A Fatal Misconception Rather than Intelligence Failure

A relatively junior intelligence officer has been mandated to establish why Israeli intelligence missed predicting the Islamist terrorist Hamas takeover of Palestinian government by the ballot. Does the remit given him by chief of staff Lt-Gen Dan Halutz and military intelligence director Maj-Gen Amos Yadlin give him enough scope to get to the bottom of a monumental lapse?
Hardly. His task has been limited to an internal intelligence probe rather than a broad inquiry. Within this limit, there is no way he can truly explain how Israel came to find itself face to face with a strategic calamity on the scale of the 1973 Yom Kippur War; quite simply, there are too many weighty and relevant questions he is not authorized to articulate. Here are a few:
1. Why did no military intelligence authority warn the government that evacuating the Gaza Strip would be present Hamas with the gift of territory and fuel its claim that Palestinian terror had Israel on the run?
2. Why did Israel pull its troops back from the Philadelphi border enclave, knowing their removal would open up the Gazan-Egyptian border to a flood terrorists, including dozens of Hizballah specialists and instructors, thousands of guns and tons of explosives – all destined for Hamas?
This was how Hamas built itself up as the dominant political, military and financial power in the eyes of Palestinian security personnel and the voting public. Was this lost on Israeli intelligence?
3. Why was did no military, security or intelligence authority sound the alarm about the real motive behind the Hamas willingness to call an informal ceasefire? Did they not notice it was designed to hoodwink Israel into standing idly by as Hamas, Hizballah, Tehran and Damascus laid the groundwork for the Hamas grab of Palestinian government?
There are two answers to these questions.
The first is a conundrum. Since the Palestinian-Israel confrontation erupted five years ago, debkafile‘s sources have noted an incomprehensible dwindling of Palestinian experts at the top level of IDF intelligence, AMAN.
Recently appointed director Maj.-Gen Yadlin has a fine reputation as a brilliant and creative analytical mind. But coming as he does from the rarefied levels of the Israel Air force, he will not have had the sort of experience necessary to plumb the minds of Mohammed in Jenin or Salem in Jebalya.
He can be counted on to spot whether Iranian president Mahmoud Ahamdinejad and Syrian president Bashar Assad have fixed a date for a combined missile attack against Israel, which is important. But Israel faces another threat to its survival from the escalation of the Palestinian terrorist offensive, which Hamas has led over the years and which is now joined by al Qaeda. Israel’s clandestine bodies must therefore be able to second-guess Ahmed and Salem and their schemes as well as the designs of hostile regional leaders.
In July 2001 the otherwise insignificant Nabil Aqal of Hamas hosted British shoe bomber Richard Reid at his home in the Jebalya district of Gaza City and taught him how to hide C-4 explosive substance impregnated with blast-enhancing chemicals in his shoe. Five months later, December 22, Reid attempted to blow up an American Airlines plane bound for Miami. Passengers wrestled him to the floor before he could detonate the bomb. For US intelligence, Hamas’ Nabil Aqal was just a nobody, although he later turned out to have shown a dangerous al Qaeda terrorist a novel method for blowing up hundreds of US citizens.
That lesson has still to be learned by AMAN.
Similarly, Yadlin’s deputy, head of research Big-Gen Yossi Baidetz is an expert on Hizballah, with little active knowledge on Palestinian terrorists.
This blind spot at the top of the service will have trickled down the ranks of analysts, officers and operatives in the field.
The second reason for so many unanswered questions regarding the failure to predict the rise of Hamas was Israeli security chiefs’ dogged adherence to a misconception. No probe is necessary to bring this to the surface. It was abundantly plain in every word uttered by the policy-makers, whether defense minister Shaul Mofaz, the chief of staff or the defense ministry’s strategic director Amos Gilead.
The last of those three negotiated the international security accords that were supposed to provide security guarantees following the Israeli troop pull-out from the Gaza Strip last September.
All the spokesmen of Ariel Sharon’s government harped on the same theme: the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas must be left to crack down on terror and disarm Palestinian terrorist organizations like Hamas as per his commitments. This concept was innate in the unilateral disengagement idea, as was the bright promise of improved national security in the wake of Israel’s exit from the Gaza Strip.
Another tenet was that any problems arising in this regard could be safely left to the international community to sort out. A large-scale Israel military operation to break up the terrorist strongholds of the Gaza Strip was therefore superfluous. After all, Egyptian generals and the British MI6 secret service were on hand to assist Palestinian security services rein in terror.
This soothing syrup poured out by Israeli officialdom during and after the evacuation of the Gaza Strip. After the dissident Lt-Gen Moshe Yaalon became the first Israeli chief of staff to be sacked, the top echelons of the IDF and security establishment stuck to the official line as articulated by its foremost ideologue Ehud Olmert, now Sharon’s successor. Some were alive to the calamity in the making but were leery of making their views known in public.
The brief given the middle-ranking intelligence officer tasked with the probe does not authorize him to go to the top level of government and the IDF for causes of the “intelligence failure.” He will therefore be in no position to state that Hamas was allowed to shoot into power not because of an intelligence lapse but because of a misconception clung to against all the evidence by the top level of government.
The fact is, as debkafile revealed more than once, AMAN was not surprised. If it failed to pass its assessments on, it was because no one in authority was listening – or reading.
Three relevant articles appearing in debkafile this month alone:
January 8: Hamas Runs for Election Vowing Never to Talk to Israel or Disarm
January 15: Bush and Sharon Agreed to Let Hamas Win
January 23: Hamas Issue Ties Olmert Government in Knots

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