There have been two kinds of conspiracy theories circulated by “truthers” after the Hamas massacre of Israelis on Oct. 7.
The first kind essentially denies there was an attack or nitpicks the details. Those arguments are made in obvious bad faith by people who simply hate Israel and side with the terrorists. Any evidence presented to them is dismissed as fake.
The second kind of conspiracy theory is of the “inside job” variety, most often involving a “stand down” order that allowed Hamas to massacre over 1,000 people without any military intervention. Some of the people pushing this stuff are the usual suspects, alt-righters and anti-semites, some of it’s coming from anti-war leftists and libertarians who treat every war as a vast conspiracy, and some from fringe figures in Israel.
The idea that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or top Israeli generals would have issued a “stand down” (apart from being horrifying) makes no sense. Before this attack, he was the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history. Now he’s been forced to join a unity government and polls show that most Israelis want him to resign. His political career may be over. Likewise that of the top generals. In Israel, generals transition into politics. That’s a whole lot less likely to happen now.
The Yom Kippur War disaster tanked Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan despite their heroic statures. There’s no political gain to letting the enemy murder over a thousand of your people in a preventable attack.
Finally, Israel is a small country. A whole lot of people know each other and are related or friends with each other. This conspiracy theory requires you to believe that military personnel who had friends and family living in these communities decided to ignore calls for help and sit around playing cards while they were being butchered. Not to mention ignore attacks on their own bases and allow their fellow military personnel to be murdered, tortured and taken hostage.
But since it is out there, let’s address it.
- Israel is a mighty fortress and its security is second to none, so how could this have happened?
Most forms of this “trutherism” claim that Israel’s security is so great and its intelligence apparatus so solid that there’s no way that the Hamas attack could have happened without some sort of complicity.
Libertarians, of all people, should know that governments are incompetent. Israel’s security is pretty good compared to the United States because it actually tries to secure things. But it’s a long way from being secure. The best evidence of that is how many times it has failed.
Israel’s intelligence has been hyped a lot, but it’s mostly offensive intelligence. That means it’s pretty good at doing what it does now— learning the locations of enemy targets and taking them out. Its defensive intelligence has been a mixed bag, at best. Israel’s track record at preventing terrorist attacks using intelligence is only a little better than ours.
Ask where a particular terrorist is and they stand a good chance of being able to answer, ask where the next terrorist attack is coming from and the answer is no more useful than our color-coded homeland security alerts. There’s usually “chatter” and some “sources” say something, but “other sources” say something else. Analysts pore over it and then someone higher up settles the debate.
Without having boots on the ground, Israel was relying on passive intelligence collection and on sensors and cameras, rather than on human intelligence sources and people who were actually paying close attention to what was going on.
As I recently wrote, Israel was nearly destroyed 50 years ago during the Yom Kippur War because key intelligence figures refused to believe that an Egyptian attack was coming even though they had plenty of warning. That was a worse and more unjustified intelligence failure than this one.
Intelligence is not the same thing as intelligence. Information doesn’t come perfectly packaged and wrapped in a bow. Human beings have to look at it and draw conclusions. Sometimes they draw the right ones, often they draw the wrong ones. And for every piece of information they see, there’s a thousand pieces of information that they don’t see.
Does it make sense that Israel missed the Hamas preparations? As much as sense as the United States missing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or Israel losing the defense strategy that would have allowed it to hold the Suez Canal.
Israel knew that something was coming. It sent a small security team expecting to intercept maybe five or seven attackers. Instead, it was overwhelmed by a massive assault that no one saw coming because it was unprecedented.
And that’s the real issue.
Yes, Israel had been distracted by months of leftist riots. And it was the last day of the High Holy Days, which is usually a major celebration. But most of all, no one had anticipated something on this scale taking place.
That takes us to the second point.
2. Why did Israel let Hamas rampage for so long without intervening?
Estimates are still preliminary, but reports are that Hamas sent 2,500 terrorists into Israel. Israel was not prepared for an invasion on that scale. It did not have the manpower in place to quickly and decisively respond to it.
It’s a disaster that emerged from poor planning and worse assumptions.
The IDF was unprepared and caught off guard by the scale of an attack that no one was expecting. It did not have the manpower or organization to quickly respond. (The question is, would we do any better if a million armed terrorists showed up at the border?)
There’s enough blame here for everyone. But hell, were we prepared for a bunch of Saudis to hijack planes with box cutters and fly them into buildings?
The errors here were catastrophic, there will be protests and heads will roll. But this wasn’t a conspiracy, it was government incompetence.
Should the attack have been seen coming, should there have been a faster response? Obviously yes.
It’s a catastrophic failure, not just of intelligence, but of strategic planning. It shows the cost of becoming complacent, of playing defense and letting the terrorists learn how you operate, while assuming that they wouldn’t shake up their strategy.
There are lessons here for all of us. In the wake of the attack, some people try to make sense of what doesn’t seem to make sense by turning to conspiracy theories. And Israel, which spent decades projecting an image of superior competence, brilliant intelligence and daring operations, was a victim of its own success.
But Israel is also a country that operates best on the offensive, and its military, like most militaries, becomes stale and unimaginative on the defensive.
Israel is very far from perfect. Its failures and failings are many. This was among the worst. I’ve written at length elsewhere about those failures, but some people need to believe that government is uber-competent and that its failures can only be explained by a conspiracy, not by the reality that governments are innately incompetent.
How many times have Israeli soldiers been thrown into battle, unready and unprepared against superior numbers and firepower, only to turn the tide with heroism and self-sacrifice? Far too often. This was another of those times.
Israelis deserve military leaders as good as the men and women who serve on the front lines. And the victims deserved military leadership that would have planned for this scenario. Sadly, they didn’t get it.
Hopefully, next time they will.