Israeli spy chief’s resignation renews calls for Netanyahu to go

The resignation of an Israeli spy chief over his failure to prevent the 7 October massacre has thrown an uncomfortable spotlight on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s continued refusal to resign – despite mounting opprobrium from both the Israeli public and international community.

Major-General Aharon Haliva, 56, was one of several senior Israeli commanders who said they had failed to prevent the death of 1,200 Israelis and the capture of more than 250 hostages by Hamas.

In a resignation letter released by the military, he said: “The intelligence division under my command did not live up to the task we were entrusted with. I have carried that black day with me ever since.”

He said he would remain in his position until a replacement was found. Shortly after the attack, he and others publicly said that they shouldered blame for not preventing it.

He added in his letter that he had wanted to resign immediately after 7 October but stayed through the initial part of the war.

Major-General Haliva also called for the establishment of a state investigative committee to “investigate and find out in a thorough, in-depth, comprehensive and precise manner all the factors and circumstances” that resulted in the 7 October attack.

The Israeli opposition leader, Yair Lapid, welcomed Major-General Haliva’s resignation, saying it was “justified and dignified”. He added on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter): “It would be appropriate for Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to do the same.”

Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the 7 October attacks by Hamas militants hold placards and wave Israeli flags during a demonstration in front of the Israeli defence ministry (Photo: Jack Guez/AFP)

Local media reported that further resignations among top Israeli security officials were expected once the war in Gaza ended.

The risk consultancy Sibylline told i further resignations were “relatively unlikely” in the short term, pointing out that losing senior leadership officials was “not necessarily in the IDF’s [Israel Defence Forces] best interests at such a time” as it conducts the war in Gaza.

There was a “realistic possibility” there would be resignations after the findings of a state inquiry though, it added.

After 7 October, the IDF’s chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi, and Ronen Bar, director of the Shin Bet internal security service, both acknowledged responsibility for failing to protect Israelis but stayed on for the war in Gaza.

Other leaders have refused to take responsibility or step down, most notably Mr Netanyahu, even as a growing protest movement demands early elections. He has said he will answer questions about his role but has not outright acknowledged direct responsibility for allowing the attack to unfold.

Protesters again took the streets on Saturday, calling for his resignation due to failures in retrieving the remaining 133 hostages.

The Israeli prime minister remains in office under intense international scrutiny, as Israel continues to defy UN calls for an “immediate ceasefire”, while the death toll in Gaza surpasses 34,000 Palestinians.

Israel’s recent escalation with Iran has also been viewed by some as an attempt by Mr Netanyahu to regain dwindling US support and focus attention away from his domestic protests and the Gaza war.

Uriel Abulof, an associate professor of political science at Tel Aviv University told i: “It’s a real possibility, a war, or even ‘just’ escalation, can certainly help him contain the mounting demonstrations. Still the main problem is that his government alienates the single power that can truly help Israel – the US. Bibi [Netanyahu] is the best asset Israel’s enemies have ever had.”

On Friday, the US announced a new swathe of sanctions linked to Israeli settlers human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, in the latest signal the US is becoming increasingly frustrated with Mr Netanyahu.

Axios reported on Saturday that US officials have confirmed they are preparing to impose sanctions on IDF’s Netzah Yehuda battalion, following the death of a further 14 Palestinians in the West Bank over the weekend.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz also reported on Sunday the US was also considering similar moves against other police and military units.

Mr Netanyahu has maintained that he will oppose any sanctions on Israeli military units. Speaking on X, he said: “If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF – I will fight it with all my strength.

“I’ve been working in recent weeks against the sanctioning of Israeli citizens, including in my conversations with the American administration.”

The unprecedented move by the US to target an IDF unit with sanctions comes as the US Congress voted for $26bn (£49.3bn) in new emergency aid to Israel.

Nour Odeh, a Palestinian political analyst and former spokesperson to the Palestinian Authority, told i: “America’s government can change the course of the war but their action against Israel still falls short of what is required to apply real pressure on Netanyahu.

“The US want to avoid an escalation with Iran and put the reigns on an all-out Israeli response. Netanayhu shifted the narrative onto a regional war for around 48 hours, but Netanyahu will stay in power unless some more moderate Israeli leaders feel they can lose more support internationally.”

Meanwhile, thousands of Israeli demonstrators took to the streets on Saturday to call for new elections and demand more action from the government to return the hostages, in the latest round of protests against Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Abulof said Mr Netanyahu “would certainly lose his majority and keep about a third of his remaining support” were an election to be held.

Opinion polling in Israel suggests nearly 62 per cent agree those responsible for the failure of 7 October should resign from their positions, while a poll from early January shows that only 15 per cent of the Israeli population wants Mr Netanyahu to stay in power after the war.

Despite the opinion polls, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister has repeatedly ruled out early elections. The next Israeli election is not expected until October 2026.