The ambiguity appears to reflect divisions in the cabinet about whether to permit a full invasion of Gaza, which might plunge ground troops into daunting urban battle against thousands of Hamas fighters hiding within a network of tunnels, hundreds of miles long, dug deep beneath Gaza City.
Instead, ministers are also considering a less ambitious plan involving several more limited incursions that target one small part of the enclave at a time.
Within the military establishment, there is concern that Israel’s goals will be blurred if Mr. Netanyahu follows through on his promise on Wednesday to simultaneously seek the liberation of all the hostages while also attempting to destroy Hamas. The first goal requires negotiation and accommodation with Hamas’s leadership, while the second requires its annihilation — a difficult balance to strike, two senior military officials said.
In a sign of internal division, the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, pointedly did not describe rescuing the hostages in a speech on Thursday evening as one of Israel’s military objectives.
The mutual suspicion between the military and the prime minister runs so deep that civil servants have barred the military from bringing recording equipment into cabinet meetings, according to two people present. They interpreted the move as an attempt to limit the amount of evidence that could be presented to a national inquiry after the war.
Mr. Netanyahu has appeared unusually isolated since the Hamas attack, amid cratering poll numbers and accusations that his chaotic leadership over the past year had set the stage for the catastrophic security failure on Oct 7.
Few members of his government have given him their unqualified backing since the day, with many simply saying that scrutiny of the government’s mistakes should wait until the war ends.
“I’m saying in the clearest way possible: It is clear to me that Netanyahu and the entire government of Israel and everyone on whose watch this happened bears responsibility for what happened,” one government minister from Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Miki Zohar, told a radio station on Thursday. “That is also clear to Netanyahu. That he also bears responsibility.”
As recriminations begin, some allies have tried to deflect blame from the prime minister.