Big Intrigue, Big Consequences

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On the margins of the unfolding Israel-Hamas war have been a series of reports that Egyptian intelligence gave the Israelis some kind of warning of an impending attack or eruption in Gaza. Those reports have been met by fierce denials from the Prime Minister’s office. Just where this whole question stood after the back and forth of the last 36 hours was unclear, at least to me. But this morning House Foreign Relations Chair Mike McCaul (R-TX) said this: “We know that Egypt had warned the Israelis three days prior that an event like this could happen…I don’t want to get too much in the classified but a warning was given. I think the question was at what level.”

It’s not immediately clear just what McCaul is referring to or where he’s getting the information. His reference to classification certainly makes it seem like this is information from U.S. government sources. That could conceivably be direct surveillance of communications between Israel and Egypt. But I would think it is more likely one or the other country telling the U.S. what warnings were given.

The devil is always in the details about what kind of warning we’re talking about. McCaul talks about a warning three days in advance. The initial claim out of Egypt was ten days in advance. So there’s some fuzziness there. McCaul also says that it was a warning about “an event like this.” That makes it sound much more specific than a general warning about something big.

There’s too much clutter here to read too much into any single data point. We don’t know how carefully McCaul chose his words. We don’t know if there was an escalating series of warnings inclusive of one at ten days and another at three. McCaul says he wasn’t sure what level the warning came through. That’s quite different from the initial reports of a direct conversation between the head of Egyptian intelligence and Netanyahu himself.

So as I said, let’s not get too wedded to any particular data point or claim. What’s more clear is that it now seems likely there was some meaningful warning from Egypt that the Israelis did not take heed of. The fact that McCaul is making this comment suggests people in the U.S., Egypt and Israel have at least some information about it. So the story isn’t going anywhere.

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