JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday took a jab at his intelligence chiefs on the X platform, saying they never warned him Hamas was planning its wide-scale attack on Oct. 7, but later retracted his comments and issued an apology.
The remarks, posted on X at 1 a.m. on Sunday (around 2300 GMT on Saturday), caused a political uproar and a rift within the war cabinet of Netanyahu, who has drawn public ire for not taking responsibility over intelligence and operational failures relating to Hamas' rampage through southern Israel.
While top officials - from the heads of the military and the Shin Bet domestic spy service to his finance minister - have all acknowledged their failures, Netanyahu has not.
He has only said that there would be time to ask tough questions, including of himself, after the war.
Israel's military spokesperson, asked about Netanyahu's comments during a daily briefing with reporters, declined to respond, saying: "We are now at war, focused on the war."
Israeli officials have said events leading up to and including the handling of the Hamas attack itself would be investigated, but that the current focus was on the conflict.
Netanyahu's now-deleted post had said: "At no time and no stage was a warning given to Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding war intentions of Hamas. On the contrary, all security officials, including the head of army intelligence and the head of the Shin Bet, estimated that Hamas was deterred and interested in an arrangement."
In a second post on X about 10 hours later, Netanyahu wrote: "I was wrong," adding that his remarks "should not have been made and I apologize for that."
"I give full backing to all the heads of the security branches," he said.
Netanyahu's initial comments were promptly rebuked by current and past allies, including Benny Gantz, a former defense minister who is now in Netanyahu's war cabinet.
Gantz said on X that Netanyahu should retract what he said and let the matter go.
"When we are at war, leadership must show responsibility, decide to do the right things and bolster the forces in a way that they can carry out what we demand of them," Gantz said.
The well-planned surprise Hamas attack was the deadliest for Israel in its 75-year history. Israel has since bombarded the Gaza Strip with devastating air strikes and begun ground operations with the aim of toppling the Iran-backed Islamist group and securing the release of scores of people abducted from Israel to Gaza on Oct. 7.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who was formerly prime minister, said Netanyahu "crossed a red line" with the overnight post.
"The attempts to evade responsibility and place the blame on the security establishment weakens the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) while it's fighting Israel's enemies," he said.
Yossi Cohen, who headed the Mossad spy agency under previous Netanyahu governments, told Israel Radio: "You take responsibility from the beginning of your job, not from the middle."
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Bernadette Baum)