By Altaf Moti
On 7th October 2023, Hamas has launched a massive and unprecedented attack on Israel involving thousands of rockets, dozens of gunmen, and various weapons and tactics. The attack caught Israel off-guard and caused high casualties and damage on both sides. It also exposed a major intelligence failure on the part of Israel and its allies who did not anticipate or prevent the attack.
The intelligence failure of Israel can be seen as a combination of strategic, operational and tactical failures. A strategic failure means that Israel did not have a clear and realistic understanding of Hamas’s goals, capabilities and motivations. An operational failure means that Israel did not have an effective and coordinated system to collect, analyze and disseminate intelligence about Hamas’s activities and plans. A tactical failure means that Israel did not have an adequate and timely response to Hamas’s attack once it started.
At the strategic level, Israel failed to assess the changing situation and environment in Gaza and the region which influenced Hamas’s decision to launch such a bold and unprecedented attack. For instance, Israel did not take into account the following factors:
– The growing frustration and anger among Palestinians over the Israeli occupation, settlement expansion and violence in East Jerusalem especially around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound which is a holy site for both Muslims and Jews.
– The emerging opportunities and threats from the technological and military developments in the region such as drones, cyberattacks, and nuclear weapons which either enhanced or endangered Hamas’s capabilities and security in Gaza.
– Israel underestimated Hamas’s willingness and ability to launch such a large-scale and complex attack, and overestimated its own deterrence and defense measures.
– Israel may have assumed that Hamas was deterred by previous Israeli counterterrorism operations, or that Hamas lacked the resources, skills, and support to carry out such an attack.
– Israel may have also ignored or dismissed the warning signs of Hamas’s preparations such as the increased rocket production, tunnel digging, drone testing and naval training.
At the operational level, Israel failed to collect and analyze reliable and relevant intelligence about Hamas’s activities and plans in Gaza and beyond which enabled Hamas to prepare and execute its attack without being detected or disrupted.
For example, Israel did not notice or address the following signs:
– The increased production of rockets, drones, explosives and other weapons by Hamas in Gaza which were hidden in underground tunnels, warehouses etc.
– The intensified training and recruitment of Hamas fighters in Gaza who were taught how to use various weapons and tactics such as tunnels, boats, paragliders and suicide vests.
– The expanded network and cooperation of Hamas with other militant groups in the region.
– The sophisticated use of encryption and deception by Hamas in its communications and operations which prevented Israel from intercepting or deciphering its messages or movements.
Israel suffered from a lack of cooperation and communication among its various intelligence agencies and units such as Shin Bet, Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces. Israel may have failed to share or analyze relevant information or warnings about Hamas’s activities or plans or to act on them in time.
At the tactical level, Israel failed to respond and react effectively and efficiently to Hamas’s attack once it started which allowed Hamas to inflict maximum damage and casualties on Israel within a short period of time.
For instance, Israel did not manage or overcome the following challenges:
– The surprise and complexity of Hamas’s attack which involved multiple fronts and methods that overwhelmed Israel’s defense systems and forces.
– The confusion and chaos caused by Hamas’s attack which disrupted Israel’s command and control structures and procedures.
– The difficulty and risk of confronting Hamas’s fighters who were well-armed, well-trained, well-motivated and well-hidden among civilians.
The intelligence failure of Israel has had a significant impact on Israel’s security policy, intelligence reform, and regional relations. Some of the implications are:
– Israel’s reputation as a regional power and a reliable ally of the US may be damaged by the surprise attack and the high casualties inflicted by Hamas.
– Israel’s security situation may deteriorate as Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza, the West Bank and beyond may be emboldened by their success and seek to exploit Israel’s vulnerabilities.
– Israel’s political stability may be shaken by the public outcry and the demand for accountability from the military and the intelligence agencies. A commission of inquiry may be established to investigate the causes and consequences of the failure.
– Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the international community may be strained by the escalation of violence and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel may face diplomatic pressure, condemnation, and isolation for its use of force and its blockade of Gaza.
– Israel’s prospects for peace with the Palestinians may be diminished by the loss of trust and the increase of hostility between the two sides. The chances of resuming negotiations or achieving a two-state solution may be reduced.