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The NYT is wrong about Israeli intelligence The IDF knew of Hamas's plan — and made the logical call

The NYT is spinning 'bad Israel' stories. Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images.

The NYT is spinning 'bad Israel' stories. Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images.


December 8, 2023   3 mins

The bad-faith reporting of Israeli news in The New York Times can overcome even the simplest arithmetic. Last month, there was a day-long rally for Israel in Washington that filled its Mall, with police attendance estimates ranging between 250,000 and 300,000. In the pages of the NYT, however, this became a gathering of “tens of thousands”.

As for Hamas’s recent attack, the NYT has already reported that Netanyahu’s policies focused on the West Bank and neglected Hamas. Indeed, it seems that the NYT keeps one Ronen Bergman as its Staff Writer for in-depth “bad-Israel” stories, and he works hard to deliver the goods. Having actually served in the Military Police, the lowest-prestige Corps of the armed forces, Bergman claimed an intelligence background to write about intelligence operations. (He once wrote that my much-missed friend Meir Dagan, the later Mossad chief, would personally strangle captured terrorists in an elbow lock when serving in military intelligence — a physical impossibility for short-armed Dagan.)

The latest is a carefully contrived misrepresentation of the reason that Israel was caught by surprise on October 7. Headlined “Israel Knew Hamas’s Attack Plan More Than a Year Ago”, it was based on a fundamental misconception — that the Israeli army is an active-duty force, as most armies indeed are. But the Israel Defence Forces is radically different: it is a reserves-centered force, one of only three in the world, along with the Finnish and Swiss armies.

Instead of consisting of active-duty forces that are up and running around the clock, the IDF mostly consists of reserve units. When mobilised for refresher training or to fight a war, the reservists go to their specific depots scattered around the country to collect their uniforms, kit and weapons — everything from pistols to battle tanks — before moving out as combat units ready for action.

That is how a country of some 7 million has more than 635,000 soldiers, airmen and sailors when fully mobilised, compared with the 2 million in all US armed forces, out of a population of some 330 million: that is, a ratio that is more than tenfold. Invented in 1948, the reserve system is the key to Israel’s military strength. Aside from allowing Israelis to work and raise their families while still being ready to fight, it also allows the Israeli troops who are on duty to train properly in unit exercises and larger manoeuvres, instead of being tied down to watch frontiers and hold outposts.

But there is a major catch: advance warning is needed to mobilise the reserves in time, and even with the best possible intelligence analysts, and all the best satellites, sensors and computers, the problem is not just hard… it is impossible. Had Israeli intelligence analysis, or the arrival of a complete war plan sold by an enterprising operative revealed Hamas’s plan for an attack on October 7, the Israelis would have sent much stronger forces to guard the Gaza perimeter. Instead of the lone Merkava tank whose capture by dozens of Hamas fighters was shown again and again in news videos, there would have been a company of 10 tanks in that position, which would have massacred the attackers with their machine-gun fire. As for the single mechanised infantry company with fewer than 100 solders that guarded a critical hinge position, there would have been a battalion or even two that would have crushed the attackers.

But then, of course, Hamas spotters would have seen Israeli troops ready to defeat them — and they would have called off the attack altogether. There is worse: once an attack warning is received and reinforcements are deployed so that the enemy calls off its planned attack, the intelligence indicators that got it right will be discredited as false alarms, while the intelligence officers who failed to heed the signs will be the ones everyone listens to the next time around.

That is how, almost exactly 50 years before Hamas’s recent invasion, President Anwar Sadat’s offensive across the Suez Canal caught the Israelis with only 411 soldiers holding the frontline forts. On the first day of the Yom Kippur War, they were attacked by a first wave of 20,000 Egyptian troops, with 10 ten times as many following behind them. Why were the Israelis surprised? Because they had got it right several months earlier, and had recalled reservists from their jobs and their families to take up their weapons and go to the front, which persuaded the Egyptians to call off their initial attack.

This is why, when a complete Hamas war plan was captured more than a year ago, identifying each target that would in fact be attacked on October 7 (the “rave” was a last-minute addition), there was no alarm and no mobilisation. The plan was one of many — Hamas was always fantasising about mass attacks, but would then limit itself to the launch of its rockets that Israel could reliably intercept.

In the half century between the intelligence failures of October 1973 and October 2023, the system worked so well that Israel could win its wars while still allowing Israelis to get on with their lives and build their country. That is how Israel, which started off in 1949 with a per capita income far below the European average, is now 13th in the world. Once in 50 years, the system fails — but the alternative, of mobilising in response to every possible threat, would be far worse.


Professor Edward Luttwak is a strategist and historian known for his works on grand strategy, geoeconomics, military history, and international relations.

ELuttwak

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Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
7 months ago

The fact that the NYT is regarded as a paper of record is a terrifying indication of the collapse in standards of both the US media and the corrupt elites that it serves.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
7 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The NYT has been a discredited rag for some years.
So who still buys it?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
7 months ago

I stopped reading it in the 90s when they simply refused to report on the Clinton/Lewinsky Oval Office ickiness until Drudge made it impossible to ignore.
I have friends and family who think it’s still a legit news organization and not simply the main mouthpiece for the political establishment. Suits them: they remain steadfast in believing mRNA jabs were preventive medicine, January 6th was an insurrection, Joe Biden’s idiocy is just a stutter, his son’s laptop was a plot by Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump is Hitler.
Who are the wild-eyed conspiracy theorists again?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
7 months ago

Look in a mirror.

