The Gaza-Israel border fence was not designed, on its own, to withstand the kind of assault carried out by Hamas on October 7, when large contingents of terrorists attacked and burst through it in multiple locations and went on to massacre over 1,400 people in Israel.
This was made plain by the former CEO of the defense firm responsible for constructing and maintaining the barrier, in a 2018 interview.
“It would take about 30 seconds to cross,” Saar Koursh told Bloomberg in April 2018, at a time when Hamas was organizing mass “March of Return” riots at the border and vowing to galvanize 100,000 Gazans to storm the fence. Koursh stressed that the barrier “wasn’t built to stop riots” but rather “to give real-time indication if somebody is trying to cross the border.”
The IDF said at the time that it was bolstering border protection with tanks, drones, snipers and other crowd-dispersal techniques.
Magal Security Systems Ltd. was first contracted to construct a barrier between Israel and Gaza in 2002. The barrier was further fortified after 2005, following the complete withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza Strip, and subsequently upgraded multiple times.
Then Magal began the development of a new and improved “smart fence.” The project, dubbed the Iron Wall, took three and a half years to complete and was finished in December 2021. The project featured new sensors, radar and detection equipment, as well as a new underground wall and maritime barrier.
Upon its completion, then-defense minister Benny Gantz praised the project, saying at an opening ceremony for the new 40-mile (65-kilometer) barrier, that it “places an ‘iron wall,’ sensors and concrete between the terror organization [in Gaza] and the residents of Israel’s south.”
In the 2018 interview, Koursh, then the CEO of Magal, specified that the barrier could not withstand thousands of people attempting to trample it and burst into Israel. “It would take about 30 seconds to cross,” Koursh told Bloomberg. “This fence wasn’t built to stop riots like you see now. It was built to give real-time indication if somebody is trying to cross the border.”
While the March of Return protests and riots died down by the end of 2019, demonstrations along the Gaza fence persisted sporadically.
Most recently, last month there were several incidents in which 200 or more Gaza residents rioted at various locations along the Gaza Strip border.
During one of the riots, a large explosive was detonated on the border fence. That was repeated dozens of times on the morning of October 7, as some 2,500 terrorists streamed through the breaches in the fence.
Koursh indicated in the interview that the barrier, and the technologies embedded into it, needed to be accompanied by the appropriate military measures and deployments to be effective. “When you combine several technologies all together with the military, then you have an effective barrier, a system in place that can deter, delay and detect,” he said. (Koursh could not be reached by The Times of Israel for this article.)
The massive attack at dawn on October 7 came under cover of a barrage of missiles aimed at Israeli civilian areas, and involved sniper fire, explosives dropped from drones on lookout and communication towers, and bulldozers that ripped through the six-meter (20-foot)-tall double fence barrier at an estimated 30 places. Terrorists swarmed through in pickup trucks and on motorcycles.
According to details reported on October 10 by The New York Times, citing initial assessments by four senior Israeli security officials, the operational failure began when an urgent alert early on the morning of October 7 by intelligence officials about a sudden surge of activity in Hamas communication networks wasn’t acted upon by border guards, who presumably didn’t get it or didn’t read it.
But the main failure was said to lie with overreliance on the remote-controlled border fence and improper defenses of it, which allowed drones controlled remotely by Hamas to bomb and disable communication towers, surveillance centers and remotely operated machine guns near the border, as well as disabling security cameras with sniper fire, instantly rendering the border defenseless.
Few soldiers were stationed near the border, both because forces had been diverted to the West Bank and because the reliance on the high-tech barrier led the military to believe troops didn’t have to physically guard the frontier in large numbers.
Additionally, according to the report, many commanders were clustered in a single army base near the border, preventing a coordinated response and passing of information to the rest of the army once the base was overrun by terrorists and the commanders were killed, wounded or abducted along with many lower-ranking soldiers, some of whom were targeted while sleeping in their barracks.
It took many hours until the military was able to connect the dots and take in the magnitude of the situation in the border towns, and send in forces to confront the terrorists.
At least 1,000 of the 1,400 slain by Hamas terrorists as they rampaged through the south were civilians, slaughtered in 22 communities and at an outdoor music festival. Some victims — including children — were mutilated, tortured, or raped. Thousands more were injured. At least 200 other people, of all ages, were abducted and taken to Gaza as captives. The attack came amid a barrage of 5,000 rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.