IDF launches internal probes into missteps, misconceptions in lead-up to October 7

Findings set to be presented to IDF chief of staff by beginning of June; review to focus on army’s perception of Gaza, intel assessments, fighting amid onslaught

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli soldiers stand near the body of a Palestinian terrorist in Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the Gaza Strip, on October 10, 2023. (Thomas COEX / AFP)
Israeli soldiers stand near the body of a Palestinian terrorist in Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the Gaza Strip, on October 10, 2023. (Thomas COEX / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday sent out protocols to commanders on how their units are to carry out internal investigations into the military’s failures in the lead-up to the Hamas terror group’s October 7 massacre, the military announced.

The probes are aimed at drawing operational conclusions for the military, and will not look into the policies of the political leadership, avoiding a fight with government leaders who have insisted that investigations wait until after the end of Israel’s war against Hamas.

The internal investigations were to focus on a timeframe starting from the March 2018 Hamas-led Gaza border riots until October 10, 2023, the point when Israeli troops re-established control of southern Israel following the onslaught.

The findings were expected to be presented to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi by the beginning of June, according to the military.

The investigations will be carried out concurrent with ongoing fighting in the Gaza Strip. Any major developments in the war are expected to slow the pace of the probes.

Units seen as having a role in the failure to notice Hamas preparations or adequately prepare for the terror group’s October 7 onslaught will investigate the following four main subjects:

  • The development of the IDF’s perception of Gaza, with an emphasis on the border, starting in 2018. This examination will also include a look at the army’s conception of its own defenses and its operational plans against threats in Gaza.
  • The IDF’s intelligence assessments of Hamas from 2018 until the outbreak of the war. This examination will look at the military’s threat scenarios, the development of the IDF’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, and how the intelligence was audited, including the so-called devil’s advocate unit which is tasked with questioning IDF assessments and conceptions.
  • The intelligence and decision-making process on the eve of October 7, as well as the days leading up to it. This examination will look at all the decisions that were made at all ranks to clarify what went wrong.
  • The period between October 7 and 10, when troops restored control over all communities and army bases in southern Israel that had been invaded by Hamas. This examination will analyze the battles that took place, and look into each unit’s command and control, formations, and orders given.

The IDF was also set to probe five more subjects: major battles amid the fighting; the mobilization of reservists and the military’s logistical response; long-term planning, including munition stocks and spare parts for weapons and vehicles; the handling of the dead from October 7; and the military’s continued functioning.

Among the units that are set to carry out the investigations are the Operations Directorate, Southern Command, Gaza Division, and Military Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 8200, which deals with signals intelligence.

Palestinian terrorists take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the border fence with Israel from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on October 7, carrying out a murderous rampage of unprecedented intensity and breadth. The IDF struggled to mount a response, with bases closest to the border overrun and the chain of command seemingly broken amid the chaos.

The onslaught claimed the lives of some 1,200 people in Israel, with another 253 people kidnapped and much of the area devastated. Most victims were civilians.

In response, Israel launched a military campaign aimed at destroying Hamas and winning the freedom of hostages, over 100 of whom still remain in captivity.

In a missive sent to troops on Thursday, Halevi said the internal investigations were to help the IDF learn.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi meets with commanders of the 99th Infantry Division in the Gaza Strip in this photo published on January 19, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We experienced difficult incidents at the beginning of the fighting, we failed to protect civilians, a task of utmost importance. If we do not courageously analyze what we have done, we will find it difficult to learn and improve, we will find it difficult to stand up to the citizens of Israel and say that we have looked into it and learned and will know how to protect them better,” he wrote.

The IDF said the internal probes are “necessary” for the military to be able to improve amid the ongoing fighting, as well as work to make it safe for displaced Israelis from northern Israel to return home amid daily attacks by Hezbollah.

The investigations are not related to planned external probes of the army’s conduct in the lead-up to October 7, which are currently on hold. Plans for the independent review were met with protests from government leaders, who apparently feared they could be criticized.

In late January, Halevi said the external investigation would only be launched once the internal probes were completed.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman also has plans to investigate the army’s failures as well as the conduct of the government, although Halevi has requested that this also be put on hold for now.

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