The brutal Hamas massacre on October 7 was preceded by months of warning signs noted by IDF surveillance soldiers and disregarded as unimportant by intelligence officials, according to eyewitness accounts given in recent days.
At least three months prior to the attack, surveillance soldiers serving on a base in Nahal Oz reported signs that something unusual was underway at the already-tumultuous Gaza border, situated a kilometer from them.
The activity reported by the soldiers included information on Hamas operatives conducting training sessions multiple times a day, digging holes and placing explosives along the border. According to the accounts of the soldiers, no action was taken by those who received the reports.
IDF surveillance soldiers, referred to in Hebrew as tatzpitaniyot, belong to the Combat Intelligence Corps and operate along the country’s borders, as well as throughout the West Bank.
The surveillance soldiers are referred to by many as “the eyes of the army” as they provide real-time intelligence information to soldiers in the field, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The soldiers gather information through a variety of cameras, sensors and maps, and are expected to be acutely aware of every small change that happens in the 15-30 kilometers of land that they are each responsible for monitoring.
Once relevant information has been gathered by the surveillance soldiers, it is passed up the chain of command, including to intelligence officials who then determine what steps need to be taken. However, according to the accounts of two surveillance soldiers stationed on a base in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, the signs of what was to come on October 7 were never taken seriously.
In a segment aired on Kan News on Wednesday evening, two soldiers, Yael Rotenberg and Maya Desiatnik, recounted their experiences in the months before the attack and up until 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 7.
Rotenberg recalled frequently seeing many Palestinians dressed in civilian clothing approach the border fence with maps, examining the ground around it and digging holes. One time, when she passed the information on, she was told that they were farmers, and there was nothing to worry about.
Rotenberg was asleep when the attack began, and of the surveillance soldiers who were in the living quarters that morning, she is the only one to have survived. Desiatnik, who was on duty, was the only other surveillance soldier at the base not killed or abducted.
“It’s infuriating,” she told Kan of the intelligence failure. “We saw what was happening, we told them about it, and we were the ones who were murdered.”
The Hamas terrorists would train at the border fence nonstop, Desiatnik told Kan. At first, it was once a week, then once a day, and then nearly constantly.
In addition to passing on information about the frequency of the training going on at the fence, the surveillance soldier said she collected evidence of the content of the training, which included how to drive a tank and how to cross into Israel via a tunnel. As the activity on the border increased, she realized that “it was just a matter of time” until something happened.
Former tatzpitaniyot Amit Yerushalmi and Noa Melman corroborated the accounts of the two survivors in an interview published by Channel 12 on Thursday morning.
Yerushalmi had finished her mandatory service a month prior to October 7, and had observed the increased activity on the Gaza border in the months leading up to her release.
“We sat on shifts and saw the convoy of vans. We saw the training, people shooting and rolling, practicing taking over a tank. The training went from once a week to twice a week, from every day to several times a day,” she told Channel 12.
“We saw patrols along the border, people with cameras and binoculars. It happened 300 meters from the fence. There were a lot of disturbances, people went down to the fence and detonated an outrageous amount of explosives, the amount of explosives was crazy.”
Like Rotenberg and Desiatnik, Yerushalmi said that she passed the information along, but that nobody seemed to take it seriously.
“I saw what was happening, I wrote everything down on the computer and passed it on. I don’t know what happened with it, we don’t actually know what they do with the information.”
Melman finished her mandatory service some nine months ago, but told Channel 12 that even then, there were indications of what was to come, including a mock border fence set up by Hamas in order for the terrorists to practice, again and again, blowing up the border and crossing over to the other side.
“Our commanders told us to report what we saw, but everyone treated it like it was normal, like it was routine,” she said.
On Wednesday evening, video footage was acquired and aired by Channel 12 in which a convoy of white pickup trucks — which are favored by Hamas terrorists and were used on October 7 — can be seen driving past the border fence, at one point coming to a halt while those driving observed the border.
הסרטון שרץ על טנדרי חמאס ליד הגבול חודש לפני המתקפה זה הדבר הכי אולד ניוז.
אלו פיק-אפים עם חמושי חמאס שמפטרלים כל יום מאז 2015 על ציר המערכת העזתי, בין מגדלי המחבלים שמול הישובים.
ממשלת ישראל פקדה על צה"ל לאפשר הקמת צבא טרור בעזה, אז למה מתרגשים מהסרטון??https://t.co/ENhairtQNk pic.twitter.com/undCWCBRnJ
— יואב זיתון (@yoavzitun) October 25, 2023
While Channel 12 has said that the footage was taken a month before October 7, this claim has been disputed, with other reports claiming it was captured just one week prior.
A Ynet military correspondent called it “old news” in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “These are pickup trucks with Hamas operatives; they have been patrolling the Gaza border road every day since 2015,” he added.
A report from the news outlet from 2015 backs up his claim, with footage of Hamas patrolling on the then newly constructed border road, some 300 meters from the fence.
At the time, Ynet reported that it was unclear if the patrols were being carried out for intelligence purposes, or if their purpose was to intimidate the IDF.
Yerushalmi explained to Channel 12 that the patrol featured in the recent video differed from the regular patrols, although she did not explain why.
“When we saw the convoy of pickup trucks, we said it was suspicious, it shouldn’t happen, it’s not something they do on a daily basis. In the two years I served, I never saw anything like it.”
In the weeks before October 7, Rotenberg noticed that the efforts of the Hamas soldiers were concentrated at two specific points of the area she was responsible for tracking. However, she continued to hear from her commanders that it wasn’t important and that there was nothing that could be done about it.
On October 7, the areas highlighted by Rotenberg were just two of the multiple points along the fence through which 2,500 Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel.
Desiatnik began her shift at 3:30 a.m. on October 7. It started as normal, she recounted to Kan, but at 6:30 a.m., everything changed.
“We saw people running to the border from every direction, running with guns. We saw motorbikes and pickup trucks driving straight at the fence,” she said. “We watched them blow up the fence and destroy it. And we might have been crying but we continued to do our jobs at the same time.”
It was then that their cameras were cut.
Speaking to Channel 12, Yerushalmi touched on what the survivors of the massacre feel is a complete failure of the IDF to protect them after failing to take their warnings seriously.
“They [the surveillance soldiers] understood what was happening and knew exactly what to do. Usually with these events, you understand very quickly what is happening.
“We were taught that we would report on the incident, we would direct helicopters to the scene, and someone would come and save us,” she said. “Our mission was to protect the kibbutz, not ourselves. They always said that someone would come and protect us.”