Why did Israeli intelligence fail?

What did the Hamas attack show us a few days ago? But how real life is… and it is not Fauda (Fauda is the TV series Fauda (4 seasons have already been shot), Israeli production, and one of the most watched spy series of recent years). That is to say, how even Israel’s best secret services, and those that operate “deep” within the Arab communities, with Arabic-speaking agents who spend long periods of time completely cut off and at constant risk of being discovered, can be wrong and scary.

The question remains: Is it possible for the Israeli secret services and units, until recently considered the best in the world, with the Mossad in particular (the intelligence agency) bordering on legend, to fail so badly? The answer is unequivocal: “Yes and it’s not the first time.” Let us recall a series of similar failures.

1. 1960-1980, hijackings, hijackings, bombings:

There are dozens of incidents, many of them bloody, where Palestinian, Arab in general, and European terrorist organizations struck in 3 hot decades. Hijackings, piracy, bombings, several suicides, swept mainly Europe and the Middle East, without being able to be predicted and prevented. It is a period that we may have forgotten, but it shook the western world. And from this experience they began to “build” the modern secret services in the West and East, that is, using the failure to predict and detect, as a lesson.

2. 1972, Munich Massacre

Palestinians take Israeli athletes and coaches hostage at the Munich Olympics, resulting in 17 dead. Complete here is the failure of the Israelis to diagnose the relevant preparation that shocked the world, although the Mossad then unleashed executioners across Europe on those responsible, taking bloody revenge.

3. 1973, Yom Kippur War

On October 6, Egyptians, Syrians and many more Arab countries invaded Israel, literally catching everyone asleep, in the biggest failure of the country’s secret services, who could not see (more correctly perceive) the huge mobilization that had started on their borders . The war at one point came close to threatening Israel’s existence (legendary is the desperation of the country’s leadership, which went so far as to discuss the use of nuclear weapons). Let’s say here that the Israelis had an abundance of evidence, a source even next to President Sadat of Egypt (Ashraf Marwan, a son-in-law of the former president of the country, Nasser!), they had electronic data, they had photos from their reconnaissance aircraft from the rear . And yet they did not manage to put all this together or believe it, to “see” what is to come.

4. 2001, September 11th

Al-Qaeda’s well-known cosmopolitan hit in the US. And here the Israeli agencies, although not at the center, they also failed to “sniff out”, the major terrorist operation, contributing in their own way to the general failure of the American agencies. And here, in retrospect, it became clear that there were elements, but no one had succeeded in synthesizing them.

5. 2006, 2nd Lebanon War

Here Israel invades Lebanon for the 2nd time, only to be caught off guard by stiff resistance from the fortified and well-prepared Hezbollah. Which led to the stalemate, as neither side could achieve a “clear victory”. Serious failure here of military intelligence.

Of course, the above are only indicative. As Israeli intelligence has failed many dozens of times in the interim and since. Not being able to predict the dozens of rocket attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah, not being able to stop the dozens of individual terrorist attacks, not being able to stop the flow of weapons and explosives into Gaza, not being able to detect all the long and complex tunnels connecting it to Egypt. Without yet being able to effectively control Iran’s action against them, without having a clear picture of what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, the Emirates, Egypt, Libya.

So is Israeli intelligence a failure?

The opposite. They are successful and capable, but within realistic expectations, and not in a “we are infallible” framework. As Israel faces not “one enemy”, but dozens of terrorist organizations and groups, with bases and sanctuaries in many countries around it. And with many scattered interest groups supporting them, even state entities and political constituencies and foreign secret services and arms and drug smuggling networks and anything else imaginable. With Israel’s adversaries also having confrontations with each other, tight, lack of cooperation, as well as open war.

Thus, the recent failure to predict the attack by Hamas is an obvious “systemic” failure of enormous magnitude, but it cannot be characterized as unprecedented, nor unexpected.

How could Hamas have acted?

The new attack that took place deep in Israel had several new features. Multiple strike points, use of new methods (gliders and parachutes, many drones, heavy machinery that broke down the fences around Gaza, etc.), as well as a massive invasion of several hundreds of Hamas members, among them very well organized “special forces her”, heavily armed and well trained. So how is all this hidden? Let’s suggest some answers.

1. Israel maintains very strong electronic surveillance of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, South Lebanon, and so on.

Mobile phones, internet, fixed lines, apparently all online communication services (via messengers, social media, encrypted applications), are methodically monitored and using artificial intelligence, which can detect both “trends” and “behavioral changes” and “code usage of words’ to those being watched. E.g. the mobile phones of many suspects are monitored not only in what they transmit but also where they are as devices, in order to determine if there is a possible meeting, gathering, organization of them.

