Security chiefs got wind of something amiss in Gaza, thought it was a drill – reports
Netanyahu says he was updated only when devastating Hamas infiltration began at 6:29 a.m. Saturday; reports say top brass had 'scraps' of info, didn't raise alert or boost forces
Senior IDF and security officials reportedly held an assessment hours before the start of Hamas’s brutal onslaught on southern Israel on Saturday morning, having received “weak scraps” of information that something was afoot, but concluded that the activity in Gaza was likely a drill.
In response to the reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had not received any intelligence warnings from the security establishment before the start of the devastating mass Hamas infiltration, in which some 1,300 people were killed as terrorists rampaged across communities in southern Israel.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was updated at exactly 06:29 on Saturday, and not before, upon the outbreak of the fighting,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “He immediately went to the Kirya [military headquarters in Tel Aviv], held an assessment of the situation and convened the Security Cabinet.”
The reports said that senior military and Shin bet officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, held phone discussions just a few hours before Hamas’s devastating infiltration, after indications of irregularities were noted.
The generals reportedly concluded that the activity in Gaza was probably a drill, and agreed to hold further discussions in the morning. They reportedly chose not to raise an alert or boost forces to the Gaza border area, since the issue was not considered pressing.
The IDF had long touted its security fence, with cameras, watchtowers and hi-tech sensors, as providing security to residents of Gaza border towns. But early Saturday, Hamas terrorists knocked chunks of it aside with explosives and bulldozers at multiple locations, then drove right through the gaping holes in jeeps and on motorcycles, while others sailed over in hang gliders, as drones dropped explosives on observation towers and took out cameras. Amid a simultaneous rocket barrage across southern and central Israel, an estimated 1,500 terrorists stormed into southern Israel and slaughtered soldiers and civilians alike, with some local resistance but the military hierarchy slow to react.
Reports on Thursday cited two sets of telephone conversations held overnight Friday-Saturday between the Shin Bet security service’s southern district chief, IDF military intelligence, the IDF’s operations branch and the Southern Command, as well as Halevi. A separate consultation was hosted by Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, Haaretz reported.
While the Shin Bet assessed the information presented as “weak scraps,” the agency did fear the possibility of a kidnapping attempt and dispatched a small operations team to the south. No other steps were taken, Haaretz reported. During the mass infiltration on Saturday, the small Shin Bet team participated in the fighting at one of the kibbutzim attacked by Hamas, and some of its members were injured.
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Thursday morning that there were no major intelligence warnings, but confirmed there were some small early signs.
“There was no such warning. The signs that came up hours before could be based on different intelligence signs,” Hagari said.
In his first public comments since the war broke out, Halevi said Thursday that “the IDF is responsible for the security of the country and its citizens, and on Saturday morning in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip, we did not handle it… We will learn, we will investigate, but now is the time for war.”
As the country reels from the deadliest attack in its history, Netanyahu has been adamant that he had no prior knowledge of any security assessments predicting an attack.
Egyptian intelligence officials have told The Times of Israel and other media outlets that Jerusalem ignored repeated warnings that the Gaza-based terror group was planning “something big.”
Netanyahu earlier in the week denied receiving such a warning, saying in the course of an address to the nation Monday night that the Egyptian story was “fake news.”
“No early message came from Egypt and the prime minister did not speak or meet with the intelligence chief since the establishment of the government — not indirectly or directly,” his office said in a statement earlier that day.
National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi reiterated on Friday that neither the political leadership nor the security establishment had received any advance warning or any kind from Egypt — “not directly, or indirectly, by hint, murmur or wink.”
At least one Egyptian official was cited as saying that the prime minister was directly notified of the alerts, yet dismissed them, while another speculated to The Times of Israel that the warning did not make it up the chain of command to Netanyahu’s office.
On Wednesday, Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the powerful US House Foreign Affairs Committee, gave credence to such reports, telling journalists in Washington that “we know that Egypt… warned the Israelis three days prior that an event like this could happen.”
Speaking to reporters following a closed-door intelligence briefing for lawmakers on the crisis, he added: “I don’t want to get too much into classified [details], but a warning was given. I think the question was at what level.”
Most of those killed by the terrorists were civilians, and many were slaughtered in horrifying circumstances. Visiting Israel on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described “babies slaughtered, bodies desecrated, young people burned alive, women raped, parents executed in front of their children, children in front of their parents.” At least 100 people were abducted to Gaza, where they are being held as hostages.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 1,400 in the Palestinian enclave have been killed in retaliatory Israeli strikes. Israel said it is targeting terrorist infrastructure and all areas where Hamas operates or hides and that Israeli forces have killed some 1,500 Hamas terrorists who infiltrated into its territory since Saturday.