Opinion | A report that Israel knew about Hamas' plans adds pressure to Netanyahu

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Opinion | A report that Israel knew about Hamas' plans adds pressure to Netanyahu

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The New York Times published a bombshell article Thursday that says Israeli military and intelligence officials had obtained a detailed blueprint for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks more than a year before the group carried them out. While it’s unclear if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was aware of the blueprint before the attack, the report is still the kind of revelation that’s likely to deal another blow to Netanyahu’s credibility as a defender of Israel — and further endanger his already precarious political future.

According to the Times, the Hamas battle plan that Israel obtained in 2022 is outlined in a 40-page document that describes in great detail many of the strategies and tactics Hamas deployed on Oct. 7. The document includes plans for an initial burst of rockets to overwhelm and distract Israeli security forces, drone attacks on security cameras and automated border guns, incursions into Israel by motorcycle, paraglider and on foot, and plans to target and take over specific military bases. Hamas carried out all of those plans. The Israeli military and the Israeli Security Agency declined to comment on the matter to the Times; the Israeli military told the Associated Press that “Questions of this kind will be looked into in a later stage.”

To put it lightly, this is all a bad look for the Israeli national security state.

The document is even prefaced by a verse from the Quran that Hamas used in videos of the attack it released afterward. The Times also obtained emails showing that an Israeli intelligence analyst warned that a Hamas training exercise this summer indicated the militant group was preparing for the outlined attack — predicting, presciently, that it appeared “designed to start a war” — but that analysis was disregarded by a higher-up. 

To put it lightly, this is all a bad look for the Israeli national security state. Israeli defense officials had already conceded that they failed, catastrophically, in fulfilling their duty to protect Israeli citizens from attacks. But this new evidence underscores that Israel’s flat-footedness wasn’t an abject intelligence failure as much as it was a failure to appropriately assess the likelihood of a known attack plan — and taking tangible actions to guard against it.

And it comes after a report that Israeli commanders repeatedly brushed aside lookouts’ warnings of suspicious activity in the weeks and the day before the attack, as well as reports that Egypt warned Israel that something was brewing. (Netanyahu has denied those allegations from Egyptian officials.) In light of all the warning signs, Israel’s defense establishment looks more hubristic than ignorant: “Underpinning all these failures was a single, fatally inaccurate belief that Hamas lacked the capability to attack and would not dare to do so,” the Times reports.

Israel’s failure to prepare intensifies the sense of tragedy of about 1,200 people losing their lives to Hamas’ extraordinary war crimes (as well as over 240 being taken hostage). “Officials privately concede that, had the military taken these warnings seriously and redirected significant reinforcements to the south, where Hamas attacked, Israel could have blunted the attacks or possibly even prevented them,” the Times reports.

It isn’t yet known if Netanyahu was aware of the document outlining Hamas’ war plans. But a head of government will always be held accountable for national security failures, and that’s already been true for Netanyahu. Poll after poll indicates that an overwhelming majority of Israelis are unhappy with the prime minister and blame him for the security failures that allowed the attacks to happen. But that unhappiness isn’t just about Oct. 7. It’s also about Netanyahu’s policies that preceded it. Netanyahu’s critics point out that he played with fire when he reportedly tolerated and contained Hamas — including allowing foreign money to pass to the organization — as part of a strategy to divide Palestinians politically and kill a two-state solution. Some Israeli critics also say that Netanyahu’s fixation on defending illegal West Bank settlements resulted in his deploying battalions to defend those settlements when they could have otherwise been deployed to the southern border of Israel.

In the heat of war, Netanyahu likely has some degree of short-term political security; the focus now is on a military operation in Gaza and retrieving hostages. But polling shows that Netanyahu is already vulnerable to challenges from political rivals, including former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is polling well above Netanyahu and could, at any moment, leave the unity war Cabinet he agreed to form with Netanyahu. It’s also in the realm of possibility that Netanyahu’s opposition could win enough defectors from his coalition in the Knesset to set in motion a no-confidence vote.

Netanyahu can’t be happy about any of this. He faces a growing body of evidence that his government and security forces could have taken steps to protect the country from attacks, and intensifying questions surrounding Israel’s decision-making may lead to greater international scrutiny of his military operation. An introspective leader might be humbled by this experience and reconsider the extreme policies and values that led to this crisis. Netanyahu, however, is not that kind of leader.

Zeeshan Aleem

Zeeshan Aleem is a writer and editor for MSNBC Daily. Previously, he worked at Vox, HuffPost and Politico, and he has also been published in, among other places, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, and The Intercept. You can sign up for his free politics newsletter here.

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