An unprecedented military offensive by Hamas fighters on Saturday that has left dozens of Israelis dead and hundreds more injured or taken prisoner was allowed to happen by “disarray” in the Israeli armed forces and intelligence services, said Chuck Freilich, the country’s former deputy national security adviser.
Freilich pointed out that the bloodshed comes 50 years and a day after the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. “That was a catastrophic failure in regards to Egypt and Syria. This is a catastrophic failure in regards to Gaza,” he told POLITICO.
“It’s a failure in terms of intelligence, operationally,” Freilich said. “It’s clear we were caught totally unprepared by this. The divisional headquarters responsible for Gaza was occupied, they’re in disarray, and so the whole response has been delayed.”
Freilich, who was deputy national security adviser in the early 2000s and is now a professor at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said that the Israel Defense Forces will retake captured towns and villages “relatively quickly.” That will be followed “by very large-scale attacks against Hamas,” he said. “The question is whether the objective will be to conquer Gaza and topple Hamas, or just hit them very, very hard.”
Meanwhile, he believes, questions will be asked about whether Iran helped to coordinate the Palestinian militants, given “it would be surprising if Hamas could do this by themselves.”
More than 40 people are already believed to have died in the offensive, which saw fighters infiltrating Israel from Gaza. Experts caution that the true casualty count could be far higher, given hundreds have been injured and Hamas has declared it has taken civilians and military personnel captive.
According to Michael Horowitz, a security analyst and head of intelligence with risk management firm Le Beck International, “the situation is extremely confusing because multiple hostage-taking incidents are still ongoing, and several areas are still under Hamas control. This means we don’t know the full extent of the attack, the number of dead and the number of hostages.”
“At the end of the day, this specific scenario — a complex attack with multiple hostage-taking incidents and an attempt to “conquer” Israeli towns for a few hours or even days — is not something Israel did not have on its radar,” Horowitz said, agreeing that the scale of destruction indicates “a major intelligence failure.”
“We are at war, and we will win,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a message to Israelis after the attack started. “The enemy will pay an unprecedented price.” Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant insisted that Hamas had “made a grave mistake.”
IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said more than 2,200 rockets were fired into Israel Saturday morning, adding that Hamas militants infiltrated from land, sea and air.
For Freilich, the scale of the security failings are likely to have major repercussions for those in government.
“There’s always a short-term rallying around the flag. But once the dust settles we’ll have major political ramifications,” Freilich said. “After the Yom Kippur war, it took three and a half years for [then Israeli Prime Minister] Golda Meir’s government to be toppled — I don’t think it will take that long this time.”