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Into The Fray: Elections - Why now is not the time by Martin Sherman

When Israeli voters next go to the polls, over what led to the grim events of Oct. 7, their choices must not be driven by uninformed rumor, ill-informed speculation, and misinformed emotion.

 

The campaign [Breaking Dawn] has reinstated Israel’s deterrence and initiative – Yair Lapid – Ynet, Aug. 8, 2023 – barely a year before the massacre of October 7.

 

In the days preceding the surprise attack, senior figures in the IDF told the political leadership that Hamas was deterred…The deadly attack, which the terror organizations in the Strip launched, came after senior IDF officers informed the political leaders over the last fortnight that Hamas was deterred– Ynet, on the day of the October 7 massacre.

 

 Every time an election rolls along in Israel, it is widely dubbed as “crucial,” “historic,” “fateful,” and so on and so forth.

However, the next election, which inevitably will be held under the baleful shadow of the October 7 barbarism, will undoubtedly be all of these and more. Indeed, how these appalling events are processed and dealt with will, in large measure, determine the resilience of Israeli society well into the future.


The core question

It is for this reason that, when Israeli voters go to the polls, they be as fully informed as possible as to what led to the grim events of October 7, and not be driven by uninformed rumor, ill-informed speculation, and misinformed emotion. After all, if blame is to be apportioned fairly, and culpability assigned equitably, this ought to be based on what actually transpired and not on biased assumptions and skewed presumptions.

For the voters’ verdict should not be solely the undiscerning expression of vengeful vindictiveness. After all, the decision as to who ought to be elected, and who ejected, should be made not merely to replace the incumbent government. Rather it should be made to enhance it with those deemed not only untainted by the October debacle, but endowed with the necessary acumen and aptitude to run the affairs of the nation more astutely than their predecessors.

This, of course, will be the core question that the next election must address. But to address it intelligently and effectively, voters will need reliable information that will provide them with a fact-based gauge to determine which – if any – of the candidates for office would have behaved substantially differently from the sitting incumbents on October 7. After all, nearly all the realistic alternatives to the current coalition members were deeply enmeshed in the fatally flawed “conception” that was at the root of the October 7 fiasco – no less so than most of the current coalition.


“Hamas do not want war…”

Voters will have to weigh three factors in arriving at their decision:


(1) What information was available to decision-makers immediately prior to October 7?


(2) Who, if any of the potential candidates to replace the sitting coalition, warned of the impending danger of a wide-scale invasion by Hamas?


(3) Were the incumbent decision-makers provided in a timely manner, with the pertinent information to allow them to take appropriate action to contend with the emerging threat – and if not, why not?


With regard to the first of these – the available information – clearly, it is unrealistic to expect the political leadership to be responsible for the collection and operational evaluation of intelligence. For this, they must necessarily rely on the operational organs of the defense establishment. On this matter, there was virtually wall-to-wall consensus among security circles that Hamas was not planning large-scale armed aggression against Israel. Indeed, over recent years, this assessment was virtually immutable. Thus, as early as 2019, at a gathering at Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center, then-head of military intelligence, Tamir Hayman, stated that Hamas “was very deterred from initiating war, and had a desire to stay on a course of accommodation. They do not want war at all.”


“Israeli initiative & deterrence restored…”

Four years later, in September 2022 – barely a year prior to October 7 – the current IDF intelligence head, Maj-Gen Aharon Haliva echoed almost identical sentiments: “I predict that the calm following Operation Guardian of the Walls will last for five years…and I still stand behind that forecast. In Gaza – along with the use of force and substantial deterrence of Hamas – I discern that the processes promoted by Israel of economic stabilization, allowing Gazan workers into Israel and enhancing the living standards have the potential to bring long-term calm.”

But it was not only the military that made such grossly inaccurate assessments. They were also made by political figures, who are likely to be major contenders for office in any new election and candidates to replace the October 7 coalition. Thus, former interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid – today leader of the opposition – smugly proclaimed at the end of the three-day Operation Breaking Dawn (September 2022), conducted solely against Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) – as the prevailing assumption was that Hamas has a vested interest in preserving stability and improving living standards: “In Operation Breaking Dawn, Israel reclaimed the initiative. It restored Israel’s deterrence. All our goals were achieved.”


Qatari funding “an Israeli interest”

The then-Defense Minister – and the person, who the polls predict has the best chance of replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister – Benny Gantz, enumerated the achievements attained by Operation Breaking Dawn: “1. Removing the imminent threat from Gaza; 2. Maintaining our freedom of action in all arenas; 3. Maintaining deterrence, while sending a clear message to our enemies in each of the arenas: Israel is determined to maintain its sovereignty and protect its citizens.” 

Even the much-maligned practice of transferring millions of Qatari dollars to Hamas was approved by the IDF High Command. For instance, the current media favorite, former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot declaredthat Qatari funding helped maintain stability and was in fact “an Israeli interest that helped promote the economy in Gaza.

This was not a random slip of the tongue on Eisenkot’s part. Indeed, elsewhere he articulated precisely the same position when he asserted that the Qatari millions that are funneled into Gaza are for “administrative financing and that this is done to benefit both our interests.”

Clearly then, the belief that Hamas was not spoiling for a large-scale offensive and that its major focus was on the economic conditions was widely held in military, intelligence, and political circles well outside the bounds of the Netanyahu-led coalition.


