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Israeli officials falsely concluded that Hamas was not interested in provoking a full-scale war with Israel, it has emerged, as questions swirl over major intelligence failures that led to Saturday’s assault.
According to Haaretz, an Israeli left-wing newspaper, an assessment by security services last week found that Hamas was eager “to avoid a full-fledged war with Israel”, with officials unaware of plans for the combined rocket assault and raids on the south.
Police officers check suspects at a check point, searching for Hamas militants from Gaza strip on October in Ashdod, Israel.Credit: Getty
The same assessment concluded that Hamas did not want to “jeopardise past achievements that bettered the lives of the Gazan residents”, Haaretz reported, referring to economic incentives offered by Israel to Gaza to ease tensions, such as work permits.
It came as the death toll from the Hamas attack, in which terrorists gunned down masses of civilians and took as many as 50 hostages, rose to as high as 600.
The multi-pronged attack involved ground, sea and air incursions into southern Israel which would have required meticulous planning.
The death toll includes at least 26 Israeli soldiers, of which the vast majority were aged 19-21, according to a list of names released on Sunday morning by the army.
Insiders in Israel have suggested its forces may have been too focussed on the West Bank following months of tensions and shootings in and around settlements.
Some Israeli outlets have furiously condemned the attack as Israel’s worst security failure in 50 years, warning that not even the total destruction of Gaza and the deaths of the entire Hamas leadership would be able to compensate for it.
“Netanyahu’s recklessness has brought war upon Israel,” stated the headline of a column by Haaretz journalist Yossi Verter, referring to the Israeli prime minister.
“Even if all of the Gaza Strip is destroyed [and there is no need for this],” he wrote, “and even if the heads of Mohammed Deif, Khaled Meshal, Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and their associates roll in the alleys, this will not make up for the biggest security failure since 1973.”
He added: “It will not sweeten the bitter taste of the debacle, and it won’t ease the shock of the number of those killed and kidnapped.”
Israeli army officials have acknowledged that a discussion is needed “down the road” on what went wrong, but for now they are completely focused on the battle with Hamas.
“We’ll talk about that when we need to talk about it,” an Israel Defence Forces spokesman told reporters.
Israel for years used a carrot-and-stick approach in Gaza, balancing military confrontations with Hamas alongside an ease in economic restrictions. This included thousands of permits which allowed Gazans to cross into Israel for work.
That strategy was based on the belief that Hamas wished to keep direct confrontation with Israel to a minimum, with other groups inside Gaza such as Islamic Jihad becoming the main source of rocket fire and other escalations.
“This was an intelligence failure; it could not be otherwise,” said Jonathan Panikoff, a former senior US official and analyst at the Atlantic Council think tank.
“It was a security failure, undermining what was thought to be an aggressive and successful layered approach toward Gaza by Israel.”
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