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Israeli security leaders blame Netanyahu for intelligence failure

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Questions continue to surround the intelligence failures that accompanied the Hamas-led Palestinian resistance’s surprise attack on Israel on 7 October, which Israeli officials have described as Israel’s 9/11.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under harsh criticism for the attack, in which some 1,400 Israelis were killed, either by Hamas or in the crossfire by Israeli forces.

Netanyahu has promised an investigation into how Hamas was able to infiltrate thousands of fighters across Gaza’s highly surveilled border fence into Israel to attack military bases and settlements, but says it can only take place once the war is over.

During the attack, Hamas was able to take hundreds of Israeli soldiers and civilians captive back to Gaza.

Many Israelis continue to believe Netanyahu may have deliberately allowed Hamas to attack Israel, as they seek to understand why Israel’s vaunted army was so slow to respond.

A new report in The New York Times claims that the intelligence failure resulted from several factors, including the political turmoil caused by Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan, which was opposed by large segments of the Israeli population.

The judicial overhaul effort ignited massive street protests and led to large-scale resignations from the military reserves.

Some of the Air Force’s operational pilots threatened to refuse to report to duty if the overhaul legislation passed.

“From the investigations we are doing we can say today that the political instability and the growing division are a shot of encouragement to the countries of the axis of evil, the terrorist organizations and the individual threats,” Ronen Bar, the head of Israel’s domestic security service, said in a speech referring to the axis of resistance members, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

The Times reports that General Herzi Halevi, the military’s chief of staff, tried to deliver the message to Netanyahu this summer that the political turmoil was emboldening Israel’s enemies. One document stated that the leaders of the axis of resistance believed this was a moment of Israeli weakness and a time to attack.

However, the prime minister refused to meet with Genera Halevi and only two members of the Knesset attended a briefing other generals organized to deliver the warning. The judicial overhaul legislation easily passed in the Knesset.

The New York Times reports as well that the military activities of Hezbollah in Lebanon on Israel’s northern border over the past year also contributed to the 7 October intelligence failure. Israeli intelligence officials were focused on the threat from Hezbollah, and neglected efforts to focus on a threat from Hamas. 

“We must be more prepared than ever for a multi-arena and extensive military conflict,” General Halevi said at a military ceremony on Sept. 11, just weeks before the attack.

With Israeli intelligence officials focused on Hezbollah and Iran, they paid less attention to Hamas, whose control of Gaza they approved of, despite harsh publish rhetoric against the group.

Netanyahu viewed Hamas’ control of Gaza as a way to divide the Palestinian movement and keep the Palestinian Authority (PA), which controls the West Bank, weak.

The Times writes that Netanyahu, “came to see Hamas as a way to balance power against the Palestinian Authority, which has administrative control over the West Bank and has long sought a peace agreement in Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.”

“Mr. Netanyahu told aides over the years that a feeble Palestinian Authority lowered the pressure on him to make concessions to Palestinians in negotiations, according to several former Israeli officials and people close to Mr. Netanyahu,” speaking with The Times.

Netanyahu and other Israeli officials thought they could contain Hamas using an extensive network of human spies, sophisticated surveillance equipment and a fortified border wall equipped with remote control machine guns. 

They also focused heavily on the threat of Hamas rockets, assuming the Iron Dome air defense system could intercept anything launched from Gaza toward Israeli cities. 

A ground assault from Hamas was not viewed as plausible, meaning fewer soldiers were stationed at the Gaza border posts. 

However, Hamas used explosive drones that damaged the cellular antennas and the remote firing systems.

To make Israel’s surveillance technology ineffective, Hamas leaders and fighters did not discuss their activities on mobile phones. This allowed them to pull off the attack without detection, one European official told The Times.

Hamas claimed that 35 drones took part in the opening strike, including the Zawari, an explosive-laden drone.

“We started receiving messages that there was a raid on every reporting line,” testified one soldier, who was at the Gaza Division base on the day of the invasion.

“On every reporting line, swarms of terrorists were coming in,” the soldier added. “The forces did not have time to come and stop it. There were swarms of terrorists, something psychotic, and we were simply told that our only choice was to take our feet and flee for our lives.”

In a conversation with military investigators two weeks after the attack, soldiers who survived the assault testified that the Hamas training was so precise that they damaged a row of cameras and communication systems so that “all our screens turned off in almost the exact same second.” The result of all this was a near total blindness on the morning of the attack.

The Times notes finally that, “After the fighting had stopped, Israeli soldiers found hand-held radios on the dead bodies of some of the Hamas militants — the same radios that Israeli intelligence officials had decided a year ago were no longer worth monitoring.”

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