Just a short while before armed militants from Gaza infiltrated Israel early on Saturday (October 7, 2023), Israeli intelligence noticed increased activity within some of the Gazan militant networks under surveillance. According to two senior Israeli security officials, operators quickly warned the Israeli troops stationed at the Gaza border upon recognising the unique circumstances. But the caution went unheeded—either due to the soldiers not receiving it or not reviewing it.
Shortly after that, Hamas, the organisation in control of Gaza, deployed drones to disrupt certain cellular communication stations and surveillance towers belonging to the Israeli military along the border. This action hindered the duty officers from remotely monitoring the area through video cameras.
Furthermore, the drones managed to deactivate the remote-controlled machine guns that Israel had positioned on its border fortifications, thereby eliminating a crucial defence against a potential ground attack. This facilitated the Hamas attackers’ approach to the border, enabling them to detonate and bulldoze sections of the border fence with surprising ease. As a result, thousands of Palestinians could walk through the openings.
Many operational failures and vulnerabilities, including logistical and intelligence lapses, contributed to the Gazan incursion into southern Israel. This assessment comes from four senior Israeli security officials who requested anonymity to address this sensitive issue and share their preliminary evaluation.
Range of Security Lapses
According to the four officials’ initial assessment, the effectiveness of the attack can be attributed to a range of security lapses within Israel’s intelligence and military apparatus, which include:
1. Intel officers not keeping an eye on important communication channels used by the attackers
2. Their excessive reliance on surveillance equipment at the border, which was easy for the attackers to turn off. This allowed them to get into military bases and attack soldiers while they were still in their beds
3. The top commanders were all in one border base that was taken over by the attackers right at the beginning. This made it difficult to communicate with the rest of the military
4. The Israeli authorities trusted what Gazan military leaders had said on private channels (even though they knew Israel was listening). The Gazans said they were not preparing for battle, but it turned out that they were.
“We spend a lot of money gathering information about Hamas,” said Yoel Guzansky, who used to work in Israel’s National Security Council. “But then, in just a short time, everything fell apart—one thing after another.”
The First Vital Mistake
The first mistake happened months before the attack when Israeli security leaders did not fully understand how much of a threat Hamas was from Gaza. Hamas avoided getting into fights with Israel twice in the past year, letting a smaller group, called the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, handle it. Last month, Hamas leaders also stopped the border protests in a deal with Qatar, showing they did not want things to worsen.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s National Security Adviser, said on the Army radio just six days before the attack, “Hamas is being very careful and knows what’ll happen if they keep challenging us.” When Israeli intelligence experts talked to high-ranking security leaders last week about the most pressing dangers to the country’s security, they mostly talked about the threats from militant groups in Lebanon near the northern border. They did not spend much time discussing the issues related to Hamas.
According to one security official, the briefings mentioned that Hamas seemed discouraged. Additionally, in calls between Hamas members that were being monitored by Israeli intelligence, it appeared that they wanted to avoid another war with Israel, especially since they had had a challenging two-week conflict in May 2021. However, Israeli intelligence is now checking to see if these calls were genuine or staged.
The next problem was related to how things were set up and operated. Two officials explained that Israel’s border security system depended heavily on cameras, sensors and machine guns that could be controlled from a distance. Israeli leaders had become overly sure about how secure the system was. They believed the mix of remote monitoring, above-ground defences and an underground wall to prevent Hamas from digging tunnels into Israel would deter large-scale infiltrations. This led them to think there was no significant requirement to have many soldiers physically present along the border lines.
Decreasing No. of Troops
With the security system functioning, the military decreased the number of troops stationed there. They moved soldiers to other areas of concern, such as the West Bank. Israel Ziv, a retired major-general who led ground forces in the southern region for many years, was the head of the Israel Defence Forces’ Operations Division from 2003 to 2005. He was recently called back into the reserves due to the war. “The reduction of forces seemed reasonable because of the fence’s construction and the strong belief in its invincibility—as if nothing could breach it,” he explained.
The remote-control system had a singular vulnerability—it could be remotely destroyed. Hamas exploited this weakness by using aerial drones to attack the cellular towers transmitting signals for the surveillance system. Drone footage released by Hamas and examined by The New York Times supported this.
Without cellular signals, the system became useless. Soldiers in control rooms behind the front lines were not notified that the Gaza-Israel border fence had been breached. They could not view video feeds showing where Hamas attackers were breaking through the barricades. Additionally, the barrier proved easier to penetrate than Israeli officials had anticipated.
As a result, more than 1,500 Gazan fighters could cross the border at nearly 30 points, including some in paragliders flying over the barricades. They reached at least four Israeli military bases without interception. Photographs shared by an Israeli official depicted numerous Israeli soldiers shot while sleeping in their barracks, some still in their undergarments.
Second Operational Failure
The second operational failure occurred because the leaders of the army’s division responsible for Gaza had gathered in one place along the border. Two Israeli officials reported that many senior officers were killed, injured, or captured when the base was attacked.
This situation and the communication issues caused by drone strikes hindered a coordinated response. It meant that no one along the border fully understood the extent of the attack, even when commanders rushed from other parts of Israel to mount a counter-offensive. Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfuss, an Israeli commander who played a role in leading the counter-attack, had a tough time making sense of the various terrorist attacks in the situation.
On the ground, a general bumped into another brigade commander by chance, and they decided on an ad hoc basis which villages their units should try to reclaim. They made these decisions on the fly as they moved from one village to another. This made it challenging—especially in the early stages—to convey the seriousness of the situation to the top military command in Tel Aviv.
Consequently, there was no immediate recognition of the necessity for rapid and extensive air support, even though reports were emerging on social media about attacks in various communities. It took hours for the Air Force to arrive over much of the area, even though their bases were just a short flight away, as reported by two Israeli officials and survivors of the attacks.
The consequences have been disastrous for Israel’s security and could harm its reputation as a dependable military ally in the region. Before Saturday, Israel was considered a valuable security partner for many countries in the region. However, this perception has now been badly damaged.
Lt-Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesperson, emphasised their commitment to restoring control over the affected communities. He also acknowledged that an investigation would follow once the situation stabilised. Israeli security agencies acknowledge the enormity of their initial failure but argue that a thorough investigation can only occur after the war concludes.