Lessons of Recent History

Israeli officials obtained Hamas’s battle plan for the Oct. 7 terrorist attack more than a year before it happened, documents, emails and interviews show. But Israeli military and intelligence officials dismissed the plan as aspirational, considering it too difficult for Hamas to carry out.

Underpinning all these failures was a single, fatally inaccurate belief that Hamas lacked the capability to attack and would not dare to do so. That belief was so ingrained in the Israeli government, officials said, that they disregarded growing evidence to the contrary.

~Ronan Berman and Adam Goldman
New York Times/December 1, 2023

When asked about this revelation, Israeli government officials replied the primary concern now is execution of the war against Hamas.  A full investigation of the October 7 terrorist attack will come later.  The United States can save whatever investigative body emerges the time and resources needed to explain the past mistakes and recommend changes for the future.  Just send them a copy of the report released on July 22, 2004 by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.  The commission concluded, “Above all, the failure on 9/11 was a failure of imagination.”  Despite intelligence which suggested Al-Qaeda was planning an assault on American soil, failure to imagine an enemy 6,700 miles away could coordinate an attack on New York City and Washington, D.C. Failure to imagine commercial airliners could be used as guided missiles. Failure to imagine the hijackers were suicidal.  

Ted Singer, former CIA official with years of experience in the Middle East is quoted in the New York Times story.  “The Israeli intelligence failure on October 7 is sounding more and more like 9/11.”  He added, “The failure will be a gap in analysis to paint a convincing picture to military and political leadership that Hamas had the intention to launch the attack when it did.”

However, such a “gap in analysis” was not supposed to happen after a similar failure in October 1973 when Egypt and Syria surprised Israeli troops in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.  I’ll let Max Brooks (Mel Brooks’ son) explain the fundamental post-Yom Kippur War change in Israel’s intelligence process to ensure there would not be similar gaps in analysis in the future as laid out in his fictional account of a global conflict with a supernatural enemy.

In October of 1973, when the Arab sneak attack almost drove us into the Mediterranean, we had all the intelligence in front of us, all the warning signs, and we had simply “dropped the ball.” We never considered the possibility of an all-out, coordinated, conventional assault from several nations, certainly not on our holiest of holidays. Call it stagnation, call it rigidity, call it an unforgivable herd mentality. Imagine a group of people all staring at writing on a wall, everyone congratulating one another on reading the words correctly.

From 1973 onward, if nine intelligence analysts came to the same conclusion, it was the duty of the tenth to disagree. No matter how unlikely or far-fetched a possibility might be, one must always dig deeper.

~Max Brooks/World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

You might logically ask, “Why wasn’t there a tenth analyst who would make the case that the threat of a terrorist attack of the magnitude of October 7 was real?”  Actually, there was, a female analyst identified in the Times story only as “a veteran of Unit 8200.”  She argued the Hamas plan was more than aspirational, providing evidence of training exercises conducted by senior Hamas commanders in July 2023.  She shared her concerns with colleagues. “We already underwent a similar experience 50 years ago on the southern front in connection with a scenario that seemed imaginary, and history may repeat itself if we are not careful.”

The reason I raise these issues is not just the Israeli government’s failure to learn from the American experience on 9/11.  It is to ask whether Americans understand the underlying causes which enabled Hamas to carry out its attack on October 7 and the extent to which similar forces are on our horizon.  Without speculation about Bibi Netanyahu’s motive or intent, consider the following facts.

  • On November 21, 2019, prime minister Netanyahu was indicted on three counts: accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
  • In December 2022, Netanyahu became prime minister for the sixth time.  He filled his cabinet with far-right hawks and theocrats.  They include his national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler who opposes Palestinian statehood and was convicted of incitement against Palestinians in 2007.  And interior and health minister Aryeh Deri, an ultraorthodox rabbi who was convicted of tax fraud in 2021.
  • On July 24, 2023, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), with Netanyahu’s support, passed a law to weaken the nation’s judiciary.  The vote resulted in massive protests including many reserve officers who said they would no longer report for duty.
  • This year the Israeli government has authorized an additional 12,855 housing units for Jewish settlers on the West Bank, some in areas challenged by the Israel Supreme Court.

These facts point to a regime that, before October 7, was focused on self-interest, fealty to the most extreme members of its coalition, weakening national institutions, challenging long-established norms and creating distractions. 

I do not know if these actions were memorialized in a single document.  But if they were, and you want the English translation, just read about the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, which according to the Foundation website, “…paves the way for an effective conservative Administration based on four pillars:  a policy agenda, Presidential Personnel Database, Presidential Administrative Academy, and 180-Transition Playbook described as ‘a comprehensive, concrete transition plan for each federal agency’.”  Or the MAGA translation: tax cuts for the rich, loyal friends of Donald Trump, a federally-funded version of Trump University and weaponization of the entire executive branch to go after Trump’s perceived enemies.

Lessons of recent history class dismissed.

For what it’s worth.


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