PeaceVoice: Israeli intelligence failure is worse than first thought

It turns out that more than a year before the Hamas attack, Israeli intelligence secured multiple documentations providing a detailed account of what Hamas would do on Oct. 7. But the Israelis discounted the plan as being unrealistic, therefore not worth planning to counteract.

What accounts for that reaction?

Intelligence failures are usually one of three types: missed signals, mishandled signals or discounted signals. Of those, the first is most common — failure to detect the signs of major change, such as a regime’s imminent demise (the USSR, 1989), sudden transfer of power (Iran, 1978), or military plan gone awry (the Bay of Pigs, 1961).

Next comes failure due to bureaucratic malfunction, such as the multiple agency missteps in the leadup to 9/11. Worst of all is failure to heed multiple clear warning signs, as in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel in October 1973.

When Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, many analysts first saw the intelligence failure as a Type 1: Israel’s intelligence community just didn’t see it coming, so didn’t prepare for it. But now we have documentation that in fact the failure was a Type 3: The intelligence community had the data more than a year in advance, up to and including a complete roadmap of Hamas’ attack plans, but cut chose to ignore it.

Israel knew exactly what Hamas would do, and while it did not know when, it knew where and how. Think Pearl Harbor and Egypt-Syria times 10.

Israeli denial ran so deep that when a colonel in the IDF’s Gaza division reported Hamas had conducted exercises based on the roadmap, she was brushed off.

From the New York Times report of this documentation, it seems the basic reason for this intelligence failure was the analysts’ hubris. They felt Hamas incapable of pulling off such a detailed and imaginative attack.

This conclusion should be particularly anguishing to Israelis, because in 1973, as a CIA review determined, Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies had “plentiful, ominous, and often accurate” information suggesting an attack was imminent.

In both cases, the information wasn’t taken seriously, so the warnings weren’t heeded. “They would not dare” seemed to be behind both the Israeli and American assessments — hence an Oct. 7 surprise that should not have come as a surprise.

It might be argued that these very costly intelligence failures came about partly because the abundance of warning signs was obscured by other information downplaying the threat. This is the phenomenon of noise, spelled out in Roberta Wohlstetter’s classic study, “Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision.”

Her study found that flawed thinking about Japan’s willingness to go to war with the U.S. was a key error that undercut intelligence officers’ ability to separate noise from warning signs. They thought Japan knew it could not win such a war, therefore would not attack U.S. forces.

Israeli thinking about Hamas seems to have followed the same track, with equally disastrous consequences.

Mel Gurtov serves as a professor emeritus in political science at Portland State University. His work is carried on In the Human Interest and syndicated through PeaceVoice for wider distribution.



Not intelligence failures.

Various types of false flag events.

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