One big mystery about today’s events in Israel, which I alluded to in the previous post, is how exactly Israel was caught quite this unprepared. An attack of this scale required very large numbers of people to be read into the preparations if not the operational planning for the attack. Israel has long had a dense network of informants and collaborators in the territories. That’s layered over with signals intelligence and various forms of surveillance. And yet Israel appears to have been caught totally unawares and unprepared. It’s not just that they didn’t know something like this was happening today. They don’t seem to have known that an operation of this scale and audacity was even being considered.
That’s an intelligence failure that’s hard to overstate.
Why Hamas did this also requires some explanation. A friend rightly described this as an organization-scale suicide operation. For the why you have the unsettled business of 1948 and 1967. You have the fact that Mahmoud Abbas won’t live forever. You have Israel’s looming normalization with the Gulf Arab states. Particularly the last factor provides a decent explanation of the ‘why now?’ Indeed, I’m seeing a lot of foreign policy and security analysts confidently declaring that Hamas planned this attack with Iran to break the momentum for normalization with the Gulf states.
I don’t think we know that Iran was involved in this, though we certainly may find that they were. I also don’t think we know for a fact that normalization was the driver. Quite possible, even a good assumption. But I just don’t think we know. But it seems certain that the reaction to today’s on-going attacks will dwarf anything we’ve seen in recent memory and have the goal not of ‘reestablishing deterrence’ but of destroying Hamas as a military force.
You can’t destroy an idea or an ideology with military force. But you can destroy an organization’s military capacity with military force. And that will almost certainly be the goal of Israel’s response. I don’t want to speak too confidently about how these missions operate. But I would have to assume that most of the key people in Hamas’s military chain of command will be dead in the next few weeks. The same likely applies to much of its political leadership and not just in Gaza.
The Hamas decision makers who planned this operation had to know all of this. So they mounted this operation knowing this was where it would lead. Individual self-sacrifice is intrinsic to the culture of these organizations. Organization self-destruction is not. And yet here we are. Again, that’s a pretty big mystery and I haven’t seen any clear answer to it.