December 12, 2023 | New York Post

The coming Israeli intelligence reckoning could bring down many in the country’s elite

December 12, 2023 | New York Post

The coming Israeli intelligence reckoning could bring down many in the country’s elite

One of the biggest challenges confronting Israel is to assess honestly how many soldiers, intelligence officials and established security procedures failed before Oct. 7.

Answering that question properly could well change radically how Jerusalem deals with Gaza and the West Bank. It could easily superannuate a significant slice of Israel’s military, security and intelligence elite.

The easy parts to answer will surely be technical — the most salient may be: How did Hamas maintain sufficient communication and training discipline to outsmart Israel’s eavesdropping and photographic surveillance of Gaza? 

The more difficult: Why didn’t Israel’s security and intelligence services — and those of the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt — provide some warning about the coming onslaught?

Technical intelligence — especially the decryption of encrypted sensitive communications — is usually the most valuable information one can access against one’s enemy. 

The United States’ upper reaches of government blab incessantly, even about the most sensitive issues; this information is, however, protected by advanced encryption and secure networks that are exceptionally difficult for foreign intelligence services to penetrate.

Despite its funding from Qatar and Iran, Hamas doesn’t have the wherewithal of a state, and Palestinians aren’t known for being taciturn. 

Yet it doesn’t appear the Israeli military and security services picked up that much “chatter” — at least not enough for senior officers to challenge the then-conventional wisdom that Hamas wasn’t a significant ground threat.

Kudos should obviously be given to those analysts in Unit 8200, Israel’s signal-intelligence agency, who did hear and see operational preparations matching the “Jericho Wall” Hamas battle plan Israel had obtained a year earlier.

A year is a lifetime in an intelligence service, which focuses on the present, not the past; the useful retention of information isn’t often what it should be. 

The attentive analysts should be extolled and promoted; those who explicitly dismissed the information should be fired.

But Israeli fortunes really shouldn’t have been dependent on signal-intelligence analysts putting the dots together — not given the proximity of the target and the amount of time and effort Israeli security services, especially the internal service, Shin Bet, which has authority over running spies in the West Bank and Gaza, have spent to develop networks among the Palestinians.

Shin Bet obviously failed so abysmally that it compels severe doubts about how that organization has run its Palestinian agents.

Has Shin Bet, for example, been prone to recruit “dangles” offered by Hamas? 

The Central Intelligence Agency, whose case officers are ever hungry to recruit new agents, was egregiously fooled in this way by the Cubans and East Germans. 

The Oct. 7 disaster should probably provoke questions about everything Shin Bet has done against the Palestinian target for years.

Almost as worrisome is the apparent lack of information about Hamas’ plans coming from Jordan’s and Egypt’s security and intelligence services. Did they, too, underestimate Hamas’ capabilities?

Both Amman and Cairo work the Palestinian target — for the Hashemite monarchy, which rules over a lot of sometimes deeply disgruntled Palestinians, it’s crucial. 

Yet neither country apparently provided any alarming intelligence to Jerusalem. Did they have none?

Both countries have an increasingly cold peace with Israel. 

Secret military and security cooperation with Israel supposedly transcends popular and elite distaste for the Jewish state.

The Egyptian army, a thoroughly corrupt organization that runs a police state, obviously allowed a lot of war material to make it through border crossings and well-known smuggling tunnels into Gaza.

Their neighbors’ ignorance, antipathy or complicity isn’t a reassuring answer for Israelis. 

The same is true for Fatah, the security and intelligence muscle behind the Palestinian Authority.

It’s a good guess that Hamas has more and better penetrations of Fatah than the reverse.

This raises questions about Israel’s dependence upon the outfit as its Palestinian partner.

Hamas, a rabid Islamist organization hitherto not known for its subtlety and technical proficiency, bettered all its antagonists Oct. 7.

The measure for Israel is whether it has the determination to punish the errant and build a better intelligence ground game since it’s now clear no one else is likely to offer help that really matters.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle Eastern-targets officer in the Central Intelligence Agency, is a resident scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Arab Politics Egypt Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Jordan Military and Political Power