How changes in the Israeli military led to the failure of October 7

How changes in the Israeli military led to the failure of October 7

James Rosen-Birch writes:

In public presentations, Saar Koursh, former CEO of the Israeli security firm Magal Security Systems — the company that built the Gaza border fence — often boasted that the blockaded territory was his “showroom.”

“Anybody can give you a very nice PowerPoint, but few can show you such a complex project as Gaza that is constantly battle-tested,” Koursh said in a 2016 interview.

Magal’s smart fence formed part of an integrated system of concrete barriers, high-tech sensor systems, automated machine-gun nests and observation towers dubbed the “Iron Wall” by some Israelis in tribute to a term coined by the radical Zionist pioneer Zeev Jabotinsky. By the time of its completion in 2021, the Gaza border fence and the system of controls supporting it were deemed impenetrable. The more than 2 million Palestinians trapped behind the barrier were put out of sight and mind of the Israeli public.

Under this system, every inch of the Gaza Strip was routinely surveilled by drones, satellites and spy balloons known as aerostats. All communications were forcibly routed through Israel and monitored. In case Palestinian militant groups thought to fire rockets over the fence, even the sky was guarded by the U.S.-funded missile defense system known as Iron Dome. Nothing, it was thought, could happen in Gaza without Israel knowing.

Yet on Oct. 7 this seemingly invincible system of control failed catastrophically. The details by now are familiar: On that day, 50 years after the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, thousands of Hamas-affiliated fighters streamed deep into Israeli territory in a combined land, air and sea attack. The attackers took over 200 people hostage, while killing an estimated 376 members of local Israeli security forces and the military, along with 767 civilians. Despite their oversight of Gaza, the Israeli military — the Israeli Defense Forces or IDF — failed to detect the incursion as it happened, in some cases learning of it alongside the general public through social media posts and frantic phone calls from the front.

The Israeli chain of command buckled under pressure, taking until late in the day to organize a counterattack. The IDF scrambled to get forces to the south yet found it had no troop transports. Soldiers had to take carpools, rideshares and commandeered school buses to the front, only to wait hours at designated meeting spots like gas stations and parking lots for someone to issue orders, despite sometimes being only minutes from active combat zones.

To the shock of many observers in Israel and abroad, it took two days for Israel to repel a terrorist attack that its own leaders and experts had assured the public would be impossible in the first place.

Like many others, I found myself asking how this devastating attack could happen under the watchful eye of Israel’s vaunted military and intelligence services. But I am also equipped with a unique perspective to make sense of how it happened. My field, organizational science, studies how complex social systems function, why they fail and how they can be improved. In the case of so-called “man-made catastrophes” like complex engineering failures and terrorist attacks, this means looking at the chain of events leading up to the catastrophe and identifying failure points where the outcome could have either been prevented or mitigated.

The punishing system of control maintained by the Israeli government over Gaza prior to Oct. 7 collapsed because of a decadeslong failure to address structural and operational problems within the military-intelligence system, systematic dehumanization of the Palestinians that blinded Israeli analysts to Palestinian capabilities, rising politicization of military decision-making and a fixation with technological “solutions” as a substitute for political engagement to address the long-running conflict. The blind spots created by this approach bred systemic rot inside Israel’s security establishment. These failures ultimately enabled Hamas’ assault, shattering Israel’s image of invulnerability. [Continue reading…]

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