How does one escape this surveillance grid? The answer is the most basic: no use of electronic communications. In other words, a return to more traditional forms of communication, through personal meetings, messengers or whatever. And if the network of people is small and only “known to each other”, it is also very difficult to break.

2. The mass preparation of Hamas units (which has a serious military organization and with separate structures, even engineering, rocket artillery, couriers, etc.) can obviously sound an alarm.

But here it is not at all necessary that there should have been such a mass organization. On the contrary, we assume that the preparation was done in a very closed circle, of a few dozen people, who did the central planning. So some “closed” Hamas units, with a high affinity between their members and fanaticism, therefore with almost zero possibility of leaks, had been given orders to prepare (e.g. those who appeared with parachutes), but without a certain time of action . And these units were updated at the last minute, e.g. 24-48 hours before.

From the images of the attacks, we can also see the following: As we said, trained Hamas groups with military uniforms, good personal weaponry, moving in convoys with motorcycles or trucks, masked faces, etc. participated. These units had a specific target, killing method, mission to capture civilians, and so on.

But at the same time, hundreds of others appear, in civilian clothes with nothing else to protect them, with a Kalashnikov in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, shouting, celebrating the attack, looting, dogging, abusing civilians, without any apparent organization. So we assume here that the initial impact wave of a few hundreds was followed by a second one, an “askeri”, which was mobilized on the spot. As Hamas has thousands of sympathetic gunmen, organized into local-neighborhood-tribal groups. Who in the small geographical space of the Gaza Strip and right next to Israel, constantly on the alert, it is very easy to follow at the last moment in a general call.

3. The massive use of rockets (more than 3,500 were fired, according to the Israeli Armed Forces), should also have “triggered” Israeli intelligence in its preparations.

But here we have a permanent problem. As in the recent past, similar waves of attacks were also not foreseen. Hamas has managed to set up a network of quasi-industrial rocket production laboratories (many of them underground), which are constantly operating and stocking corresponding weapons. So continuous production can hardly be identified or evaluated as something time-specific.

Here the use of the Israeli Iron Dome systems, which detect and shoot down such rockets, may have given the Israeli side an illusion of security. That… “yes, from time to time we receive waves of rockets, but we have strong air defenses, we have a network of warning our population with sirens, most houses in southern Israel also have a security room (shielded), most of the rockets are not directed anyway and they mostly fall in fields.” That is, an image that Israel has experienced over and over again for years and knows how to deal with it. Until one day the system becomes saturated.

A digression here, as a lot has been written about “Iron Dome failure”. This is not yet documented. The Israelis have not announced – and are unlikely to – how many incoming rockets they shot down and what the success rate of the air defense arrays was. So it is possible that Iron Dome and all related systems worked within their parameters, but without being able to handle the saturation achieved by Hamas. But this applies to all air defenses, in all wars and conflicts. There is no such thing as an “airtight one”, despite the occasional fantasizing.

After all, the Iron Dome wasn’t built to intercept everything. A critical element of its operation is the assessment of incoming missiles, the forecast (of course not perfect), which are the most dangerous to fall in populated areas, and the interception, especially of the latter. So the truly shocking images of hundreds of rockets in each wave “covering the sky”, are not representative of what is happening on the ground. Of course, apart from the considerable damage, it is certain that the Israeli population was terrorized.

4. Israel maintains a dense network of physical surveillance along the Gaza perimeter.

After all, the Strip itself is literally “built” on its perimeter, with a long concrete fence and elsewhere with wire, by the Israelis. Who have outposts along the fence (which of course creates prison conditions for over 2 million Palestinians…), with cameras, sensors, patrols, etc.

The obvious question here: Why didn’t all of this work?

The answer was probably revealed by Hamas’s planning. As her attack did not manifest itself in one or two spots, but multiple throughout the perimeter. Something that has never been done before, with such timing coordination. At the same time, the use of boats that landed groups on the shores of Israel (not many, because here there was a reaction from the Israeli Navy that is constantly on patrol off the coast of Gaza), but also the original use of gliders, parachutes, etc. which brought terrorists behind the Israeli lines, succeeded in the collapse of the system.

We make the following assumption: The Israeli outposts and small camps on the Gaza perimeter must have been undermanned. The choice of day was critical as Saturday is Israel’s weekly holiday, but that particular day was also the last of the week-long Sukkot holiday, which is one of the country’s most important religious traditions. So a “double” holiday (see the following video of the Israeli Army before the attack of course), with Gaza being quite calm for weeks, with Israeli attention directed more to the north on the border with Lebanon, but also to the center of the country where there were riots in Jerusalem.

