Amir Rapaport’s Column: The True Story of Israel’s Intelligence Failure and the IDF's Victory Over Hamas

Looking at the war from a different angle, focusing on the significance of the SIM card alerts and the ceasefire that might take effect before Ramadan | The Samaria Division head has an answer to why relative calm is maintained in the West Bank, at least for now

The week (and change) remaining until the beginning of Ramadan will be one of the most critical weeks since October 7th. It finds the IDF with the smallest deployment of forces within the Gaza Strip since that fateful morning. Only a limited number of brigades remain engaged in continuous combat.

In the northern sector of the Gaza Strip, the 162nd Division, led by forces Nahal and Givati forces, is running the combat operations. The divisional combat teams have raided the Zeytoun neighborhood, which has already been captured and cleared during the war’s "stage B,” and are dissecting the Gaza Strip from north to south based on an axis stretching from Be’eri, on the Israeli border, to the sea.

In the Khan Yunis area, the 98th Division continues to lead the combat operations, although the number of its deployed brigades is decreasing. This week, the fighting has primarily focused on the western part of Khan Yunis. The real drama continues unfolding beneath the surface – there, the hunt continues for Yahya Sinwar and other senior Hamas leaders, even deep within the tunnels. Unfortunately, the fighting has resulted in casualties among our forces. Among the fallen this week are five officers and soldiers from Givati, including two company commanders from the Tzabar and Shaked battalions. The brigade also took the hit of dozens of wounded.

However, it is also time to examine the overall picture of the war, while disregarding spins and mood swings. The bottom line is, the IDF defeated Hamas. The battles will enter the annals of urban warfare history, below and above ground, and will be studied in armies worldwide.

Essentially, what happened is that Gaza paid a tremendous price for the heinous October 7th attack. Most of its residents are displaced; Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have lost nearly 10,000 of their men (about a third of the total casualties in Gaza); their military infrastructure, including rocket launchers, has been destroyed; and Rafah has turned into a tent city where nearly one and a half million people are now crowded, according to the latest analysis from IDF intelligence. In cities from the north to the border in the heart of the Gaza Strip, there is no electricity, no sewage, hardly anything to eat. This should serve as a lesson for anyone contemplating a similar attack on Israel in the future, whether from Gaza, Lebanon, or the West Bank. And it's also for the sake of this message that we have fought.

It is no coincidence that Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, stated this week that the residents of the northern Gaza border towns would not be able to return home until all hostages are brought back to Israel. The full-scale destruction of the Gaza Strip is now Israel's main leverage to bring back the hostages and enforce a new reality in Gaza, without Hamas.

The upcoming week is crucial because there is currently a realistic opportunity to first bring back some of the hostages who remain in Gaza, as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement. The axis through which an agreement will be reached before the start of Ramadan is being managed by the CIA and Mossad, mediated by Qatar. This axis has surpassed the Egyptian mediation track, led in Israel by the Shin Bet. However, Egypt and the Shin Bet remain involved, and some of the meetings with Hamas's "foreign affairs leadership" have been held in Cairo in recent weeks.

Speaking of axes, it is important to note that on Wednesday, in a statement by the Defense Minister, proof was given of a very strong axis within the Israeli Cabinet, which includes Yoav Gallant, Benny Gantz, and Aryeh Deri. It's widely known that Gallant and Gantz cannot stand Benjamin Netanyahu and speak with each other much more than they do with the prime minister - that's no secret. However, the "glue" between this duo and Aryeh Deri is much more discreet – and it's called attorney Ronen Abouavani.

Abouavani is very close with all three men and was previously involved in brokering coalition agreements between Gantz and Netanyahu during the Covid-19 pandemic and the outbreak of the Swords of Iron War. Abouavani was the one who brought Deri's "guarantee" to Netanyahu's assurances to Gantz in the first unity government, which collapsed. It is likely that the Gallant-Gantz-Deri axis is currently coordinating on the issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment, which is reaching a critical point. Time (and not a lot) will tell.

Samaria as a case study

Israel’s military achievements in the Gaza Strip are clouded by the fact that there is still no political alternative to Hamas in that area. Control over the Philadelphi Route between Rafah and Egypt has not yet been achieved, and above all – Yahya Sinwar is still with us. But he will eventually be apprehended, sooner or later – dead or alive (likely dead). It's not certain that from Israel's perspective, this should happen before the hostages return home, as part of an agreement.

