OpinionIsrael at War

Where was IDF intelligence?

Why did it take so long for Israeli forces to respond to Hamas's assault?

Family and friends attend the funeral of IDF soldier David Shila at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, Oct. 8, 2023. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
Family and friends attend the funeral of IDF soldier David Shila at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, Oct. 8, 2023. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
Lilach Shoval

Saturday’s Hamas assault is the 2023 version of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The complete surprise—the governing paradigm, the collapse of the lines of defense—is very reminiscent of what happened here exactly 50 years ago.

In a well-synchronized and orchestrated attack, Hamas managed to surprise Israeli intelligence and completely topple the Israel Defense Forces Gaza Division’s doctrine, which relied in recent years on the false security of the border fence.

There are several difficult questions that someone will be forced to give answers to when the inevitable investigative committee into this affair is established.

Q: Where was the intelligence?

This is the first question that cries out to the heavens. Just as was the case 50 years ago, even if Israeli intelligence had real indications that such an operation was in the offing, these were not acted on.

In the last few weeks, and even in the past few days, senior army officials were heard talking about how Hamas is not interested in an escalation and emphasizing how the fact that thousands of workers enter Israel every day from Gaza restrained the terrorist organization’s leadership.

Even though Hamas carried out a live drill at the security fence in the past two weeks, Israel’s intelligence assessment did not change.

Not only that, but following a military situation assessment, the IDF, the strongest army in the Middle East, which prides itself on intelligence, drew down its forces in the Gaza area in recent months, transferring them to Judea and Samaria to deal with the wave of murderous terrorism.

Like in the Yom Kippur War, Israel’s entire political and security leadership is accountable for this failure. The dire result is that even days after the start of the attack at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 7, there are still besieged towns, terrorists barricading themselves in houses, and a significant number of civilians and soldiers who have been kidnapped and taken into Gaza.

Q: How did the Gaza Division’s defense collapse?

That Hamas aims to penetrate Israeli territory is not news. The terrorist organization has been openly practicing such infiltration for many years. The security establishment believed that the greatest threat was the Gaza terror groups’ tunnel networks, and therefore invested billions to build the mighty barrier around Gaza, above and below ground.

Upon its completion, the IDF thought it had managed to almost completely solve the problem, and conventional wisdom held that the situation was simpler above ground—thanks to two fences.

The plan apparently did not account for a scenario of a mass assault on the fence by hundreds of armed men, blowing it up, destroying it and vandalizing it with tractors.

The IDF’s concept of defense collapsed along with the fence, similar to the collapse of the famous Bar-Lev Line on the Sinai front in October 1973. Except that 50 years ago, the Bar-Lev Line was far away, located somewhere in Sinai, while now, there are Israeli settlements very close to the Gaza border, only a few meters away, and the voices coming from there are simply heartbreaking.

Q: Why did it take the forces so long to take control of the situation?

For many hours, armed terrorists wandered through Israeli territory, inside army posts, bases and villages. They went from house to house, looking for civilians and members of the security forces. No one came to help.

It took Israeli forces a very long time to reach the besieged settlements, and as of Monday morning, many hours have passed since the beginning of the attack, terrorists were still wandering around residential settlements in the south, massacring civilians.

Q: Where are Israel’s foreign relations?

Hamas’s attack began at 6:30 a.m. For the first four hours, no one at the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit briefed the reporters or civilians. The army, as well as Israel’s entire foreign relations system, let the Hamas narrative lead the public dialogue.

Even in the briefing held by IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Daniel Hagari at approximately 10:30 a.m., no real details or answers were forthcoming. The IDF was satisfied with statements such as “we are at war,” asking the residents of the south to shut themselves in shelters, and that was that.

At a relatively late stage, the IDF asked the citizens not to cooperate with Hamas and distribute its videos and reports, but the requests were delayed, and it seemed that no one was really listening to them anyway. What’s more, you can’t argue with the harsh reality.

Q: Did Israel’s internal disputes actually weaken deterrence?

For many months, Israel has been involved in internal conflicts with regard to the government’s judicial reform plan. Hundreds of pilots in the reserves, intelligence personnel and reservists from various divisions had announced that they were suspending their reserve service, and the army leadership had to deal with reinforcing competence and cohesion and preventing the degeneration of the military units.

The internal situation in Israel is also clearly visible in assessments of the situation by Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Israel’s enemies were waiting for Israel to weaken itself, and while the army leadership dealt with the internal discord that penetrated the IDF ranks, they were preparing for the next war.

The political and military leadership will have to ask themselves how they allowed this internal dispute to weaken Israeli deterrence to the extent that Hamas would have the audacity to launch such an attack.

Q: Looking to the future: Is the IDF prepared for the possibility that Hezbollah will join the fight?

The scenario that materialized on the Gaza border on Saturday will not necessarily end in the south, and could spill over into other areas as well. Anyone with a basic understanding of the situation and who is aware of Hezbollah’s capabilities knows that what Israel experienced on the Gaza border pales in comparison to what awaits it in a confrontation with Hezbollah in the north.

Currently, the possibility that Hezbollah and Iran are coordinating with Hamas cannot be ruled out, and even if they are not, there is a possibility that they will decide to jump on the bandwagon and join the fighting after Israel’s inventory of Iron Dome interceptor missiles is depleted.

One way or another, we have heavy days of fighting ahead of us, and we can only assume that the consequences of the operation will be very extensive in every possible arena—both military and political.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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