Volumes could, and will be, written about how Israel allowed herself to be raped by Hamas on 7 October 2023. But to focus on the forest rather than the trees, I see two major failures:
The first was the reliance on interconnected automated systems to secure the border, replacing traditional human observers and patrols. In exceptional situations, humans can take initiative and act outside of the system. They can act alone when communication is cut off, and they can recalibrate themselves to entirely new operational environments that were previously unexpected. A military unit can be designed to operate together under centralized control, but individual soldiers can also fight independently if they must.
This is precisely the capability that was not designed into the automated systems that were supposed to replace traditional boots on the ground. The remote cameras, sensors, and remotely operated or automated weapons that were installed did not have the distributed intelligence that human armies do. Even after a surprise attack, human soldiers can regroup, make new plans, and counterattack. The automated systems could not. They were dependent on communication links, both between themselves and with a central control center. These links could easily be cut by anyone who knew how the system worked and which parts were critical to its functioning – and Hamas had excellent intelligence (I’ll discuss this further below).
The more sophisticated a technology, the more complicated it is, the more parts it has, and more possible avenues there are to attack it. I don’t have all the details, but I know at least that Hamas attacked cameras, communication antennas, and power sources, which allowed them to blind the system and shut down the autonomous weapons that might have stopped or at least slowed them.
Anyone who works with technology knows that the keys to reliability are backup, and redundancy of critical components. The border fence itself was not redundant and there was no “kill zone” alongside it. The last line of defense should have been provided by human soldiers. Perhaps this was the original intent, but in a disastrous failure of vision, operational commanders seem to have assumed the fence was impregnable and neglected to ensure that there was a working human backup in the event that it was breached.
Apparently, the soldiers of the Gaza Division were not adequately staffed or operating in a condition of alertness that would be appropriate to the importance of the mission. This cost them, and many others, their lives.
The second major failure was similar to the disaster of the Yom Kippur War: what Israelis call “the conseptzia.” The conception, in this case, was that Hamas was not interested in a major confrontation with Israel, that it was concerned with the practical matters of governing Gaza, and that it could be bribed by allowing the influx of cash from Qatar (much of which went directly into the pockets and villas of the top Hamas leaders), permitting more Gazans to cross the border to work in Israel, letting construction materials be imported into Gaza, stopping the enforcement of a no-go zone near the border, and so on. Improve their economy, and they will become less hostile, seems to have been the thought. There has never been a more incorrect assessment. In fact, Hamas leaders were planning the vicious assault for months, while they negotiated about work permits.
Israel’s leadership ignored the bloodthirsty threats that continued to issue from Hamas, ignored the buildup of its forces, and ignored the ongoing training exercises intended to develop their ability to invade Israel’s bases, towns, and kibbutzim (Hamas even built a model kibbutz that they practiced attacking). If Hamas wanted to improve the conditions in the strip, why did they funnel the cement that Israel allowed them to import into the construction of tunnels and other military infrastructure instead of civilian construction? Why were there recent tests of rockets over the Mediterranean? These questions were not asked or they were answered with a shrug.
Some of the Gazans who were given permits to work in Israel were in fact spies who gathered information about the targets that would be attacked on 7 October. Detailed maps of army bases, towns, and kibbutzim were found on terrorists that were killed in the attack. In the future, Jews will have to do their own farming and construction work, or bring in foreign workers that aren’t moonlighting as terrorists.
I’ve heard it said that there is no possible explanation other than a deliberate conspiracy to let it happen in order to embarrass Netanyahu. Our army and intelligence services are too good, they said; it must have been an inside job. But that’s nonsense. The more one looks, the more one sees the pervasive complacency, incompetence, laziness, corruption, and lack of imagination among our top people that gave Hamas their chance. Indeed, it’s too bad it isn’t true, because then all we would have to do would be to hang a few traitors. The real problems will be much harder to fix.
It seems to be generally accepted that “things will never be the same” after this, that we’ve learned lessons. I’m not so sure. Right now, we have no choice but to keep the politicians and generals who were responsible for the failures until the war is over. Have they learned that in the Middle East, the winners rule and the losers are killed or banished, and fight until we achieve real victory? Will their replacements be entirely free of the “conception?” Will they understand that Hamas and the PA are two peas in a pod? Or will they allow the Americans to push us into the usual stalemate, or worse?
Certainly the Americans are still committed to the idea of a Palestinian state in the territories, even if they have learned that Hamas – at least by that name – can’t be part of it. Moti Kedar said that the top leadership of our military establishment “speak American, not Hebrew.” That, too, will have to change.