Why Wasn’t Israel Prepared for Hamas’s Assault?

In addition to the sheer horror, the frantic search for loved ones, and the concern for friends and family members about to don their uniforms and put themselves in harm’s way to defend their country—many Israelis’ initial reaction to the invasion on Saturday involved the question: how did this happen? A tightly controlled border kept Hamas’s forces inside the Gaza Strip, the Iron Dome reduced the danger of rocket attacks, and the terrorist group seemed deterred by the outcome of the many short wars it had fought with Israel over the past fifteen years. How did the IDF, with its vaunted intelligence abilities, its high-tech monitoring systems, and its expertise get caught so terribly off guard?

In the days, weeks, and years to come, there will be no shortage of finger-pointing and recriminations, as well as some serious debate and analysis. Eran Lerman outlines what is already known about how Hamas achieved its tactical success, and offers some preliminary conclusions:

The military wing of Hamas meticulously planned and coordinated an operation which included an unprecedented use of sophisticated homemade solutions. This in turn raises further questions as to the failure to learn of such plans, or detect the work done on technical devices. Specifically, the key to the border-fence breach was the use of small bombs dropped from drones, which were used to disable tanks as well as destroy the monitoring cameras guarding the fence. The Hamas operators managed to maintain strict secrecy as these preparations were underway—which incidentally, gives the lie to the claim that the attack was a spontaneous response to Israeli actions in Jerusalem in the prior week.

The intelligence failure begins at the strategic level of misapprehending Hamas intentions. Over the preceding two weeks, the Hamas “de-facto government” in Gaza, led by Yahia Sinwar, seemed to be angling for more Qatari money (brought in suitcases full of cash, since the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah controls the banks and refuses to help what they see as a rebellious province) and for more workers to be allowed into Israel, which the Netanyahu government was willing to concede. Israeli analysts concluded that Hamas is steadily becoming more concerned with running a government rather than a terrorist attack against Israeli civilian targets.

To this was added what some observers, particularly Major-General (res.) Yitzḥak Brik, a former tank officer and later IDF ombudsman, have been warning about for the last fifteen years. The IDF, once upon a time a well-trained and relatively large military based on its reserve armored formations, has become much smaller, less disciplined, less well trained (since the reserves are rarely called up), poorly prepared for ground warfare and maneuver, and much too reliant on airstrikes, precision munitions, and highly specific intelligence. As a result, there was little that could compensate for the lack of intelligence on October 7.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Hamas, IDF, Israeli Security


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy