On September 27, barely a week ago, Hamas fighters launched the biggest surprise yet. attack Since the 1973 Yom Kippur War on Israel, Israeli officials have taken the head of NATO’s military committee to the Gaza border to demonstrate the use of artificial intelligence and high-tech surveillance.
Israeli officials publicly talked about using such technology in its last major war in Gaza in 2021, and both its superior AI and sophisticated drones will no doubt help select and destroy targets in the area. have been.
The failure of these systems to provide early warning of a Hamas attack on Saturday, however, represents an intelligence failure that can be studied and discussed for years.
The scale of the weekend’s events is only becoming clear, with 700 Israelis now reported dead and hundreds of Palestinians killed in retaliatory attacks on Gaza.
Several forward Israeli military positions and communities near Gaza were overrun, in many cases apparently with little or no warning, while the scale of Hamas missile launches at times overwhelmed Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome defenses. was
U.S. and allied intelligence agencies, which congratulated themselves on their early warning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, also appear to be surprised. They will likely also be examining what has happened for lessons so that the same thing that most grips Washington now does not happen with a potential conflict: a Chinese attack on Taiwan.
“There will be warning signs,” said a former Western intelligence official on condition of anonymity. “Clearly, Hamas was able to do this without leaving a data trail, or clues were present but not interpreted by the data.”
From drones overhead to border checkpoints using facial recognition software and electronic eavesdropping on communications, Israeli surveillance of Gaza is seen as one of the most intense and sophisticated efforts anywhere.
Dutch Admiral Robert Bauer visited Israel last month to learn from Israel’s nearby Gaza division and “explore modern military capabilities,” according to a NATO statement.
In May, Israeli Defense Ministry Director General Eyal Zamir said the country was on the verge of becoming an artificial intelligence “superpower,” using such techniques to streamline decision-making and analysis.
The events of this weekend suggest that Israeli officials were already suffering from overconfidence in these capabilities. That could be a warning to other governments, which are increasingly turning to a range of artificial intelligence contractors that promise to be able to provide incisive analysis and early warning.
Such techniques can be invaluable for synthesizing large amounts of data, especially in technical fields such as sonar or radar. But they are only as good as their material sources – and interpreting human activity in a dense urban environment like Gaza is rarely easy.
Israel’s ongoing air and possible ground offensive in Gaza will be seen as an opportunity to avenge the attack, but also to restore the reputation of the Israeli security state and high-tech industry. supports it – while Israeli officials say any outcome would result in civilian casualties. Hamas’ fault
Israeli officials say each of their previous wars and operations in Gaza has used more accurate intelligence and strikes than before – but its 2021 attacks still killed around 350 Palestinians. The targets currently being targeted have likely been collected over months and years.
Hiding in plain sight?
In concealing its attack, Hamas will be aided by conditions in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas seized power in 2007 and about 2.3 million people are trapped behind the 51-kilometer border.
The densely populated and built-up nature of Gaza has helped Hamas position equipment such as bulldozers close enough to the fenced border to be used at high speed – possibly without using suspect communications to be monitored.
The extent to which fighters were forewarned by commanders of the attack plans is still unclear, but given Israel’s reputation for recruiting human resources, Hamas leaders had their plans in place. It is very strictly restrained.
For Israeli soldiers and civilians living near the Gaza border, hours or minutes of warning can make all the difference. The final moments before the attack – when movements could be more easily tracked – may have missed the religious holiday of Sukkot as well as the paragliders’ initial training.
The other big question, both for Israel and the world, is what other nations and their proxies may already know.
As former Israeli military spokesman Jacob Dalal wrote in The Times of Israel this weekend, Israeli intelligence this fall believed that an attack by Iran-backed Hezbollah launched from Lebanon posed a greater threat.
Israel still fears that the attack by Hamas from Gaza is a precursor. Hezbollah said on Sunday it fired rockets and artillery at three locations in Israel in “solidarity” with the Palestinian people.
Israel may now face even more skepticism from Egypt – which has promised to secure its Gaza border – as well as Qatar, which has Hamas’ political headquarters and brokered a deal between the group and Israel. has been made to reopen the Israel-Gaza crossing. After a two-week shutdown at the end of September.
As Israel seeks to recover the hostages, the two countries may still be involved in the best way to negotiate. But with rumors that scores of Americans and other foreign nationals have been killed or taken, Hamas may soon find itself on the receiving end of the U.S. and perhaps a broader military operation with all the intelligence resources that come with it. can also reach
Complex territorial relations
Hamas described its weekend operation as an attempt to “liberate” Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, the scene of escalating clashes between religious nationalist Jews and Palestinian protesters. In doing so, they appear to be hoping to capitalize on the already widespread regional hostility to Israel, and in particular to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
That – and anger over Israel’s massive military response in Gaza – could complicate a closer deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, brokered by the US, which builds on a similar deal with the United Arab Emirates. Blocking it would clearly benefit Iran.
Tehran’s immediate statements of support for the Hamas attacks – as well as what Israel says is a long-running effort to send weapons to both Hamas and Hezbollah – will also heighten Israeli suspicions that the weekend’s Iran was directly involved in the attack.
Israel’s border with Syria is also unpredictable, with some areas controlled by the Islamic State. The same is true inside Syria, where Russia, China and Iran have all quietly increased their support for the Assad regime. Other forces are also present in Syria, with the US taking the unusual step of shooting down a Turkish drone last week that it said was a threat to its own forces and Kurdish allies.
All of this points to increasingly murky regional dynamics following the invasion of Ukraine. U.S. and Western officials have pressured Israel to cut ties with Russia, while also largely successfully pushing the government and its tech firms to withdraw quietly growing financial ties with China. What is willing? Last month, David Barnia, head of the Mossad, told a conference that Israel fears Russia could sell advanced weapons to Iran in exchange for key drones. Hamas leaders said they met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow earlier this year.
Since the Hamas attack, Russia has reiterated its support for an independent Palestinian state and called for a ceasefire, while Israeli officials have directly criticized China for failing to condemn Hamas.
For Moscow or Beijing to directly encourage Hamas’s actions this week – even through Iran – would have been a major and perhaps unexpected risk. But officials in both capitals will be watching events closely, learning every lesson they can for their current and future confrontations.