Hamas attack on Israel: "Colossal intelligence failure," say experts & media

The IDF, arguably the strongest military force in West Asia and one of the most well-equipped worldwide, seems to have been caught completely by surprise

The Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas take apart an Israeli tank as smoke rises near the Israel–Gaza border on 7 October 2023.   (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas take apart an Israeli tank as smoke rises near the Israel–Gaza border on 7 October 2023. (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)


The Saturday morning’s surprise attack — via air, land and sea — by the ruling Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip is the unprecedented result of a 'colossal failure' of Israel’s intelligence system, media reports and experts have said.

Hamas militants fired more than 2,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel, according to the Israeli military, while Hamas fighters entered southern Israel by land, sea and air, using paragliders and even captured several Israeli soldiers near the border.

At least 70 people have been killed and more than 600 injured in Israel. On the Gaza Strip side, there are 198 deaths and about 1,500 wounded in Israel’s counterattack, media reports said.

Israel has always prided itself on its intelligence agencies—Shin Bet, the domestic unit, and especially Mossad, its external spy agency.

However, more than 2,000 rockets and dozens of fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border at several locations by air, land and sea, catching the country off-guard on a major holiday.

All this happened despite Israel having one of the strongest militaries in the region, security cameras at the border, personnel from both Shin Bet and Mossad in the field, state-of-the-art thermal imaging/motion sensors and even sophisticated border fencing.

Some experts feel that Israel got so totally engrossed in countering Iran and in efforts to foil the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme that it has neglected its own backyard.

A report in the Jerusalem Post, a leading newspaper, said that 'Gaza was on the back burner in terms of a sense of security threats because Iran-backed proxies have been increasing threats elsewhere'.

The report gave details of the events unfolded over the last three-four years in the region, which (it said) led to the situation: 'Hamas in Gaza appeared isolated, unable to even get more funds from the usual sources, such as Qatar.'

"With Israeli normalisation agreements growing in the region, Hamas seemed to present an outdated ideology living in the past. This seems to have lulled people into a false sense of security,' the report continued.

Against the repeated warnings following every escalation that a truce would only help Hamas and other Islamic organisations to rebuild their strength for the next round, Israel had agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas recently. This, some experts said, was because of warnings ignored due to constraints of domestic politics.

'Even as Israel’s political chiefs began to convene in emergency consultations, with the full extent of the infiltration and its consequences still unfolding, Hebrew media began quoting unnamed officials castigating the political and military echelons for the fact that Israel, preoccupied with internal argument, had again been taken by surprise,' said a report in the Times of Israel.

'The (Israel Defense Forces)’s assumption, in recent years, was that Hamas was deterred from carrying out major attacks in Israel — fearing the potency of Israel’s response, and wary of plunging Gaza into renewed devastation,' the report added, continuing: 'All too evidently, that assumption was unfounded.'

Eli Maron, former head of the Israeli navy, told a news channel anchor, “All of Israel is asking itself: Where is the IDF, where is the police, where is the security? It’s a colossal failure; the hierarchies have simply failed, with vast consequences.”

The Times of Israel also quoted Amos Yadlin, a former IDF intelligence chief, as saying that the attack invoked echoes of the Yom Kippur War — another attack marked by 'intelligence failure" as the enemy initiated conflict.

For scores of Israelis, Saturday’s deadly infiltration does immediately revive painful memories of the October 1973 war practically 50 years to the day, in which Israel’s enemies had launched a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism.

'It cannot be understated or put in less severe terms: The IDF, the strongest military in the Middle East and one of the most respected worldwide was caught completely by surprise in the Hamas attack on Israel on Saturday,' said YNetNews, a leading portal.

'All military intelligence estimations until the early morning hours were that the Hamas terror group was deterred and uninterested in war spreading to Gaza. Accordingly, the IDF reduced its troop deployment in the south, moving forces to the West Bank, where a terror wave has been ongoing,' YNetNews added.

The BBC, in an analysis, said, 'With the combined efforts of Shin Bet, Israeli domestic intelligence, Mossad, its external spy agency, and all the assets of the Israeli Defense Forces, it is frankly astounding that nobody saw this coming.'

'Or if they did, they failed to act on it,' it said, listing Israel’s capabilities ranging from informants’ network, drone attack strikes, and precision assassinations among others.

'To prepare for and carry out such a coordinated, complex attack involving the stockpiling and firing of thousands of rockets, right under the noses of the Israelis, must have taken extraordinary levels of operational security by Hamas,' the BBC report continued.

Some experts are also blaming it on the internal divide within Israel in view of the judicial overhaul plan initiated by the government, which has led to massive calls for boycott, depleting strength in various positions.

CNN’s intelligence and counter-terrorism analyst Kimberly Dozier weighed in on the Hamas strategy and on how Israeli intelligence apparently missed the signals of an attack, saying, “How did such a large group of people plan such a large operation without detection by the Israeli side when Israeli defence officials practically bragged about how they infiltrated all Palestini communications in Gaza and the West Bank even if they were using encrypted apps?”

“This is an incredible message on the part of the Palestinians and Hamas that they were able to gather all these weapons and (carry out) multiple massive attacks,” she said.

The Israeli government authorities did seem concerned about Israeli preparedness in a war-like situation and went around checking shelter houses across the country, but it is not clear if that was directed towards a possible fight with Iran or a probable Palestinian attack. 

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