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Netanyahu under pressure from hostages’ families and cabinet as Gaza operation escalates

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received sharp criticism after he accused security chiefs in a now-deleted social media post of failing to warn him about the impending Hamas attack prior to October 7.

Amid a chorus of disapproval from opponents and allies, Netanyahu deleted the post on Sunday morning, issuing a rare apology and stating Israel’s security heads had his “full backing.”

But the incident has done little to quell increasing frustration and anger directed at Israel’s leader for failing to anticipate the brutal Hamas attacks, which saw the group kill at least 1,400 people and take more than 200 hostages, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Netanyahu’s tweet comes at a time when he is also under increasing pressure from the families of hostages for a “comprehensive deal” to ensure their release. These calls are becoming more urgent amid concerns for what Israel’s expanding ground operations could mean for the safety of hostages trapped in Gaza.

In the now-deleted tweet, published in the early hours of Sunday morning local time, Netanyahu took a swipe at key security chiefs including Ronen Bar, the head of Israel’s internal security agency the Shin Bet, and Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, the head of Israel’s military intelligence.

“At no point was a warning given to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Hamas’s intention to start a war. On the contrary, all the defense officials, including the heads of the Intelligence Directorate and the Shin Bet, assessed that Hamas was deterred,” Netanyahu posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

An outpouring of criticism swiftly followed Netanyahu’s post, including from war cabinet member Benny Gantz, who expressed his support for intelligence chiefs and called on Netanyahu to retract his statements.

“This morning in particular, I would like to back up and strengthen all the security forces and the soldiers of the IDF – including the Chief of Staff, the head of the IDF and the head of the Shin Bet,” Gantz said in a post on X on Sunday.

Gantz called on Israel’s leadership to “show responsibility” while the country is at war. “Any other action or statement – harms the people’s resilience and strength,” he said.

Opposition leader and former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid also rebuked Netanyahu. “Netanyahu crossed a red line,” he posted Sunday on X. “The attempts to evade responsibility and place the blame on the security establishment weakens the IDF while it is fighting Israel’s enemies,” he added.

Amid the flurry of criticism, Netanyahu deleted the post on Sunday morning and issued an apology. “I was wrong. Things I said following the press conference should not have been said and I apologize for that,” he wrote on X. Israel’s security chiefs had his “full backing,” he added.

But even in this apology, Netanyahu made no mention of his own responsibility for the failure to anticipate the deadliest attack in Israel’s history.

By contrast, Bar and Haliva, as well as chief of staff of the IDF Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, have all taken responsibility to some extent for failures that led to the attacks.

It has been a difficult weekend for the Israeli prime minister, who met with families of the hostages in Tel Aviv on Saturday, where they demanded answers on the security of their loved ones and pushed him to secure the hostages’ freedom, as Israel’s offensive escalated.

“We spoke bluntly and made it clear to the prime minister in no uncertain terms that a comprehensive deal based on the ‘everyone for everyone’ principle is a deal the families would consider, and has the support of all of Israel,” Meirav Leshem Gonen, mother of Romi Gonen, who was kidnapped from the Supernova dance festival, said on behalf of the families in a news conference following the meeting.

An “everyone for everyone” deal would involve the release of the more than 200 hostages in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians currently held in Israeli prisons, which the nongovernmental organization Palestinian Prisoners Club estimates to be 6,630 people.

Hamas released a statement Saturday claiming the group was willing to engage in such a trade, but any such deal would be hugely controversial in Israel.

As the efforts to free the hostages drag on, loved ones have also expressed alarm at the possibility Hamas’ captives will be harmed in Israel’s intensifying bombardment of Gaza.

“We came with an unequivocal demand that military action takes into account the fate of the hostages and the missing, and that any move considered will take into account the well-being of our loved ones,” Gonen said on behalf of the families.

Netanyahu was asked about such a deal at his Saturday news conference, and acknowledged he discussed the option with the families.

“I think that elaborating on this will not help achieve our goal. In the meeting with the families, I felt emotionally helpless,” he said.

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