Netanyahu denies receiving prior warning of possible Hamas attack

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Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected accusations that he received prior warning of a Hamas mobilisation for a cross-border attack from Gaza, amid mounting recriminations between Israel’s political and military leadership over who bore responsibility for the failure to prevent the worst attack in the Jewish state’s history.

Netanyahu’s office said late on Thursday that he “was only updated on Saturday at exactly 06:29, when the fighting broke out, and not before. He immediately went to the Kirya [military headquarters in Tel Aviv], assessed the situation and convened the cabinet”.

Hamas launched the co-ordinated assault on Saturday morning, with thousands of fighters pouring across the border into southern Israel and overrunning more than two dozen civilian communities and military bases. At least 1,300 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been killed and dozens taken hostage into Gaza, according to Israeli authorities.

Israeli analysts have described the events as the worst intelligence failure by the country’s much-vaunted security apparatus since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Hamas fighters were able to breach the heavily fortified border defences around Gaza using motorised hang gliders, pick-up trucks and motorcycles.

According to Israeli media reports, intelligence had been gleaned late on Friday night of unusual Hamas military movements inside Gaza, leading to consultations among several of the country’s most senior security officials. According to the reports, the decision was made to reinforce southern Israel with a rapid-response counterterror unit overnight and to reconvene the following morning. Hamas launched its devastating attack mere hours later.

Israel-Hamas war

Israel’s top military officer Lt Gen Herzi Halevi said on Thursday that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was “responsible for the security of the state and its civilians, and this past Saturday morning in the area near the Gaza Strip we did not achieve this”.

He added: “We will learn, we will investigate, but now is the time for war.”

Nearly a week after the Hamas attack, the Israeli public is still reeling from the unprecedented loss of life and the initial lack of an effective response by the military. According to survivors of the assault in southern Israel, in many cases it took security forces several hours to reach their communities and engage with Hamas fighters.

One Israeli security official told the Financial Times that the Israeli military forces arrayed in the Gaza border region were thin because many soldiers were on home leave for the Sabbath and the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Anger has also been directed at Netanyahu’s far-right coalition, whose ministers initially disappeared from public view in the war’s opening days. Their appearances later in the week were often met with angry denunciations by the public. “You all have ruined this country, get out of here!” one doctor yelled at environment minister Idit Silman outside a hospital in central Israel. 

According to an opinion poll taken on Sunday by Agam Research, an Israeli company, 45 per cent of Israeli Jews now fear for their personal safety and 70 per cent fear for the country’s security. Opinion polls released by the Maariv daily showed Netanyahu’s Likud party losing more than a third of its previous support.

In a bid to project cohesion, Netanyahu forged an “emergency unity government” on Wednesday with the centre-right opposition National Unity party, led by former military chief Benny Gantz. A new war cabinet led by Netanyahu, Gantz and defence minister Yoav Gallant is set to spearhead the campaign.

Unveiling the new government in front of parliament late on Thursday, Netanyahu said: “The [Sabbath] of the seventh of October will be etched as a cursed and dark day in the annals of nations. For us, the Jewish people, it is the most harrowing day since the Holocaust.”

He made no reference in his remarks as to whether the government bore any responsibility.

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