Assessing the Failure of Israel’s Strategy Against Hamas

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The Gaza Strip is known for the densely settled areas on the earth. It’s also among the most laboriously locked down, surveilled, and repressed. Israel has developed an entire intelligence instrument and aggressive digital intelligence industry around extending its geopolitical interests, especially its unending clash in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Yet Hamas militants captured Israel ignorant with a series of devastating land, air, and sea invasions, shooting hundreds of people and dumping thousands wounded. 

Hamas’ surprise raid is shocking given not only its gravity compared to previous invasions but also the fact that it was prepared and carried out without Israel’s understanding. Hamas’ deadly storm underscores the boundaries of even the most invasive surveillance dragnets. Experts say the sheer abundance of intelligence that Israel organizes on Hamas, as well as the group’s enduring activity and organizing, may have recreated a role in obscuring techniques for this singular attack amid the endless bombardment of potentially credible dangers.

“There’s no doubt that the scale and scope of this Hamas attack indicate just a colossal intelligence failure on behalf of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and in Shin Bet, the internal security agency,” states Raphael Marcus, a visiting investigation associate at King’s College London’s Department of War Studies who concentrates on the region. “They have such technical prowess and a legacy of excellent human source capability.”

Israel is known for diligently observing Gaza and anyone who could be linked to Hamas using both conventional intelligence-gathering methods and digital guards like facial recognition and surveillance software. Israel has established its hacking skills and technological sophistication on the global scene for years, developing creative malware for both digital spying and cyber-physical aggression. The fact that Hamas was capable of planning such an unusual and complex attack tells of the limitations and unavoidable blind spots of even the most extensive surveillance regime.

Jake Williams, Ex-US National Security Agency hacker and faculty member at the Institute for Applied Network Security, highlights that when you have a firehose of intelligence flowing in from a collection of sources and when the conditions are as fraught as that between Israel and Palestine, the challenge is managing and parsing the information, not collecting it.

“Intelligence in an environment like Israel isn’t finding a needle in a haystack—it’s finding the needle that will hurt you in a pile of needles,” Williams states. “Given the number of Hamas members involved in the invasion, it’s not plausible to me that Israel missed every human intelligence reflection of the planning. But I feel confident that there are always Hamas operatives talking about credible plans to attack the IDF. So Israel can’t respond with force to every threat, even every credible one. They’d be at a heightened state of alert or actively engaged all the time, and that’s probably actually worse for security.”

Although details of precisely how the attack occurred still appear, oversights associated with grappling with this signal-and-noise situation played a role.

“In retrospect, there was some information, but it wasn’t given sufficient consideration like in all intelligence failures. It was misunderstood,” says a former Israeli deputy national security adviser, Chuck Freilich. “I think in the last days, from my understanding, there were some warning signs. The intelligence establishment had been warning for the past about half-year that there was going to be a significant conflict with Hamas and that they were bent on escalating the situation. But then they misread the signs.”

Colin Clarke, the chair of research at the Soufan Group, an intelligence and security consultancy, expresses the Hamas attack would have “required months of preparation,” and intelligence collapses likely occurred with human intelligence and signals intelligence, where electronic and transmission data is organized. “I’m still astonished that a breakdown in intelligence occurred at this level,” Clarke states. “I don’t think anybody, including the Israelis, were prepared for an operation this complex and multi-pronged.”

According to King’s College London’s Marcus, crucial intelligence management could have happened due to considerable intersecting failures. The Israeli intelligence instrument may have misinterpreted Hamas’s purposes, misread the context of critical leads, been diverted by Israel’s political steps with Saudi Arabia, or been grappling with domestic issues. Israeli forces have groaned, for example, of a brain drain from the IDF as people get pulled toward the private sector.

“I think that this wasn’t just a military failure—I think that this was a dramatic failure of national leadership,” states Freilich, who composed Israel and the Cyber Threat: How the Startup Nation Became a Global Cyber Power. The surprise calls to mind the attack of fighting during Ramadan in October 1973, in which an Arab coalition targeted Israel with a shock attack on the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur to set off almost 20 days of fighting.

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