The border defense system surrounding Gaza included approximately one hundred Rafael-made sniper positions, each with a 0.3 mm machine gun with radar and optics installed. These positions were connected to Elbit's MARS system, with female observers working in a concrete reinforced war room. When movement was detected close to the border, the observer would conduct a ‘suspicious arrest’ procedure using announcement equipment installed on the tower that saw the terrorist and - if necessary - shoot.
They thought it was a technical glitch
On Saturday at approximately 6:30 a.m., Hamas launched, according to reports, about 140-150 drones with bombs and simultaneously managed to disable all the firing positions in the line. Not a single shot was fired from a hundred positions. After the shooter was thwarted, shots were fired at 22 additional MARS cameras along the border that were the "eyes" of the division’s observers and the entire IDF for the Gaza Strip. The screens went dark.
In the remote areas and the underground high command post in Tel Aviv they likely thought it was a technical fault and waited for a technician to fix the system. No one imagined that, in those minutes, Toyota vehicles and motorcycles, loaded with Hamas commandos, had broken through the border and were rushing towards the IDF outposts and surrounding settlements.
The Hamas commando unit, the Nohva, which I wrote about, arrived after months of training to take over IDF outposts. Some training had been previously visible to the IDF and had been held at Hamas facilities in Gaza. Hamas terrorists breached the fence, immobilized IDF tanks that were opening an axis, and quickly rushed to the outposts: Sufa, Reim, Nahal Oz, and Erez.
There was massive RPG shooting, throwing hundreds of grenades, and shooting small arms. The few Israeli soldiers, probably 300-400 at most, at least a third of whom were observers without combat training, were hopeless. Fighters in the protected bases were captured and killed in their underwear. Hamas filmed everything and published it. It is not yet clear if there were alarms at the bases. The division was in silence. Some of the forces went down to Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), another part was on holiday. Nobody knew anything.
The terrorists infiltrated the bases, disabled the ICT rooms [intelligence, communications, and technology], and turned off the IDF's communications in the area. No one knew what was going on. Communication between the Otef [envelope around Gaza] and the rest of the country, east, and north of the Otef - was cut off. The Israel Defense Forces concept - a digital ground army and a linked IDF - collapsed completely after 30-60 minutes of combat. IDF and police forces that arrived independently at the Otef also acted without synchronization. There was no communication.
Where were the observation balloons?
The observation balloons that were supposed to be a backup for the MARS system were not in the field on Saturday morning. These balloons can be seen from a kilometer away and are a "second line of defense" if the first observation line collapses. In the past two years, the IDF decided to connect the video from the balloon directly to MARS so that the broadcast would reach IDF observers. Last Saturday, as mentioned, the observation crews in the Gaza Division were blacked out.
The balloons were not there due to the IDF's mistake in activating them several months before last Saturday. The weather was unsuitable for operating a balloon, the IDF insisted, the three balloons were damaged, and the IDF refused to repair them.
When the balloons were damaged, the camera manufacturer contacted the IDF and warned that these analog cameras had reached the end of their life without support. If the IDF wanted, they could switch to digital ones that would provide a better operational response and be under a support contract. The IDF claimed, "Why should we invest in balloons? We have a hermetic fence - a perfect obstacle in which we have invested billions of NIS in recent years. No one can hack it.”
The IDF chose not to invest in balloons as a second, independent intelligence line. Last Saturday, there were no balloons at the Gaza border. Finally, six days into fighting, some of the balloons are back in action. Along with tanks and drones, they are a necessary tool for providing real-time intelligence to forces in the field.
To provide real-time intelligence on the breached Gaza border, along its entire length, a larger number of balloons is required - more than the existing ones. The production of a balloon-based observation system and a suitable camera takes time; these are not "off-the-shelf" products.
Lebanon's border is the same as Gaza's
Why is the northern border important? Because the capture of the defense posts on the Gaza border began on the Lebanese border. Only after the IDF finished installing a smart overhead fence, including the MARS system, on the border with Lebanon and Syria did it apply the same technologies in Gaza. In other words, Hamas's planning is also the planning of Hezbollah.
Except for one difference, the IDF has been deployed on the Lebanese border with large forces since Saturday. Hezbollah did not take advantage of Saturday's surprise, and the knowledge of how to disable the surveillance system at the border is likely shared between Hezbollah and Hamas. In other words, we need a second, independent line of observations in case Hezbollah disables the MARS system like in Gaza.
The hermetic fence - breached
Meanwhile, the IDF has yet to claim all the bases on the Gaza border. The destroyed sniper positions will take a long time to restore. The new MARS systems will also take a long time to repair and restore the observatories.
In addition, the female observers who were at home last Saturday and saw what happened to their friends (I will refrain from describing the horrors) do not want to go back to manning the positions. In other words, the Gaza Division is also expected to experience a challenge in manning observation positions.
The border defense line for Gaza was neglected over the past few months, including when the IDF reported, in December 2021, that the barrier was completed and airtight. The IDF also canceled a second, independent, balloon-based intelligence line. This, in addition to the stagnation of the division and the intelligence failure, are the reasons for the massive failure to protect Israelis in the Otef and beyond.