Beyond intelligence failures…


However, beyond the failures that led to the gruesome tragedy of October 7, there is another troubling concern that increasingly emerges as ever more information comes to light. Ongoing media coverage and investigative reporting reveal an accumulation of errors, misjudgments, dereliction, neglect, arrogance, and shoddiness that strain the bounds of credulence that all this could be the result of unintended misfortune.

Indeed, the failure of intelligence besides, what is perhaps even more difficult to understand are the operational omissions including, but not only, in the hours immediately before and after the dawn attack, as well as the often lethargic and haphazard response in the initial hours – once the assault was ongoing.


The list is bewildering in both its length and its scope:


Civilian first-response squads in border communities had their weapons – particularly long-barreled firearms – confiscated; intelligence monitoring of Hamas was curtailed; the three reconnaissance air balloons, all of which were inoperative, were left unrepaired; the “See-Shoot” RWS (Remote Weapons System) were left vulnerable to drone attacks; electronic surveillance systems were inoperative; warnings by junior officers and NCOs that a significant operation by Hamas was imminent were dismissed/denigrated by senior officers; documents detailing Hamas’s operational intentions that fell into the IDF’s hands were not taken seriously – despite the existence of corroborating evidence…


Killing and looting unchecked

No less perplexing and perturbing were the following:


Reports by IDF look-out posts of suspicious Hamas movements prior to the October 7 atrocities went unheeded; warnings – on the night of the attack – that Hamas forces were advancing towards the fence, were ignored; a pre-dawn meeting of the IDF and the ISA officials estimated that Hamas was about to attack border communities, but this appraisal was not conveyed to the brigade command, or to the police tasked with securing the dance festival a few kilometers from the border; the IDF forces along the border were not reinforced – and were overwhelmed by the Hamas attackers; in numerous locations, the usual dawn patrols were not conducted; immediately prior to the attack, IDF forces were ordered to redeploy away from the border fence; IDF forces were not dispatched to where the fence was breached by a bulldozer, which appeared to have operated un-harassed; none of the points of penetration appear to have been shelled or blockaded; a second wave of terrorists crossed into Israel unhindered; not a single paraglider used by the invaders was shot down; the traffic routes to and from Gaza remained open until the afternoon, allowing killing and looting to go unchecked; there was no pursuit of the hostage abductors – either on foot or in vehicles; a battalion of intervention forces was delayed for hours as the key to their armory could not be found; for long hours the air force (apart from two attack helicopters) was absent from the action.


A baleful mist gathers

What is so inconceivable about the events of October 7th is, that for hours, Israel conducted itself as if it were a country, devoid of any intelligence capabilities, with only minimal deployable military forces – both infantry and armor, and – apart from two helicopters – without an operational air force. How are Israelis to account for this appalling and tragic fiasco? And how is such an account to be reflected in a future vote on the composition of a new Israeli leadership?

Given the gory specter of the October 7th slaughter, a baleful mist is beginning to gather around the furor over the gruesome tragedy, and the accompanying clamor for elections. With it, a new and sinister aspect is beginning to intrude ominously into the public debate, enveloping the effort to make sense of what transpired.

These are the startling rumors – now gaining currency – that the was some kind of purposeful complicity between certain Israelis and Hamas, which went tragically beyond their envisioned scope. Admittedly, for most Israelis – myself included – such claims seem wildly far-fetched. But then who could imagine, until recently, the behavior of some individuals who held the highest positions in the land during the 2023 protests against a proposed judicial reform bill – passed by a democratically elected government? Who could imagine a former prime minister calling on foreign countries – including the US – to boycott Israel, with all the attendant security implications?

Who could have envisaged ex-defense ministers, IDF chiefs-of-staff, heads of Mossad, and commanders of the air force condoning refusal to perform reserve duty in the IDF? Who could conceive of a man who served as prime minister, defense minister, and IDF chief-of-staff, speculating (despite a jovial and unpersuasive retraction) that his path to regaining the premiership would be paved with corpses of Jews, slain in a possible civil war?


Moronic or malevolent?

However, no matter how far-fetched such “conspiracy theories” may seem to many, it is precisely those who are targets of these “theories” who have themselves to blame for the emerging maelstrom. After all, it was the leadership of the pre-October anti-reform demonstrations, who repeatedly threatened that, by September, Netanyahu would “have no intelligence and no military.” After all, that is what they called for – and that is precisely what transpired!!

So, if what one threatens does, in fact, happen, it is hardly surprising that many will see in that outcome a purposeful fulfillment of the threat.


Of course, in the absence of definitive diagnosis as to the cause of the calamity, imbecility is usually as plausible an explanation as iniquity. Accordingly, while the trauma of October 7 has understandably unleashed a clamor for fresh elections, it is essential that voters have adequate information at their disposal to make an informed and intelligent choice.

To hold elections now would be perilously premature. Indeed, it runs the risk of insufficient knowledge resulting in rewarding those who behaved with malevolent – albeit miscalculated – design; while unjustly – at least partially – punishing those who were victims of that malevolence.


Accordingly, while the post-October clamor for election is eminently understandable, to conduct them now would be a grave error. After all, much of what should be voted on is still shrouded by dense clouds of uncertainty as to who knew what and when – and who did not.

 

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