Meanwhile, one of the cards Hamas is still holding onto is its attempt to inflame Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), as well as incite Israel’s Arab population, especially towards the religious awakening characteristic of the Ramadan period. Conversely, Israel has no interest in further fronts, of course.

From the perspective of Israel’s Arab popultion, the Shin Bet has not identified a rise in events considered "nationalistic" or widespread sympathy with Hamas' actions. In an attempt to understand the situation in the West Bank, I spoke this week with the commander of the Samaria Division in the IDF, Colonel Shimon Siso, a Golani Brigade veteran to his very core, who took command of one of the most volatile sectors a year and a half ago. The city of Nablus and the surrounding communities are at the heart of the Samaria Division's area, but the settlement of Homesh is also within its jurisdiction.

Well, five months after Simchat Torah, who still remembers how volatile the division was before then, with recurring and escalating attacks that led to the establishment of a sukkah in Hawara by Member of Knesset, Zvi Sukkot.

“There's the situation in Samaria until October 7th, and what has been happening since,” says Col. Siso, adding, "The situation now is much quieter than before the war. From shooting attacks every two days on average, we've moved to one occurrence a month. Even stone-throwing incidents hardly take place any more.

"I have asked myself why the situation has changed so much," says Colonel Siso, and answers: "Part of the improvement in the situation is related to the fact that the ‘Lion’s Den’ members from the Balata refugee camp are no longer present in the area after all the counterterrorism operations, but in the second layer, it seems to me that the Palestinians can see in Gaza that we have ‘gone mad’ and are somewhat stunned by what has been happening. Many of them also find it difficult to identify with all the acts of violence and slaughter that have been exposed. Not everyone supports these things.

According to ןדם, following the wave of arrests of Hamas members, which began on October 7th, "Of course, there are still alerts for attacks, and we don't know everything, but even the overall number of alerts has decreased significantly."

The Colonel states that coordination with Palestinian security forces continues without interruption, including regular discussions with his Palestinian counterpart. "And this coordination isn't happening because they like us, but because Hamas is a common enemy."

Regarding the incidents of violence attributed to Israelis in the Samaria region, Colonel Siso says, "That too hardly happens anymore, almost." Despite the overall calm, the forces of the Samaria Division, like all Central Command, are on high alert for the possibility that everything could change suddenly, and there could be a wave of attacks, especially close to Ramadan.

This is why the division still operates four battalions reinforced by territorial defense forces in all the settlements. And if the Ramadan period also passes peacefully, the high alertness will be maintained towards what the Palestinians call "Nakba Day," which falls this year on the original Gregorian date of the outbreak of the War of Independence - May 14th.

The real failure of Unit 8200

In the northern arena, the IDF is far from dealing a decisive blow to Hezbollah. The exchanges of fire are becoming more intense, and this week included rocket fire into the depths of the Galilee and the Golan Heights, as well as anti-tank missile fire towards the aerial control base in Meron, almost becoming routine, alongside the interception of an IDF "Zik" drone. Sirens were heard on Thursday even in Haifa Bay, not to mention the dozens of evacuated communities that continue suffering destruction.

On the other hand, the Air Force bombed Hezbollah's anti-aircraft missile system located in Baalbek, deep in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, more than a hundred kilometers north of Metula.

The Fire Center of the Northern Command is operated from the underground bunker of the Northern Command headquarters near Safed. The commander of the center is a former Air Force officer, indicating that the coordination between the ground forces and the Air Force, which characterizes the fighting in the Gaza Strip, also occurs in the north. A significant portion of the attacks in the north are targeted assassinations, including in the heart of Damascus or Beirut, and they are either directed from the Air Force bunker in the Kiriya in Tel Aviv or from the headquarters of the General Security Service in central Israel, depending on the target.

In general, targeted assassinations, which continued throughout the week, of all echelons of Hezbollah's Radwan forces, one top commander after another – individuals very close to Hassan Nasrallah – alongside Iranians killed in the heart of Damascus – teach us that both the Iranians and Hezbollah can be infiltrated in a manner unimaginable to Israeli intelligence, which can pinpoint its targets even within innocent-looking apartments in densely populated residential neighborhoods.

This achievement seemingly contradicts the reports of intelligence failure preceding the attack on October 7th. Details of the failure are accumulating, especially after the military censorship caved this week in the face of reports that began on Channel 14. It was revealed that there was an alert based on the activation of Israeli SIM cards on the phones of Hamas’ Nukhba terrorists, which suddenly turned on after midnight on the night preceding the attack.

