Six Israeli failings which led to Al-Aqsa Flood

Six Israeli failings which led to Al-Aqsa Flood
Ahmad Jamil Azem describes a string of serious failings made by Israel over the last two years, describing these as "stations" along the road which paved the way for the unprecedented attack launched by Hamas on Saturday 7 October.
8 min read
12 Oct, 2023
Israel was unprepared for the massive assault dubbed Al-Aqsa Flood launched by the Hamas movement and its allies on Saturday 7 October [Getty]

The world is still in shock at the events that unfolded on 7 October 2023 across the border of the Gaza Strip, when Palestinian militant groups - led by the Izz Al-Din Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement - swept into the territories occupied in 1948 [Israel], attacking settlements and inflicting massive casualties. The Israeli death toll is in the hundreds, as are the injuries. Alongside this, dozens of Israeli civilians and soldiers have been taken back to Gaza as hostages.

During times of war, and at the outbreak of hostilities between two sides, the varying factions within those two sides are usually keen to feign a semblance of unity and avoid trading blame. This applies to the Israeli opposition, led by Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz. However, as time passes, the recriminations start, and facts begin to leaking out.

In practical terms, what happened on Saturday can be understood as the last in a string of events highlighting Israeli mistakes, both politically and in terms of security, and explain how a government dominated by religious-Zionist extremists dragged their state into making a series of fatal errors, and how various Israeli figures warned of the dangers of this government.

"Israel banked on the assumption that Hamas' priority in Gaza was the continuity of the Hamas government, even if in a state of weakness"

There are six "substations" that can be seen as marking crucial junctures on the path towards what unfolded on Saturday in the regions bordering Gaza such as in Ashkelon, to the north.

First was the escape of the six prisoners from the maximum security Gilboa prison in Israel in September 2021. This came as a massive shock – the prisoners managed to defeat the technology, surveillance cameras and discern the prison layout (described as being among the most complex in Israel). It showed that the prisoners had managed to access the building blueprints and forge an escape route. This was a stinging blow to Israel's so called "unbeatable army" and "superior" technology.

The second "station" also stemmed from the escape of the prisoners: the Jenin Brigades were formed to support the Gilboa fugitives and hide them. However when they were rearrested  the battalion reorientated itself towards becoming a resistance group, a phenomena which spread, with other brigades and armed groups forming. These then diverting the attention and energy of the Israeli army and security forces, at the expense of their focus on the Gaza Strip.

The third stop lay in the Israeli government's approach to the authorities in the West Bank and Gaza, which was one of ensuring division. In aid of this it assisted – openly or tacitly – the authorities in both areas to remain in place – while ensuring both remained weak. This applies to Hamas in Gaza, and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank. Israel allowed the inflow of funds to Gaza from overseas and has eased the blockade to some extent.

It has also allowed thousands of Gazans to gain permits to work in Israeli projects in recent years, and has encouraged and coordinated with Hamas - using mediators – so that companies can operate in the Strip, provided they work with and to the benefit of Israeli companies. Israel assumed these arrangements would be sufficient to placate Hamas, however, what Israel did not notice, was that the suffering of civilians in Gaza was not being suffered by the armed wing of Hamas.

This separation was highlighted in May 2021, when Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’ political wing in Gaza, threatened to wreak havoc ("burn the green and the dry") if the problems in the Gaza Strip weren't resolved. It was revealed that the Izz Al-Din Qassam Brigades' financial sources, as well as those providing their intelligence and other expertise, were separate to those providing these things to the rest of Hamas' components in Gaza, and relied upon entities including Iran and Hezbollah.

However, Israel banked on the assumption that Hamas' priority in Gaza was the continuity of the Hamas government, even if in a state of weakness, and it did not take Sinwar's threat seriously. Nor did it take into account the consequences of the existence of a resource stream to the Izz Al-Din Qassam Brigades and the other armed factions, which was separate to the rest of Gaza's "finances".

This contributed to the Israeli army slackening its focus on the Strip and concentrating instead on the armed groups in the West Bank. Even those Israel did target in Gaza, like various commanders from Islamic Jihad and Hamas, were targeted due to Israel's belief they were working to mobilise resistance in the West Bank. Examples of this were several assassinations carried out by Israel last May, as well as its continuous threats against deputy head of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri who lives abroad - as it considers him responsible for armed operations in the West Bank.

The fourth step towards the 7 October events were the Israeli elections in November 2022, which produced a government which restructured the Israeli security and defence establishments in a bizarre way. For example, Israel's Ministry of Defence now has two ministers, with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant from the Likud Party joined by finance minister Bezalel Smotrich from the Religious Zionist Party, who was allocated specific defence ministry powers despite having no security experience.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir was appointed to the newly created post of Minister of National Security, which gave him powers to establish new forces separate to the military. Not only did Ben Gvir have no security or military experience; he was actually barred from military service due to extreme-right activism and stances in his youth – which led to a kind of vendetta between him and the army leadership. MK in Israel's opposition warned - including the ex-defence minister Benny Gantz - of the danger in what was happening.

"Prior to 7 October, the Israelis believed they had neutralised Gaza. Their government dismissed the possibility that there could be a serious Palestinian response to the repeated incursions of the Al-Aqsa compound and the constant expansion of the settlements"

On 26 November 2022 Gantz posted a Tweet asking whether the new "National Security" post just meant "dismantling the security services […] and setting up a private army for Ben Gvir?" and criticised the fragmentation of ministries – slamming what was happening as "a disgrace which would lead to a security risk". Moreover, former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot dubbed entrusting Ben Gvir with the "National Security" brief a "sad joke". Disagreements were sparked within the army, and between the ministers responsible for security – as well as within the Israeli security establishment multiple conflicting heads emerged.

The fifth station was the judicial overhaul which the Netanyahu government wished to push through in order to limit the powers of the judiciary when it came to monitoring the government and holding politicians accountable. Those pushing the changes aimed to increase ministerial powers to advance and develop the settlement entreprise and increase their control over the West Bank and settlements.

The move led to unprecedented protests in Israel, with army officers joining the protests and many reservists threatening to refrain from service. Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant was even sacked from his post in March 2023 due to his stance on the protests before he was restored to his position after two weeks, amid a state of disarray within the Israeli security apparatus.

The sixth juncture occurred on 3 June 2023, with what could be viewed as tantamount to a mini rehearsal, foreshadowing what would unfold. That day, an Egyptian policeman entered the Palestinian territories and killed three Israeli soldiers. Hours passed without the Israeli army realising what had happened, a glaring indicator of a dangerous level of negligence within the military.

To conclude, prior to 7 October, the Israelis believed they had neutralised Gaza. Their government dismissed the possibility that there could be a serious Palestinian response to the repeated incursions of the Al-Aqsa compound and the constant expansion of the settlements.

At the same time, the leadership of Israel's security apparatus was in disarray, and a large number of soldiers had been stationed in the West Bank, at the expense of the southern region (close to Gaza).

And while the leadership of the military wing of Hamas was working in silence, and running military manoeuvres – including settlement incursion operations - everyone thought these had no connection to reality and were simply Hamas posturing, nothing more.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army's morale was sinking, due in part to the political splits wracking the country as well as the divisions among the security establishment leadership. Not only this, but because it had stationed many soldiers in the West Bank to protect the settler "gangs" and their violence – this had left army forces elsewhere relatively depleted.

Ahmad Jamil Azem is a Palestinian author, researcher and university professor of political science and international relations. He writes for Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition.

This is an edited translation. To read the original article click here.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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