There in the previous days of Sukkot, orthodox Jews made “invasions” of the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest in Islam, that is to say the worst in terms of religious provocation, and a point of permanent confrontation between Israel and the local Arab populations in the West Bank. So that’s probably where the Israeli reactions awaited and not in the South.

So if in this apparently “controlled” climate, suddenly a wave of rockets broke out, a wave of invasions, with reports coming from all directions, with thousands of cell phones making mass and sudden panic calls, asking for help as the massacres had begun, drones were also seen dropping bombs on the Israeli camera towers around Gaza, blocking the transmission of the image, if there were outposts undermanned, but also relaxed after the holiday, it is not difficult to imagine what chaos prevailed. Which alone dismantled for some critical hours, any Israeli reaction.

But here too small local stories of resistance surface, Israeli reserve units mobilizing autonomously, other armored and police units also moving uncoordinated, but blocking further infiltration. In other words, there was a reaction, which must be credited to the Israeli preparatory work. Which has a top recruitment and mobilization system and above all a spirit of initiative without waiting for a “central command”. Nevertheless, it took 2 days for the Israeli forces to completely clear the areas near Gaza.

Life after Fauda

The Israeli intelligence failure can be explained by other reasons as well. We said at the beginning that there are many, even too many. Initially the 3 central ones, Mossad, Shin Bet, and Aman of the Armed Forces. After the other special services of the 3 branches of the Armed Forces, the corresponding intelligence unit of the Police, the 8200 unit for electronic monitoring, Sayeret Matkal which is an anti-terrorist unit of the Armed Forces linked to Aman, but also with its own level of autonomy. Plus various even more hidden and small-scale units and sub-units of action, monitoring, intervention, analysis, and so on. With each other sealed, with different perceptions and methods of operation, with perhaps different communication protocols and business agendas.

So it is not impossible for the systemic error to enter this cave. And here we have the first reports that there were warnings, that there were insinuations from foreign agencies, (for example, this is what the Egyptians say, who also systematically monitor what is happening in Gaza), that there were indications.

Again the question arises: If the Israelis were wrong, were the Egyptians wrong, were the Americans wrong too? Were other Arab countries also wrong, which have also “set their ear” in the region, and do not want the reinforcement of Hamas?

There is no answer. But this is also the peculiarity of systemic error. That when it happens, the investigation shows what went “wrong”, what should be corrected, what should be fundamentally changed. Meanwhile, with the tensions in Ukraine, in Central Asia, in Syria, it is to be expected that the targeting of the various secret services internationally is fragmented.

We said how many special intelligence services Israel has on its own. With thousands of administrators and servants and of course not all supporters of Netanyahu. We’ve seen the opposite for months: Israel has been rocked by massive protests against the government, which it accuses of authoritarianism and unconstitutional behavior, with dozens of high-ranking military officials openly expressing their opposition. Does anyone believe that in such a society in an internal dimension, with a significant degree of autonomy and independence in its state structures, with multiple approaches (within Israeli society, all perceptions coexist and not easily, from ultra-orthodox Jews to the most liberal ones) could formed a massive conspiracy of “silence” and at the risk of hundreds of their deaths? Where the country itself has many times made a huge mobilization because they had 2-3 dead from a terrorist attack?

Our conclusion

Israel as well as all international intelligence structures will take note of this grandiose failure of prediction and seek their given limits. The electronic cloak is good, the artificial intelligence is good, the thousands of sensors, the satellites, the surveillance, the secret agents, the informants are good. But all this can be overturned by a methodical adversary, with fewer means but better, even occasionally, organization, who also has the “advantage” of risking it all on a… roll.

Because this is what Hamas did a few days ago, betting almost everything on a move of high symbolism (even choosing the anniversary of Yom Kippur to attack again), with brutal terrorist action but also sacrificing thousands of its members, in an effort to defeat Israel. Not in the field of battle (it is impossible there), but in the field of impressions, international prestige, popular approval, mobilization of the masses, nationalist and religious rhetoric in an “enclosed space”, millions of Palestinians and Arabs in the neighboring countries, with complete disregard for international condemnation.

About the author

The Liberal Globe is an independent online magazine that provides carefully selected varieties of stories. Our authoritative insight opinions, analyses, researches are reflected in the sections which are both thematic and geographical. We do not attach ourselves to any political party. Our political agenda is liberal in the classical sense. We continue to advocate bold policies in favour of individual freedoms, even if that means we must oppose the will and the majority view, even if these positions that we express may be unpleasant and unbearable for the majority.

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