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09/10/2023 | How Did Israel Miss This Attack? Some Likely Explanations

Joseph Fitsanakis

THE HAMAS-LED OPERATION al-Aqsa Flood, which began on October 7, marked the first large-scale conflict within the borders of Israel since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

 

However, unlike the coalition of Arab armies it faced in 1948, Israel now confronts an alliance of sub-state groups. Led by Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, this alliance includes the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad and a number of secular groups, such as the Fatah-aligned al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

Such groups are lesser-known than Hamas; however, they often bring with them expertise in niche areas, such as handling networks of informants inside Israel, building sophisticated explosives, employing unmanned combat drones, or procuring specialized weaponry. They are therefore likely to have contributed greatly to the outcome of Operation al-Aqsa Flood. Their participation also enabled Hamas to launch what essentially amounted to a combined arms assault on Israel. The latter included coordinated land, sea and air elements, which were purposefully low-tech. That may explain why the assailants were able to short-circuit and overwhelm the purportedly impregnable security perimeter that Israel maintains around the Gaza Strip.

Iranian and Lebanese Coaching

Putting aside the individual low-tech elements of the operation, its overall level of tactical organization almost certainly points to considerable support from actors beyond the Gaza Strip. Such actors likely include networks of informants within Israel, as well as possibly Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. Both are well-versed in hybrid warfare and have studied Israeli defense systems more extensively than any other regional actor. Additionally, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah’s Lebanese Resistance Brigades are seasoned practitioners of deception operations. They likely coached Hamas, not only on how to carry out Operation al-Aqsa Flood, but more importantly on how to prevent Israel and its allies from gathering intelligence about it.

There is no question that an operation of such a magnitude must have taken months —possibly even years— to conceive, develop and organize. Such a complex process would have taken place under the watchful eyes and ears of Israeli and Egyptian intelligence agencies, who have historically faced little resistance in penetrating Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas. Yet none seem to have collected enough intelligence to anticipate the attack. It is equally stunning that the meticulous planning of Operation al-Aqsa Flood appears to have escaped the attention of American intelligence agencies, whose presence in the Middle East is significant. How was that even possible?

The answer to this puzzle is likely to relate to Iran. Its agents on the ground appear to have been able to meticulously assemble, fund and train a militant structure inside the Gaza Strip, which has been operating for quite some time in parallel to Hamas’ official structure. This parallel structure likely consists of highly committed and trustworthy —probably even polygraphed— individuals from various Palestinian groups. For several years, this elite structure has managed to operate in airtight secrecy from even seasoned members of the al-Qassam Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian organizations with a presence in the Gaza Strip. If this line of reasoning is accurate, it is likely that the launch of Operation al-Aqsa Flood stunned even senior Palestinian militants in the Gaza strip in the early hours of October 7. Yet senior Iranian officials knew about it, and most likely so did Hezbollah’s leadership.

A Tactical and Strategic Surprise

It should be taken for granted that the planners of the attack adopted a truly hermetic approach to operational discretion. Yet it is unlikely that Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi, American, and other spy agencies, would have failed to collect at least some warning-intelligence about the attack —especially in recent weeks and days, as the planners intensified their preparations in Gaza. The level of surveillance in the Strip is simply too extensive for such a large-scale operation to have gone completely unnoticed. It is likely, therefore, that at least some warning signals reached the administration of Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is also probable, however, that Netanyahu’s highly politicized and embattled government kept its attention focused elsewhere —primarily on its own political survival, which has faced repeated threats of late, as Israel has edged close to what some observers warned could be civil war. Additionally, there have been allegations that Netanyahu’s pro-settler government focused largely on “protecting settlers in the West Bank [with troops] than it did on protecting kibbutzniks on the border with Gaza”. That could well be a central element in explaining the catastrophic tactical surprise that Israel suffered last weekend.

It is important to note that Operation al-Aqsa Flood is likely to represent, not simply a tactical, but also a strategic surprise for the Jewish state. As Martin Indyk argued in an emergency press briefing by the Council on Foreign Relations last Sunday, it is probable that the Israeli leadership misinterpreted Hamas’ strategic intentions. While Israel has feverishly engaged in normalizing its relations with a host of Arab countries in recent years, Hamas’ rejectionist militancy must have seemed at times almost like a relic of the past. Some might have even assumed that Hamas would adopt a “live-and-let-live approach” toward Israel, so long as it was allowed to rule its domain in the Gaza Strip. Yet such views proved to be illusionary, with disastrous results.

The Next Weeks

The government of Israel will undoubtedly investigate the causes behind this historic catastrophe —in due course. In the meantime it faces a momentous decision: should it, or should it not, launch a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip? If it does not, it risks leaving Hamas’ militant infrastructure largely intact. If it does, it faces the strong probability that Hezbollah will attack Israel from the north, not just with barrages of missiles, but with an incursion the size of which may well dwarf Operation al-Aqsa Flood. If it launches a ground attack, the Lebanese group will have the help of Iran, Iraqi Shi’a militias, Syrian volunteers, and even Taliban combat units, who recently pledged to help “conquer Jerusalem”. Meanwhile, deep divisions inside Israel will continue to color the government’s maneuvers in the coming weeks. These may well prove far more calamitous than Israel’s Arab adversaries.

Intelnews.org (Estados Unidos)

 



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