Twenty days into Israel’s border war with Hamas, Benjamin Netanyahu still has not accepted unequivocal responsibility for the appalling Israeli breakdowns that enabled hordes of blood- thirsty terrorists to slaughter 1,400 Israelis and foreigners in the greatest single massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.
Until yesterday, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister remained conspicuously and unacceptably silent in the face of persistent accusations that his government is solely responsible for the worst fiasco in Israeli history.
He finally alluded to that issue, the elephant in the room, on October 25, when he said, “October 7 was a black day in our history. We will get to the bottom of what happened on the southern border and the Gaza-envelope area. The debacle will be checked to the full.
“Everyone will have to give answers on the debacle — including myself — but all that will happen only after the war. As prime minister, I am responsible for securing the future of the state. And right now, my job is to lead the state of Israel and the people to a crushing victory over our enemies. Now is the time to join forces for one goal: to surge forward to victory … with deep faith in the justice of our cause.”
At a moment of existential peril for Israel, it may not be an appropriate occasion to address this burning issue. But who can forget that October 7 occurred during Netanyahu’s watch?
On that dark day, some 3,000 terrorists breached the high-tech security fence along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, swarmed into 22 kibbutzim, towns and army bases, and butchered civilians and soldiers alike with ruthless and cruel abandon.
Since then, several high-ranking Israeli officials and one government minister have accepted personal responsibility for this catastrophic event. But Netanyahu — a highly divisive and polarizing figure who is currently on trial on criminal charges of breach of trust, fraud and bribery — has more or less dodged that issue.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, in a widely-circulated letter, wrote, “I am responsible for the defence establishment. I was responsible for it in the last two weeks, even in the difficult incidents, and I am responsible for bringing it to victory in the battle.”
General Aharon Haliva, the head of Israeli military intelligence, was searingly candid as well. “We failed in our most important mission,” he said. “We failed to warn of the terror attack carried out by Hamas.”
Ronen Bar, the director of the Shin Bet internal security agency, acknowledged profound shortcomings: “Unfortunately, we were unable to generate a sufficient warning that would allow the attack to be thwarted … the responsibility for this is mine. There will be time for investigations. Now we are fighting.”
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also admitted that ghastly mistakes had been made.
Netanyahu, however, has blithely gone about his business without really fessing up, not fully recognizing that the “buck stops here,” as US President Harry Truman once famously said of himself in outlining the duties and responsibilities of a leader.
By contrast, Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, Israel’s former prime minister and defence minister, instinctively grasped what was at stake following the mishaps of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Assuming responsibility for the intelligence and military failures that lulled Israel into a state of complacency and military unpreparedness, they had no choice but to resign, amid public protests, after the war.
Netanyahu will surely face retribution sooner or later.
Judging by the most recent polls, he has lost lost the trust of most Israelis.
The latest polling data by the Israel Democracy Institute shows that Israelis’ trust in government is at a 20-year low, with only 18 percent of respondents expressing confidence in it.
An opinion poll released by the daily newspaper Maariv indicates that 80 percent of Israelis believe that Netanyahu should make a public statement accepting full responsibility for the disaster.
A Dialog Center survey reveals that 86 percent of respondents think that October 7 was a failure of government leadership. Fifty six percent think that Netanyahu should resign at the end of the current war.
Ehud Barak, who has been chief of staff of the armed forces, prime minister and defence minister, has called for his immediate resignation. “I don’t believe that the people trust Netanyahu to lead when he is under the burden of such a devastating event that just happened under his term,” he told a British newspaper. “It’s clear this was negligence and failure on several levels.”
Dan Halutz, the former commander of the Israeli Air Force, said he expects Netanyahu to issue a public apology, but he doubts whether Netanyahu will bring himself to do what is right for the country.
Some years ago, Netanyahu said that Israelis could rest assured that their national security was guaranteed under his stewardship. He was referring to the intelligence and military blunders that caught Israel almost completely off guard when the Yom Kippur War broke out.