As expected, this report sparked a debate (primarily on X and less among the general public) regarding the allocation of responsibility for the October 7th failure between the political echelon, led by the Prime Minister, and the military echelon, whose failure was undoubtedly colossal. (My opinion: There is enough failure to go around for everyone, both the political and military echelons).

In any case, the exposure of the "SIM warning" is an opportunity to shed light on aspects of Unit 8200's failure and the entire intelligence branch, beyond the immediate warning lapse. Two weeks ago, in this column, I addressed the failure of the Shin Bet in activating human intelligence, meaning agents, who could have provided a clear warning as 3,000 Nukhba terrorists were about to invade the Negev.

This time, the emphasis is on the failure of signals intelligence, known professionally as "SIGINT.” Meaning, the deciphering of signals of various types that are intercepted by the central collection unit of the Intelligence Corps' Unit 8200. The unit, which enjoyed immense prestige until October 7, 2023 (and achieved remarkable successes even during the war itself), is the largest in the IDF and one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Part of its failure is related to its addiction to information obtained through cyber means. Cyber intelligence is very enticing because it allows those who acquire it to access a wealth of valuable information even when it is dormant within remote computer drives or mobile phones, not just when the information is in transit, as it used to be – meaning only during a conversation between two individuals, which had to be intercepted, recorded, and deciphered in a laborious process.

The success of cyber operations has led to the neglect of basic intelligence tasks, including SIGINT, which involves intercepting and interpreting transmissions by network intelligence officers.

One of the fathers of this failure is Brigadier General Y., who was appointed to command Unit 8200 over two years ago. His appointment was made despite strong opposition from two previous commanders of Unit 8200, Brigadier General Ehud Shneorson and Brigadier General Asaf Kochan. Former Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, and the head of Military Intelligence, Major General Aharon Haliva, ignored their reservations before the appointment.

One of the reasons for the opposition was that Y. does not stem from Unit 8200, but emerged from the field intelligence units of the IDF. Appointing him as the commander of Unit 8200 was akin to appointing someone who was not a pilot as the commander of an air force base. The problem was that Y appointed many other officers who emerged from field intelligence, including to central core positions in the network intelligence of Unit 8200, such as the head of the Intelligence Center, at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Y belongs to the type of extroverted commanders who are deeply involved in organizational politics. Two of his flagship programs during his tenure are somewhat detached from the core professional aspects of Unit 8200 – one addressing global warming and the other related to promoting peripheral members within Unit 8200 (although the "Atidim" program has been dealing with this for many years with considerable success).

At the same time, it is hard to believe, but Y was not aware that a non-commissioned female officer, V, had warned a Unit 8200 in southern Israel that Hamas was prepared and ready to carry out a widespread raid in the Negev as part of the "Jericho Walls" plan, which was unconventionally achieved by the unit.

On one hand, Y called on the personnel of Unit 8200 to think outside the box, drawing from the lessons of the Yom Kippur War failure. However, in practice, he himself did not raise on the highest tables of the IDF or at the Defense Minister's desk the possibility that Hamas might not be deterred.

In hindsight, it seems that both the intelligence community and the Shin Bet fell victim to Yahya Sinwar's sophisticated deception: he led Israel to believe that Hamas was genuinely uninterested in confrontation. Perhaps he sent false messages through channels he believed Israel was listening to – after all, the methods of operation of the IDF's Intelligence Directorate were nearly fully exposed to him during the failure of a General Staff Reconnaissance Unit operation in Khan Yunis in November 2018 (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Paris when this critical operation went awry).

Sinwar shared the secret of the planned raid with a very limited number of people and did not even disclose the exact timing to the Iranians and Hezbollah. He even led the Nukhba members to believe that they were going out for another drill, as had happened several times before. The deception was so convincing that the head of the Shin Bet and the personnel of the IDF Intelligence Directorate, captured in the belief that Hamas was deterred, wanted to believe on the morning of October 7th that it was just an exercise, even when the Israeli SIM cards were activated.

The SIM card activation was also not done for the first time. Perhaps it was done before to "accustom" the Israeli intelligence or because a raid that was planned for Passover was postponed.


This unprecedented intelligence failure, worse even than the one that preceded the Yom Kippur War, will continue to be detailed with volumes of lessons learned, investigation testimonies, and books. In the meantime, this is just another (brief) angle to consider regarding the failure.

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