Middle East

A Time For Reckoning In Israel

The massive intelligence failure that enabled Hamas hordes to penetrate Israel’s high-tech border fence along the Gaza Strip on October 7 and kill roughly 1,200 civilians and soldiers in an unprecedented rampage has claimed the first major figure in the Israeli armed forces.

On April 22, on the eve of Passover, General Aharon Haliva, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, announced his resignation. Haliva already had admitted his complicity in this fiasco, which summoned up images of the Holocaust. Ten days after the massacre, he took “full responsibility for the failure.”

His colleague, General Amit Saar, the director of the Military Intelligence Research Department, resigned earlier in the month after being diagnosed with cancer. He had been expected to step down in connection with the shortcomings that led to the October 7 disaster. “We did not live up to what was expected of us, what we expected of ourselves,” he said in a somber note.

To his credit, the chief of staff of the armed forces, General Herzi Halevi, has acknowledged that the Israeli military failed abysmally on that darkest of days. “I have not yet met a commander in the Israel Defence Forces … who I did not see bearing a heavy sense of responsibility,” he said recently after ordering “fundamental and deep investigations” of the events before, during and after October 7.

Herzi Halevi

While the leadership of the armed forces has accepted its fair share of the blame, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to accept responsibility for the abject failures of the political echelon. He has gone no further than saying that he will submit to questions within the framework of a formal inquiry once the current Israel-Hamas war has ended.

Netanyahu’s response falls far short of normal standards in a democratic country. Like Haliva and Halevi, he should have fessed up after October 7 and signalled his intention to resign after the cessation of hostilities. Instead, in a shameless gambit designed to save his career, he has cynically tried to shift responsibility to the army and the Shin Bet, the internal intelligence service.

By contrast, Haliva has shown no such gall. In his frank resignation letter to Halevi, Haliva wrote, “The Military Intelligence Directorate, under my command, failed to warn of the terror attack carried out by Hamas. We failed in our most important mission (and) I bear full responsibility for the failure.”

Aharon Haliva in the Gaza Strip last December

“I have carried that black day with me ever since, every day, every night,” he added. “I will forever bear the terrible pain of the war.”

Haliva said he supported the establishment of a comprehensive commission of inquiry to precisely ascertain the cause of the “grave events.”

What transpired on October 7 was almost beyond belief.

As early as 2016, the then defence minister, Avigdor Liberman, warned the cabinet that Hamas was planned a large offensive with the objective of capturing Israeli territory, but his warning was blithely ignored.

According to recent revelations, Israel had a fairly sound insight into Hamas’ plan, but did not take precautionary steps to thwart it. Indeed, in a counter-intuitive move, Israel moved soldiers away from the Gaza border to the West Bank. And when Israeli spotters informed their superiors of unusual Hamas movements near the border, their observations were played down on the false assumption that Hamas was merely carrying out a drill.

Interestingly enough, the same false preconception doomed Israel just prior to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the Israeli government grievously mistook a looming Egyptian army offensive in the Sinai Peninsula for yet another routine drill.

If Israel had been truly prepared for Hamas’ onslaught, the 3,000 Palestinian invaders who lunged into southern Israel on October 7 would have been decimated before they could burst into kibbutzim, towns and army bases with so little or no resistance. They would have been mowed down almost immediately by ground and air forces in a turkey shoot. Israeli lives would have been saved and not a single Israeli or foreign national would have been kidnapped.

Hamas was surely aware of the innumerable risks entailed in attacking Israel on such a grand and audacious scale. But such was its self-confidence that these calculations were of no concern to it.

This delusional thinking extended into the political realm. Two years before October 7, Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza sponsored a conference on “post liberation Palestine.”

Khaled Mashaal

No less a Hamas leader than Khaled Mashaal, the object of an Israeli assassination attempt in 1997, claimed that Israel, the strongest power in the Middle East, could be conquered by military means. Astonishingly enough, he described it as a “realistic idea.” Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader, was just as grandiose, contending that the Palestinian struggle with Israel could only end in victory for the Palestinians.

Hamas’ 2021 conference in Gaza

These were the fantasies spun by Palestinian speakers at the conference. But no matter how unrealistic Hamas’ leadership may be, Israel should always be ready to deal with the unexpected and to know what could be lurking around the corner. In this respect, October 7 should be a wakeup call for Israel of the need to reform itself lest more disasters occur.

For now, Israel is duty bound to wipe the slate clean. This means only one thing. The Israeli political and military leaders whose miscalculations inexorably led to October 7 must resign and hand over the reins to a new crop of ministers and generals. Hopefully, they will better prepare Israel for what lies ahead in the tinderbox that is the Middle East.