“The ability to spot danger in advance and prepare for it is the test of a body’s functioning,” he told a television talk show. “The Jewish nation has never excelled at foreseeing danger. We were surprised again and again — and the last time was the most awful one. That won’t happen under my leadership. This is what the state of Israel expects from me, and this is what I’ll do.”
Clearly, Netanyahu has failed abysmally to keep his promise.
If Israel had really been militarily prepared, the Hamas terrorists who so easily and efficiently penetrated its internationally recognized border would have been decimated by Israeli forces within minutes or hours of their deadly entry into Israel. They would have been mercilessly mowed down by gunfire and air strikes before they reached urban and rural settlements.
This did not happen.
Israel’s billion dollar security fence was left mostly unmanned, and terrorists quickly disabled it with low-tech home-made drones and bulldozers. In still other cases, terrorists on paragliders flew over the fence, rendering it irrelevant and obsolete.
The troops who should have been vigilantly guarding the Gaza border apparently had been transferred to the West Bank, which Netanyahu’s far right-wing government covets.
In what is now seen as a cardinal miscalculation, Netanyahu thought he could coexist with the Hamas regime, which rejects Israel’s existence. While doing so, he sidelined the Palestinian Authority, which has recognized Israel and is ready for a two-state solution.
Four years ago, in a candid admission, Netanyahu outlined this policy to his Likud Party: “Those who want to thwart the possibility of a Palestinian state should support the strengthening of Hamas and the transfer of money to Hamas. This is part of our strategy.”
Netanyahu’s divide-and-rule plan was to contain Hamas and eliminate its rival, the Palestinian Authority, as a credible partner. In carrying out this Machiavellian scheme, Netanyahu was certain he had buried the Palestinian dream of nationhood and was confident he had discredited the Palestinian Authority as a realistic interlocutor.
Hamas, of course, did not always perform to Netanyahu’s preconceived notions. Since its seizure of power in Gaza in 2006, Hamas has ignited a succession of skirmishes and wars. Yet he continued to believe that if Israel “mowed the grass” regularly and inflicted sufficient pain and suffering on the Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas could be safely contained.
He was wrong, of course.
As he relentlessly lambasted the Palestinian Authority, marginalizing and weakening it, Netanyahu expanded settlement construction in the West Bank on an urgent basis. This was all done under the direction of Smotrich — the leader of the extremist Religious Zionist Party and a settler — who was placed in charge of Israeli civilians and settlements there.
As Israel tightened its occupation of the West Bank, further embittering and antagonizing its 2.5 million Palestinian inhabitants, the Israeli government passed laws and regulations designed to consolidate control of it and pave the way for a partial annexation.
Israel announced that a record number of new housing units would be built in the West Bank. Israel let it be known that illegal outposts would be legalized. Israel tolerated and still tolerates settler violence against Palestinians. Israel allotted nearly $1 billion to build roads there. Israel lifted the ban barring Israelis from entering settlements in the northern West Bank that had been evacuated during its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
Long story short, Netanyahu did everything in his power to ensure that the status quo in the West Bank would remain inviolable and untouched. It was and is a prescription for instability and bloodshed.
Fixated on the West Bank, he lost touch with realities in Gaza.
Netanyahu, too, divided Israel with his ill-conceived proposal to overhaul the judiciary, which, if successful, would have weakened the Supreme Court, altered the system of checks and balances in Netanyahu’s favor, and undermined Israeli democracy.
The deep divisions that he and his short-sighted coalition partners created led Israel’s enemies — Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Iran — to conclude that Israel was weak and ripe for the picking.
With Israel currently enmeshed in a titanic struggle for its very survival, Israelis must drop their differences and unite as a nation. But when this crisis ends, Netanyahu must voluntarily step down and new elections must be called. He most definitely must pay a price for his failed policies.
Netanyahu, his legacy forever shattered, will be ultimately remembered as the prime minister who drove Israel to the brink of disaster.