by Hamas that initiated the Israel-Hamas War will serve as the subject of research, study, and analysis for the coming decades. Understanding how the Palestinian Islamist group used low-technology systems to pull off the most savage attack on Israel in 50 years will take time and space from the event and the ongoing conflict. Determining how Israeli intelligence failed so catastrophically will take time. Similarly, a complete analysis of the Israel Defense Force’s misunderstanding of Hamas’ intentions and capabilities requires a full investigation. There is one judgment, however, that requires no further inquiry: Benjamin Netanyahu must not be allowed to weather this storm and remain Israeli prime minister. This failure is on his hands, and he cannot serve the people of Israel beyond the immediate moment.
The parallels between this moment and the October 6, 1973 attack by a coalition of Arab states on Israel that expelled the Israeli prime minister are achingly, blindingly apparent. Then, despite numerous warnings of impending attacks from neighboring countries and even from allies such as the United States, Prime Minister Gold Meir and her cabinet did nothing. A sense of Israeli invincibility, combined with a dismissal of intelligence, led to a devastating attack and a war that forever altered Israel’s perception of its place in the region.
The Israel Defense Force eventually achieved military success over the Arab forces during the resultant 18-day Yom Kippur War. Nonetheless, Meir’s tenure was over. She faced significant criticism for ignoring warnings from King Hussein of Jordan about a looming war with Egypt and Syria. Meir’s prime ministership withered under intense scrutiny and public demand for accountability. An investigation into the attack revealing a lack of foresight and military readiness swept her out of office. Rightly so.
The present scenario involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is worse. With intelligence indications pointing towards a possible Hamas offensive, Israel was underprepared and caught off guard. While Meir had warnings from external sources, Netanyahu had them from within his intelligence community. These warnings went unheeded. The pieces of a gruesome, multi-front attack were there – no one put the puzzle together. The IDF picked up indicators of Hamas repositioning for an assault the day prior to the attack but leadership refused to increase alert or defense levels. An Egyptian intelligence official claims Cairo presented senior Israeli leadership with multiple warnings in the weeks ahead of the attack.
Further, Hamas signaled its intentions in the lead-up to October 7, 2023. Six weeks before the attack, Saleh al-Arouri, the group’s deputy leader stationed in Beirut, conveyed to Lebanese media outlet Al Mayadeen that Israeli government actions exacerbated tensions in the West Bank. As a result, Hamas was amidst preparations for a prolonged ground war. The article’s headline, quoting al-Arouri, unequivocally declares Hamas’ intent: “preparing for an all-out war.”
The response from Israeli media since the attack has been swift and rightly unequivocal. Shortly after the Hamas raid into Israel, the editorial board of Ha’aretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, squarely placed the responsibility for the attack on Netanyahu. The weight of this criticism intensified this past week when Ha’aretz published a damning editorial titled “Netanyahu: Resign Now!” The piece went so far as to label the recent surprise attack on Israel as “the worst failure in the country’s history,” surpassing even the 1973 missteps.
A national newspaper of Ha’aretz’s stature demand for the resignation of a sitting prime minister’s is extraordinary. So, too, is the moment. So, too is the enormity of the intelligence lapses. So, too, are the implications for Israel’s security and future.
Democratic leaders traditionally face a surge in support immediately after a crisis, particularly an attack on sovereign land that requires a robust military response. Inside Israel, Netanyahu faces near universal contempt, his support imploding even among his own Likud Party. Virtually all – 95% – of surveyed Jewish Israelis believe the Hamas raid signifies a failure by Netanyahu’s government. Shockingly, this sentiment even encompasses 93% of those who previously supported his right-wing coalition. Similarly, a recent poll by the daily Israeli newspaper Maariv suggests a swing in voter intentions, favoring an opposition alliance led by Benny Gantz, with 48% preferring Gantz over Netanyahu’s 29% for the prime ministerial role.
Yet, Netanyahu refuses any responsibility. In moments of crisis, a leader’s mettle is tested by their ability to respond and willingness to accept responsibility. Right now, Israel has no effective leadership at the top.
This moment requires more than just strength; it demands foresight, humility, and the moral fortitude to admit mistakes. Meir recognized this when she stepped down. History, the thing itself, now beckons Netanyahu. Because he lacks Meir’s introspection, clarity of thought, and moral compass, it’s hard to foresee Netanyahu resigning. He has failed to demonstrate a quiver of responsibility. He will undoubtedly cast blame about: on Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, on Director of the Israel Security Agency Ronen Bar, on IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi. And these three men must all go away in disgrace. To their credit, however, they have all done something their Prime Minister is incapable of in publicly accepting responsibility.
However the Israel-Hamas War ends, Israel may only move forward with a new leader. For Israel to address its nation’s emotional wounds, to take full account of the failures that led to the October 7 attack, to move forward within whatever new security development manifests with Palestine, Netanyahu must go.