The silence of Benjamin Netanyahu is deafening as the world waits for a potential Israeli ground offensive in Gaza.
Eighteen days have passed since more than 2,000 Hamas militants terrorized Israelis, murdering families, killing concertgoers, taking hostages and killing 1,400 people in the bloodiest terrorist attack in the nation’s history. Within hours, Israel declared war on Hamas and began pummeling Gaza with airstrikes that have killed more than 5,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials.
Prime Minister Netanyahu formed a unity war Cabinet, called up 360,000 Israel Defense Forces reservists and lined up thousands of tanks and armored vehicles along the Gaza border. Then a “hurry up and wait” mentality spread around the world, with each day bringing another delay of the ground offensive that Netanyahu knows will cost many Israeli lives.
Complicating matters, according to a senior government official, is that Netanyahu has not settled on an exit plan for how and when Israeli ground forces will leave Gaza. Meetings have so far focused primarily on day-to-day military operations.
Israel’s next move could further define the legacies of Netanyahu and other leaders.
“Almost everyone making decisions on this knows they bear some responsibility for the disaster of Oct. 7th, whether that’s the political leadership or the military and security leadership,” said Robert Satloff, the Howard P. Berkowitz chair in U.S. Middle East policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. “They all know that how Israel performs in this next phase is their last chance to write what may be their final chapter in public life.”
Israeli national security officials have acknowledged that there will be inquiries and an accounting for Oct. 7 in the future. Leaders across Israel will come under intense scrutiny for the intelligence and policy failures that allowed for the unprecedented terrorist attack.
Officials are also under pressure to save as many of the 220 Israeli and foreign hostages held in Hamas’ underground labyrinth of tunnels in Gaza.
“That’s a huge added dose of anxiety and tension into what is already a tense and anxious, and what is a politically fraught, moment,” Satloff said. “Add it all up and they haven’t made a decision to go in yet.”