Israeli Intelligence Failed, But Not For The Reasons You Think – OpEd

There is no doubt that the once-powerful, seemingly omnipotent Israeli intelligence services failed the country on Oct. 7. But the failures are not limited simply to the fact that they were unable to predict and prevent the attacks by Hamas; the biggest failure has been what has happened since then.

The first failure following the attacks was their inability to correctly survey and assess the likely results of a war on Gaza, in particular the ability to ensure the conflict would be a short one and would secure a decisive win.

Having seen the results of the attacks on Oct. 7, all that the Israeli intelligence services needed to do was listen to and analyze what the leaders of Hamas were saying at the time. Those leaders made it clear that they knew Israel would react harshly, and stated publicly that they were ready for all possible retaliatory action.

It has not been publicly revealed whether the Israeli intelligence services were aware, or believed, that the Hamas leadership would be able to survive nearly six months of devastating war in Gaza. But if they did, and made any effort to warn the political leadership, it is clear that the Netanyahu administration paid little or no attention to it.

Most likely, though, Israeli arrogance and exaggerated self-confidence blinded them to the benefits of adopting a cool, level-headed approach instead of diving into the heavily populated Gaza Strip and taking on what we now know to be a ready Palestinian resistance to the Israeli invaders.

The failures of Israeli intelligence were also evident in the mistaken belief that if Gaza and its people were hit very hard militarily, Hamas would simply lay down its arms, release the hostages and surrender.

It is true that Palestinians did indeed leave their land and homes once before, in 1948, falsely believing that they could later return home. It is also true that Israel was able to defeat a coalition of Arab countries in six days in 1967. But the Israeli intelligence services clearly failed to see a major change among the Palestinian people in more modern times; they learned their lessons about the futility of ever leaving their homes, preferring to die there than become refugees for, in some cases, a second or third time.

Simple historical research into the modus operandi and ideological beliefs and practices of fundamentalists in general, and Islamists in particular, would have revealed many examples of how extremists might react when under attack.

All Israeli Jews needed to do, for example, was look to the historical example of the Jewish zealots who became trapped in the desert enclave of Masada in the 1st century. Unable to repel their attackers and under siege, these fundamentalists choose mass suicide rather than surrender. Similar examples of religious fundamentalists refusing to capitulate abound throughout history.

Therefore the idea, repeatedly stated by Israeli authorities and their supporters, that Hamas should simply surrender reflects a lack of understanding of the lessons of history and the ideological thinking of people who not only do not fear death but even welcome it in accordance with their ideological beliefs.

Another major failure of Israeli intelligence was the belief that the international narrative about the war could be controlled simply by preventing journalists from entering Gaza. The impact of social media, and the work of the Palestinian journalists inside Gaza, clearly did not factor into the Israeli calculus, and not even the systematic killing of journalists and the bombing of media offices, or attempts to cut internet connections to Gaza, could prevent damning reports and photographs getting out.

The inability to predict or control worldwide reactions to the war represents another major failing by Israeli authorities. As US Sen. Tim Kaine pointed out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have succeeded initially in pulling the wool over the eyes of the Biden administration and many other world leaders. Eventually, however, they began to realize they were being taken for a ride by the smooth-talking Netanyahu and started to change course.

The initial carte blanche Israel was granted by its allies for its response to Oct. 7 remained in place for a while but eventually was withdrawn. Expecting that this wave of worldwide support from the media and politicians would continue indefinitely was a major error in judgment.

In fact, countries that once opposed recognition of Palestinian statehood are now ready to do so. Even the US, which repeatedly used its power of veto within the UN Security Council to block resolutions that Israel did not want in the aftermath of Oct. 7, eventually ran out of patience after continually going to bat for the country while its leaders continued to ignore, or even defy, advice from their allies in Washington.

Of course, one should not lay all of the blame at the feet of the Israeli intelligence services. The failures that led to Oct. 7, coupled with the concerns of Netanyahu and his allies about loss of their political power — and in the case of the prime minister, possible jail time in the fraud and corruption cases he faces — appear to have resulted in Israel’s political leaders ignoring the advice of friends, allies and, most likely, their own intelligence services.

Netanyahu and his ultraright-wing, racist Cabinet have dug themselves into a big hole they are unable to get out of. The tragedy is that while they continue to attempt to do so, the military operations that they ordered continue to kill innocent Palestinians and others.

This so-called “defensive” war is in reality a war of revenge and it quickly became an absolutely chaotic military operation with no goals that could realistically be achieved and no political horizon for what happens next, as Israeli authorities continue to go from one mistake to another without any coherent plan or proper, intelligent thinking.

The most sane and smart advice from the intelligence services now should simply be a call for authorities to cut their political losses, and the human cost, by ending this ill-advised campaign in Gaza.

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