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More Israelis blame Netanyahu for security lapses that led to Hamas attack

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

We turn now to the war in the Middle East. The AP is now reporting negotiations are underway for a dayslong cease-fire in Gaza in exchange for the release of several hostages held by Hamas while officials from more than 50 countries are in Paris for a Gaza aid conference. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization warns the risk of disease in Gaza has soared due to disrupted water and sanitation systems and overcrowded shelters crammed with displaced people. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing mounting political pressure. Many Israelis blame him for security lapses during the October 7 Hamas attack that killed more than 1,400 people. Some are calling for him to resign. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Tel Aviv.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Noam Tibon is 62, retired and was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea with his wife on October 7 when they heard sirens.

NOAM TIBON: We finished the swim, and we get into the car. I got a text message from my son, Amir, which basically said, Dad, there are terrorists around my house.

FRAYER: Tibon is a retired major general in Israel's army. He told his son to lock himself in his safe room, and then Tibon grabbed his pistol and drove south towards his son's community.

TIBON: And on my way, I tried the chief of staff, the southern commander or the division commander. I know all of them, but nobody responds to me.

FRAYER: Then he got another text from his son. Militants were inside his home. Tibon drove faster, passing bodies on the road south. He finally found some soldiers and asked them to come with him towards the fighting.

TIBON: Their commander said, no, I need permission. I need orders. And at that time I knew this is the chaos. You know, nobody is giving orders.

FRAYER: Tibon says he's never been a political man, but he calls what he witnessed a colossal breakdown of the Israeli security apparatus he devoted his career to. There is one person he blames.

TIBON: Benjamin Netanyahu cannot stay even one more day on the chair of the prime minister. He is a failure, and he must go.

FRAYER: Tibon says some of Netanyahu's cabinet didn't serve in the military and don't understand security. His attempt to weaken Israeli courts divided people and left the country vulnerable, he says. This month, a municipal official from Netanyahu's Likud party in the south, where the attacks happened, resigned on live TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TAMIR IDAN: (Speaking Hebrew).

FRAYER: "I call on all Likud officials to do the same," said Tamir Idan, waving his resignation letter. Netanyahu's defense minister, the military chief of staff and the head of the domestic security agency have all accepted responsibility. Netanyahu says there will be an investigation, but only after the war. Meanwhile, in the streets...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

FRAYER: ...Get out, slogan from past protests against Netanyahu's judicial reforms, is being repurposed at fresh protests now. Netanyahu's supporters say these are the same left-wing critics and that the Hamas attacks were not the prime minister's fault. But a November 3 poll found 76% of Israelis want Netanyahu to resign. Another poll in late October said his approval rating was lower than at any point since surveys began 20 years ago. Netanyahu recently told reporters...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: The only thing that I intend to have resign is Hamas. We're going to resign them to the dustbin of history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Hebrew).

FRAYER: At a rally in Tel Aviv, Tsipi Haitovsky says she wants Netanyahu to resign immediately. But she says there's a widespread belief, even among Netanyahu's critics, that this is a time for unity, not politics.

TSIPI HAITOVSKY: There's this belief that in this - in the middle of war, you can't change the leadership.

FRAYER: And that is what Netanyahu is banking on, says one of his biographers, Mazal Mualem. She says Netanyahu believes he's got a window of opportunity to salvage his legacy while the war is underway, because he knows his premiership is unlikely to survive beyond that. But she also says Netanyahu is a fighter.

MAZAL MUALEM: (Speaking Hebrew).

FRAYER: "The more demonized he feels, the harder he fights," she says. Noam Tibon, the veteran who raced south - he fought his way to his son's house, and when he got there...

TIBON: I knocked on the window and I said, Amir, (speaking Hebrew). Daddy's here. And my little granddaughter, 3 1/2 years old, she said, Grandpa came. And, you know, this was the great moment of my life.

FRAYER: His family survived. But Tibon says an immediate change of Israeli leadership is the only way to make sure no other family goes through what he did.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.