newsIsrael at War

Netanyahu denies receiving advanced warning of Hamas onslaught

Polls show contradictory results regarding PM’s attempts to distance himself from Oct. 7 failure.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, May 13, 2024. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, May 13, 2024. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) vigorously denied media reports on Thursday that Israel’s premier had received advanced warning from the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence Directorate of a possible attack by Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

The reports were based on four documents obtained from the IDF by a freedom-of-information request by Israeli NGO Hatzlaha: The Movement for the Promotion of a Fair Society.

The PMO immediately released a statement disputing that the documents contained any warning of an attack. “The claim that Netanyahu allegedly received a warning from the research division of Military Intelligence about a possible attack from Gaza is the opposite of the truth,” the PMO stated.

“Not only is there no warning in any of the documents about Hamas’s intentions to attack Israel from Gaza, but they give a completely opposite assessment,” the PMO stressed.

In the first reference, dated March 19, 2023, IDF intelligence said Hamas’s strategy was to leave the Gaza Strip “on the back burner” and focus the fight against Israel “from other arenas,” according to the PMO.

In the second reference, on May 31, military intelligence recommended that Israel join a “regional de-escalation trend” and “take a step forward toward a peaceful arrangement with the Gaza Strip and the Hamas sovereign.”

“All of the security bodies consistently supported these assessments that Hamas was not interested in escalation but in an arrangement with Israel and that Hamas was deterred,” the PMO said.

The PMO addressed a second claim in the documents that he had been warned about the negative image projected to Israel’s enemies by the country’s lack of unity.

“During 2023, between March and July, four different warning letters were passed by the intelligence directorate, which showed how Israel’s enemies across theaters viewed the harm to cohesion in the State of Israel and the IDF in particular,” the IDF said in the documents provided to NGO Hatzlaha.

The “harm to cohesion” referred to the social upheaval surrounding the government’s judicial reform program, announced at the start of 2023. It has been blamed by some observers for encouraging Israel’s enemies to attack.

In response, the PMO said that Netanyahu himself warned “many times” about the dangers of the ongoing protests and civil disobedience against judicial reform. “For example, on 17 July 2023 the Prime Minister warned that the internal debate ‘is gnawing away at our deterrence against our enemies who could be tempted to act aggressively against us,'” the PMO said.

On April 2, 2023, Netanyahu cautioned Israel’s enemies directly, saying at a cabinet meeting, “I suggest that our enemies not err. Israel’s internal debate will not detract one iota from our determination, strength and ability to act against our enemies on all fronts, wherever and whenever necessary.”

No one disputes that IDF intelligence failed to detect the Hamas plans to attack on Oct. 7, apparently ignoring warnings from the lower ranks, including army lookouts stationed along the Gaza border, many of whom were killed on the frontlines during the attack.

Military Intelligence Directorate head Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva announced his resignation over his failure in April.

However, Netanyahu has attempted to distance himself from that failure. It’s unclear if his efforts are succeeding with polls showing contradictory results.

Channel 14 poll published on May 16 shows Netanyahu’s Likud Party strengthening with 26 mandates, while a Channel 13 poll just over a week earlier had the Likud weakening with 19 mandates. The Likud has 32 seats in the current Knesset.

It’s also unknown what effect an aggressive, well-funded ad campaign tying Netanyahu to the Oct. 7 failure has had on public opinion. The campaign, begun in late January, carries the slogan, “You’re the leader. You’re guilty.”

In late October, Netanyahu was forced to apologize following his tweet in which he claimed that “at no point” had he been given a warning regarding the Hamas terror group’s “intention to start a war.”

After a public backlash, Netanyahu said in a follow-up tweet, “I was wrong. Things I said following the press conference should not have been said and I apologize for that.” 

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