IDF probe into failures leading to Oct. 7 attack to focus on period starting in 2018

General Staff investigation will also examine orders given during battles in first three days following mass Hamas onslaught, as troops fought to restore control in south

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

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

The Israel Defense Forces has been progressing with its internal investigations into the military’s failures in the lead-up to the Hamas terror group’s October 7 massacre, with new details revealed Thursday on the subjects and periods each unit is investigating.

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 the war against Hamas.

The investigations, by units seen as having had a role in the failure to notice Hamas preparations or adequately prepare for the terror group’s October 7 onslaught, are being 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.

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

At the General Staff level, the probes will be focusing on a timeframe 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, according to information seen by The Times of Israel.

The main subjects being investigated by the General Staff are: the development of the IDF’s perception of Gaza, with an emphasis on the border, starting in 2018; the IDF’s intelligence assessments of Hamas from 2018 until the outbreak of the war; the intelligence and decision-making process on the eve of October 7, as well as the days leading up to it; and the command and control, formations, and orders given during battles between October 7 and 10, when troops restored control over all communities and army bases in southern Israel that had been invaded by Hamas.

Palestinian terrorists take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the border fence with Israel from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 7, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The investigations are relying on what the IDF says are “proven and solid factual sources such as videos, documented reports and recordings.” Therefore, the IDF is expected to ask civilians and media outlets for materials and visual evidence that could aid the investigations.

The IDF Southern Command has split its investigation into three main periods: before October 6, the night between October 6 and 7, and the fighting in southern Israel following the October 7 attack.

Each division commander involved in the fighting will probe its actions. The Southern Command has also appointed several colonels and lieutenant colonels to each probe a major battle or incident amid the October 7 massacre. Those probes have placed an emphasis on speaking to residents of southern towns who were victims of the onslaught in order to gain perspectives about the battles that are not solely military.

The Southern Command is also probing the battles that took place at the five Gaza border military outposts. Those incidents are being investigated by the commanders of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade and Northern Brigade commanders, alongside figures assisting from other parts of the military.

The Southern Command has also been probing its maneuver in the Gaza Strip, from the beginning of the ground offensive until now. Those investigations were aimed at drawing conclusions for future operations by the six divisions that have participated in the ground operation: the 99th, 36th, 162nd, 98th, and 252nd and Gaza divisions.

Israeli troops and tanks in the Gaza Strip in a photo released December 19, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces)

The Military Intelligence Directorate has split its probes into different periods: a decade before the war, starting from the end of the 2014 Gaza war; the days before the war, from October 1 till October 7, with an emphasis on the 36 hours before the onslaught; and the war itself.

Each unit commander in Military Intelligence is probing its actions based on questions determined by the General Staff.

The Israeli Air Force is meanwhile focusing its probes on finding conclusions that would help it improve readiness for a possible escalation in the north, amid daily attacks by Hezbollah from Lebanon.

The IAF split its investigation into two main periods: October 7 itself and the rest of the war. The probe into all the IAF’s activities on October 7 is being led by a brigadier general who did not serve in any role during the onslaught.

The second section, focusing on the rest of the war, also looks into processes that took place before October 7 and had an effect on the functioning of the IAF during the war.

File: An Israeli fighter jet releases flares as it flies over the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, December 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

The Operations Directorate’s investigation is focusing on the use of the IDF’s force, its readiness, its operational instructions, and the deployment of its troops. It will also investigate the Spokespersons Unit’s functioning amid the war, which is subordinate to the Operations Directorate.

The Navy is probing its battles on October 7, its intelligence on the eve of the onslaught, its operations amid the war, its assessments of the Gaza Strip ahead of the war, its readiness, and continued functioning amid the war. Most of the probes were being led by the chief of the Navy, Vice Adm. David Saar Salama.

The Home Front Command is probing its defense assessments, the battles in which it was involved on October 7 — at the Zikim training base and Urim camp — along with other activities on October 7-10, changing from routine operations to an emergency, collecting and identifying bodies, and the evacuation of border towns.

Lastly, the Computer Service Directorate is also probing its actions amid the war, including cyber defenses.

An IDF tank outside the entrance to the southern city of Sderot, October 8, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

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, more than 100 of whom still remain in captivity. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed and 75,668 have been injured since the start of the war, an unverified figure that does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. The IDF says 256 Israeli soldiers have been killed during the ground operation in Gaza. Overall, 600 IDF soldiers have been killed on and since October 7.

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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