Israel’s intelligence failure in the wake of Hamas’s deadly surprise strike on Saturday, according to former and current U.S. officials, included warnings that went unnoticed, overloaded missile defences, and a sluggish reaction by obviously unprepared military troops.
At least 700 Israelis were killed, according to American sources, and this was due to Hamas’s successful tactical surprise. The Palestinian terrorist organisation deployed hundreds of fighters through the broken fortifications, using bulldozers to burst through, and then went on a shooting rampage, murdering residents and troops for hours.
According to one Israeli defence officer and American officials, none of Israel’s intelligence services were aware that Hamas was planning a complex offensive that would need coordinated land, air, and sea strikes. Many Western intelligence agencies were likewise caught off guard by the strike, although they do not monitor Hamas nearly as carefully as do Israel and Egypt.
American authorities with prior knowledge of the region were taken aback by the success. Israel has spent years installing electronic intercepts, sensors, and human informants over all of Gaza, an area roughly equal to half of New York City. Israel and its neighbours have historically spent a lot of time and energy trying to monitor and restrict Hamas’s online activity, frequently successfully intercepting shipments of missile parts.
Why was Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, which has been in place for a decade, seemingly unable to stop the initial onslaught of cheap but lethal missiles? How did Hamas amass such a large quantity of rockets and weapons without Israeli intelligence noticing?
Was Israel’s military and intelligence attention diverted away from Gaza because of the dangers posed by Hezbollah and the West Bank? Why were so many Israeli troops absent or far from the southern border when Hamas was able to take control Israeli military outposts close to Gaza?
On Sunday, neither American nor Israeli authorities responded to the inquiries. But the answers might determine the fate of Israeli military and intelligence institutions and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career.
The question of what went wrong will go down in history among other similar mistakes as Mr. Netanyahu’s administration retaliates and deals with the fact that Hamas has seized dozens of Israeli captives. The Yom Kippur War, which took place 50 years ago this week, was the most well-known. Some have compared the shock to the Tet onslaught in Vietnam, while others have pointed to the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Previous Hamas rocket attacks were somewhat mitigated by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system. On Saturday, though, it looked like the system was failing. Hamas may launch hundreds of missiles at once, perhaps overwhelming the system’s interceptors. The Iron Dome doesn’t fire on approaching missiles or rockets if it thinks they’ll fall harmlessly short of their target, a populated area. However, the number of Tamir interceptors is limited, and it might be time-consuming to reload the system. One ex-administrator claimed that Hamas appeared to have researched the system’s weaknesses.
Ex-American officials claim that Israel generally generates warnings of possible attacks using vast human networks in Gaza and intercepts of electronic communications. Israeli intelligence was apparently taken off guard by the strikes, which shows that Hamas members avoided using easily-intercepted mediums like mobile phones to discuss the preparations leading up to Saturday’s operations.
Traditional face-to-face planning was likely employed by Hamas to elude Israeli surveillance. Although hundreds of persons were likely engaged, this shows that Hamas has succeeded in breaking Israel’s network of informants, as claimed by the ex-officials.
The specific extent of what Israeli intelligence knew and what warning indicators were disregarded is remains unclear, experts said. Egypt and other Arab nations have shown little love for Hamas and often exchange intelligence with Israel in secret.
The question of whether or not Iran was involved in providing Hamas and instigating or organising the attack was a central one for American intelligence services over the weekend. American authorities have acknowledged that it is possible that Iran played a role, albeit the nature of that participation is yet unclear.
Iran’s connection with Hamas gives it significant bargaining power. Current and former officials say that Tehran is actively working to undermine efforts to bring about peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Any conflict between Israel and Hamas that results in heavy losses among civilians on both sides would make it extremely hard to restore popular calm.