Delay in Gaza Operation Decision Has Some Israelis Questioning Netanyahu’s Leadership

Israelis on all sides of the political spectrum are wondering if their prime minister is able to make hard decisions about the conflict and the release of hostages.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as the US Secretary of State gives statements to the media inside The Kirya, which houses the Israeli Defence Ministry, after their meeting in Tel Aviv on October 12, 2023.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as the US Secretary of State gives statements to the media inside The Kirya, which houses the Israeli Defence Ministry, after their meeting in Tel Aviv on October 12, 2023. (Photo by JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

TEL AVIV - For 17 days Israeli tanks, troops, and armoured vehicles have been gathering across farms just outside the Gaza Strip, preparing to invade the tiny coastal enclave as soon as Israeli leadership gives the order.

But Israelis across the political spectrum have begun to ask why the ground operation has yet to start, as well as questioning the resolve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to dismantle the Gaza-based militant group that killed more than 1,300 Israeli soldiers and civilians and kidnapped at least 200 more in the Oct. 7 attack. Israel’s airstrikes in response have killed more than 5000 people in Gaza, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, which is controlled by Hamas and whose claims cannot be independently verified.


“We are ready, we have been ready for a week to start this operation,” said Sgt. Etan, 26, a mobilized IDF infantry reservist who asked to be identified in the media only by his first name and rank, in keeping with IDF policies.

After Etan and his unit spent more than a week at a military training facility in southern Israel’s Negev desert, he was able to visit Tel Aviv for a single night for a “family emergency,” and spoke to VICE News outside a fashionable Thai restaurant. He was in uniform, armed with loaded M-4 assault rifle, and astride an electric scooter with his fiancé, who asked not to be named.

“I expected to be fighting Hamas… inside Gaza by now, all of us did,” he said of the IDF, which mobilized more than 350,000 reservists in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 assault. “It took about a week to equip us and organize our [reserve] units, the [tank] units needed a few more days because tanks had to be taken from storage… maintenance. But now the wait is too long, we are impatient.”

Etan denied morale was affected but said eventually the mobilization would wear on the reservists and their families. 

“Everyone is committed but obviously there’s family stress particularly for the older reservists with careers and children,” he said. “But the younger soldiers like me don’t have much of a problem, we just want to end the terror and rescue our hostages.”


Gaza has been under a near complete blockade of food, water, and electricity since Oct. 7 as Israeli planes and artillery have pounded the enclave of about 2 million people, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties and massive destruction of the local infrastructure. UN and humanitarian groups have described conditions as an “unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.”

In the days after Oct. 7, Israeli officials immediately vowed an operation unlike anything previously seen in its long history of confrontations with Hamas in Gaza, warning the public that the process would take months of urban fighting and clearing the extensive network of tunnels used by the group, and that it would involve heavy casualties. But as world leaders continue to arrive in Tel Aviv to show support for Israel and consult with its leaders—French President Emmanuel Macron made a visit on Tuesday—the Israel public and military have begun to question if Netanyahu has the political will to make hard political choices about the operation and fate of the hostages.

“First there were delays because of [last week’s] visits by [President] Biden and [US Secretary of State Anthony] Blinken, which seemed reasonable,” said an Israeli domestic security official, who does not have permission to be named in the media. “Then the release of the [two] American hostages on Friday was negotiated by Qatar. But it’s becoming obvious that the IDF is ready and wants to begin what will inevitably be a long and costly operation. And it’s not clear the delay is for diplomatic or military reasons right now. The Israeli people have been prepared for the loss of some hostages but [Netanyahu] has not communicated the outlines of the government’s strategy to the public.”


Netanyahu was politically weak before this crisis began. He has won four extremely narrow elections in the past five years and this year’s attempt to reform the Israeli supreme court to increase the ruling party’s power was vehemently opposed by much of the country.

The lack of clarity about the operation and a widespread belief that political infighting between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant—who Netanyahu tried to fire in April—is hampering Israeli decisionmaking during its worst security crisis since the 1973 Yom Kippur War forced an unprecedented statement on Monday by the IDF’s chief of staff. Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi attempted to reassure the public that the country’s leadership was unified. 

The IDF and political leaders are “working in close and full cooperation, around the clock, to lead the state of Israel to a decisive victory,” with “total and mutual trust,” said Halevi. 

“This is total bullshit, Bibi [Netanyahu] is an idiot and a coward, he hasn’t even taken responsibility for his many failures in terms of security,”  Avi Fishman, a self-avowed leftist Netanayhu-hater, told VICE News at a tribute to the dead and missing in central Tel Aviv.

“The [domestic security service] Shin Bet said they were wrong about Hamas. The IDF has been clear that it made mistakes in handling the [threat from Gaza] but the person most responsible for the situation won’t even address the public about what went wrong and the plan to fix it.”


The prime minister has limited his public appearances to addressing soldiers outside Gaza and on the restive northern border with Lebanon—in part, according to many Israelis, out of fear of an angry public.

“He’d be spit on if he came here,” said one survivor of the attack on Kibbutz Be’eri last week at the Dead Sea hotel where the survivors of the attack, which killed at least 100 people from the community, had gathered in the aftermath. “He’s a fucking coward and knows we will never forgive him. He just wants to find someone else to blame but there’s nobody but him.”

Israeli officials close to Netanyahu have been quietly hinting that the failure to act quickly is the result of U.S. pressure to delay an operation in order to negotiate the release of civilian hostages. Dozens of hostages from the U.S. and Europe are believed to be held inside Gaza. But a U.S. diplomat in the region said that while the Biden administration has cautioned Israel against an attack on Lebanon-based Hamas ally Hezbollah for fears of sparking a broader war and does want to see as many civilian hostages released as possible via negotiations, the idea that it forced a delay in a military operation strains credibility. 

“The president has been open about concerns of a regional conflict and of course we support negotiations to free hostages but from the first moment of this crisis we have offered nothing but support for Israel's decisions on how to react,” said the official, who spoke to VICE News on background so they could speak candidly.  


“But to imply that Israel isn’t militarily acting [in Gaza] because the U.S. told them not to do so runs counter to the relationship’s history… we have never been able to tell them what to do.”

“It’s not from us,” the diplomat added. “Let me know if you figure out what’s going on internally because aside from theories it’s not clear to us. This is about Israeli politics, not about America.”

Adding to the confusion has been a low-key campaign by Netanyahu supporters to argue that IDF casualties in Gaza will be reduced if the air campaign continues to knock out the Hamas tunnel complexes, a claim the domestic security official dismisses completely.

“We mapped much of the tunnel system in [the last Gaza operation in] 2021,” the Israeli domestic security official said. “These tunnels are 20-25 metres underground and immune to bombing. The air campaign—aside from targeting… leaders when we can locate them—has been flattening Gaza City for over a week and doing little but making the government look strong, while creating rubble that will be easier for Hamas to defend. Everyone understands this operation will be face-to-face, requiring infantry to enter the tunnel system. It will be slow and very costly but we will succeed.”

Fishman was blunter.

“I’m a leftist and support this war but Bibi needs to decide,” he said. “Listening to the IDF and Shin Bet is important because they have the moral courage he lacks.”