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Friday, May 24, 2024

Israel’s Failure to Stop the Hamas Attack Shows the Danger of Too Much Surveillance

Though details of exactly how the attack happened are still emerging, it seems that oversights related to grappling with this signal-and-noise conundrum played a role.

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

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

Crucial intelligence oversights could have happened as the result of numerous intersecting failures, says King’s College London’s Marcus. The Israeli intelligence apparatus may have misunderstood Hamas’s intentions, misread the context of crucial leads, been distracted by Israel’s political efforts with Saudi Arabia, or been grappling with domestic challenges. Israeli forces have complained, for example, of a brain drain from the IDF as individuals 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,” says Freilich, who authored Israel and the Cyber Threat: How the Startup Nation Became a Global Cyber Power. The ambush calls to mind the outbreak of fighting during Ramadan in October 1973 in which an Arab bloc targeted Israel with a surprise attack on the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur to set off nearly 20 days of fighting.

Palestinians in occupied territories, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, have faced surveillance and controls for years, with many calling the conditions an apartheid. In September 2021, Israeli forces announced the completion of a 40-mile-long barrier around the Gaza Strip—the slither of land between Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea—that is essentially a “smart wall” equipped with radar, cameras, underground sensors, and an array of other surveillance instruments.

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