Intelligence Errors Prompt Scrutiny of Israeli Generals, but Little Backlash
"The Israeli media and The New York Times published damaging revelations suggesting that senior officers had ignored or dismissed intelligence reports about the likelihood of a major Hamas attack.
Israel’s military leadership faced heightened public scrutiny this week after a string of damaging revelations in the Israeli media and The New York Times suggested that senior officers had ignored or dismissed intelligence reports about the likelihood of a major Hamas attack.
According to those reports, the Israeli military obtained a copy of a battle plan that Hamas ultimately used during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, but officers wrongly judged that Hamas would be unable to carry it out. A commander also dismissed a subordinate’s warning in July that the group was running drills and building the capacity to set the plan in motion.
The news raised expectations among political commentators that, after the war ends, senior military and security chiefs will either resign or be fired over the intelligence failures.
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized upon the reports, using the allegations of military failure to deflect from accusations that Mr. Netanyahu was himself partly to blame for what many Israelis consider the country’s worst security failure in 50 years.
Still, the revelations did not immediately lead to major public outcry: Analysts say that it has been obvious to Israelis since the opening hours of the Oct. 7 attack, which killed an estimated 1,200 people and led to the abduction of roughly 240 others, that the assault was the result, at least in part, of catastrophic intelligence failures.
While the war is still going, many Israelis are also focused on maintaining a united front against Hamas.
“I’m closing my eyes to these questions for now,” said Ayelet Samerano, whose son, Yonatan, was shot by Palestinian gunmen and taken to Gaza on Oct. 7. Israel is engaged in an “existential war,” she said in a phone interview. “I believe we’ll learn all the answers — after the war.”
Many Jewish Israelis are also reluctant to blame the military, a vaunted institution that is central to their identity: it is a melting pot in which most Jewish Israelis serve as conscripts, and which they consider a sacred national project that is essential to defending their state.
Opinion polling indicates that, even after the attack, trust in the military remains high. A survey conducted in mid-October found that 87 percent of Jewish Israelis interviewed said they trusted the Israeli military, slightly higher than in June.
The attack shattered a central part of the Israeli social contract: the idea that — within living memory of the Holocaust — the army could keep its citizens safer than Jews who live abroad.
As the military struggled to repel the attack on Oct. 7, residents of the villages targeted by Hamas repeatedly spoke of their shock at being left defenseless by the military, according to scores of text messages shared by survivors with The Times.
“Where is the army???” one survivor wrote on the morning of Oct. 7.
But that shock has not yet translated into widespread public protest against Israel’s political and military leadership, including Mr. Netanyahu, said Eran Etzion, a former deputy national security adviser.
Thousands of would-be protesters are also currently engaged in reserve duty across the country, Mr. Etzion added.
“Don’t be fooled — the rage is there. It’s just a question of when it will ignite,” he said. “The idea is we’ll fight first, and then we’ll take to the streets.”
Public anger has also been blunted by the military’s willingness to own its mistakes in a more direct manner than Mr. Netanyahu. The prime minister said last month that he has questions to answer after the war is over, but has not accepted responsibility for any failures.
By contrast, Israel’s military intelligence chief, Aharon Haliva, said in a statement published 10 days after the attack that he took “full responsibility for the failure.”
After the reports surrounding the Hamas battle plan began trickling out this week, the military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, promised “fundamental and deep investigations.”
“The Israeli military, and within it the military intelligence directorate, failed in the Oct. 7 events,” General Halevi said in a speech. “I have not yet met a commander in the Israel Defense Forces since the start of this war who I did not see bearing a heavy sense of responsibility.”
The outlets that reported on the intelligence failures included Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster; Channel 12, a private broadcaster; and Haaretz, a left-leaning daily.
The Times’s investigation built on the work of those outlets, which had variously reported that intelligence officials had been aware of Hamas’s plans far in advance and that analysts had raised warnings earlier this year.
The Times gained access to those plans and described them in greater detail. The Times also reviewed a previously unreported military assessment, and other undisclosed parts of an extensive encrypted email thread in which military officials debated the significance of the plans.
Benny Gantz, a centrist minister who joined the government after the war began, echoed the sentiment that accountability would come later.
“There will be time for criticism, there will be time for investigations. Now, we must fight and win,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
The U.S. government also tried to ease pressure on Israel’s leadership.
Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, said in a briefing on Friday that there would be “plenty of opportunity for a full accounting of what happened on Oct. 7, including looking back to see what happened, who knew what when, and Israel has been very clear about that.”
But Mr. Blinken added: “Right now, the focus is on making sure that they can do everything possible to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Nevertheless, as Mr. Netanyahu and other political leaders maneuver in expectation of a state inquiry after the war, supporters of Mr. Netanyahu have seized on the military’s errors.
Particular blame has been cast on the head of military intelligence, Mr. Haliva.
“What a failure by the army, especially by Aharon Haliva,” wrote Eli Zipori, a prominent pro-Netanyahu pundit, in a social media post. “How is this man still in the army?”
Earlier in the war, Mr. Netanyahu attempted to deflect criticism of his leadership by saying, in a social media post, that military leaders had failed to warn him of an imminent Hamas attack. Following criticism, he deleted the post and apologized for his comment.
Analysts say that these moves by Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters have helped dampen wider criticism of the military leadership: The prime minister’s critics are wary of anything that would allow Mr. Netanyahu himself to escape accountability.
The broadsides by Mr. Netanyahu’s supporters against the military leadership constituted “an act that stoops to a new low,” Ben Caspit, a biographer and critic of Mr. Netanyahu, wrote this week in a column for Maariv, a right-leaning newspaper.
“It isn’t going to absolve Netanyahu of his responsibility,” Mr. Caspit wrote, adding: “He is the prime minister and he bears overarching responsibility for security. He personally said as much on dozens of occasions.”
Some political commentators were predicting that Mr. Haliva, the military intelligence chief, will be among those who eventually pay the price for the failures.
Mr. Haliva, “will remove his uniform immediately after the war,” predicted Yossi Yehoshua, a military correspondent for Yediot Ahronot, a centrist Israeli newspaper.
“The Israeli military has to ask itself candidly how to prevent preconceptions from blinding the eyes of the wise,” Mr. Yehoshua added.
After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack that initially overpowered Israeli defenses, Israeli military intelligence established a “devil’s advocate” department tasked with challenging conventional wisdom inside the intelligence establishment.
But on Oct. 7, that department “definitely failed,” according to Tamir Hayman, a former head of military intelligence.
“There was a failure to properly assess the enemy and a belief that Hamas was deterred,” Mr. Hayman said in an public discussion broadcast by the Institute for National Security Studies, a research group in Tel Aviv.
“In the future, there are going to be a lot of accusations, allegations, criticism, and division — it cannot be avoided,” Mr. Hayman added.