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

She won’t see your reflection in her mirror 😉

Simon S
Simon S
7 months ago

Allison, I agree with all your points on NYT. Yet I so strongly differ from you (and most Unherd readers it appears) on Israel. I suspect (because I long since ceased to read the NYT (although I do receive some kind of strange daily emaiil) that most of its coverage has been very “pro Israel” and that the piece Luttwak references is an outlier.

What I seek is to hear the perspectives from all sides, expressed in good faith. And my issue with Unherd is that its coverage has been hopelessly one-sided.

If we humans cease to listen to each other we become less than human and we more and more readily sink into committing inhuman acts, the one against the other.

Last edited 7 months ago by Simon S
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

Not at all. I stopped reading NYT many years ago because their reporting on Israel and also on Jews in general is so distorted and insidiously negative as to be almost lost in the weeds by those who don’t know a lot about the topic. There is no good faith in the NYT when it comes to Jews/Israel.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

Of course, everyone is inherently “nice and kind”.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
7 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

Should we ask Unherd to write a piece from the Hamas perspective? I wouldn’t be frightened of that as long as it was heavy on fact and light on opinion.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
7 months ago

Aquaint yourself with the Arabic word taqiyya, which means it is okay to lie to the infidels. 

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll
Doug Israel
Doug Israel
7 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

Your suspicions are incorrect. The NY Times has been almost inconcievably hostile to Israel, its situation and its necessary response. In fact it has been deeplydeeply hostile to Israel for many years. The inclusion of Zionistic pundits like Bret Stephens is the outlier not the other way around.

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

Do you listen to Hamas and Islamists?
https://twitter.com/jakewsimons/status/1731291648364072995
https://twitter.com/dee_didasko/status/1732605678747861470
Try ‘discussing’ their issues with women and Jews.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
7 months ago

Same with my in-laws. I would ad to your list the Green Religion.

0 0
0 0
7 months ago

They always say “Never go full retard.”

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
6 months ago

You, I think…

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
7 months ago

I do. It’s sort of a “know thine enemy” thing.
Also, they have a funny way of letting reality slip thru occasionally. For instance, this morning, in a block-headed, tin-eared article about the Dublin situation, they came right out and admitted that the number of immigrants has grown drastically in just the last decade or so; a fact they usually avoid.
But it’s frightening how closely the spin of the Times tracks with the opinions of most people around me, and vice versa. No one even notices the reality slips.

Last edited 7 months ago by laurence scaduto
Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago

I wait with interest the Sinn Fein/IRA explaining in the US why they need funds for the Dublin Brigade.

sue vogel
sue vogel
7 months ago

Presumably those like-minded to people who still buy The Guardian…

Last edited 7 months ago by sue vogel
Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
7 months ago
Reply to  sue vogel

When I was a child in the 1980s, my parents had subscriptions to The Times, The Telegraph, and The Guardian as they believed in reading a variety of viewpoints. As an adult, in the early 2000s, I tried reading The Grauniad, as it was called at home, again and they had moved so far to the left that their opinion pieces read like a Labour Party prospectus.

Steven Targett
Steven Targett
7 months ago
Reply to  Katja Sipple

More like a Corbynite prospectus as the likes of Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee make Starmer look Tory.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago

Useful idiots.

Johan Rehnstrom
Johan Rehnstrom
7 months ago

I used to be a subscriber of NYT, but I switched to WSJ. Here in Sweden I used to subscribe for NYTs sister paper, Dagens Nyheter, but I have now switched to Svenska Dagbladet. Much better news coverage, and way less agenda and activism.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
7 months ago

Didn’t know any of that. Thanks.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
7 months ago

I have followed Luttwak since he wrote “Coup d’Etat” in the late 1960s, and “The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire” in the 1970s. His commentary on the current war in the Middle East has been very weak, almost as if he is, willing or not, a mouthpiece for the Israeli establishment’s preferred narrative. This article makes little sense and I therefore conclude it is either less than fully honest, or the Israeli government is in worse shape than I thought. (btw, I am an American Jew who very, very much wants Israel to survive as a Jewish state.)
This article does not present a good reason why the music rave was permitted to occur right next to Gaza, esp. on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. It says that Hamas already knew that Israel knew they were up to something big, as they (Hamas) had cancelled the planned attack in the Spring when they saw Israel was on to them. If Israel knew Hamas knew that Israel knew, there was no reason for Israel to let the music rave occur and plenty of reason to tell them, “Not there, too risky.” Even allowing that Hamas did not plan on there being a rave at that location, they were planning a large terror operation and Israel knew it. Unless the intent was to risk a massacre, but I find that very hard to believe. Or, gross negligence.
Furthermore, there is a huge range of military preparedness between a skeleton active force and total mobilization. If, as the article says, Israel knew about Hamas’ plans, just not exactly when, they surely could have, on a rotating basis, mobilized a couple of battalions and taken additional steps to secure the kibbutzim and towns near Gaza, without imperiling their whole national economy. Again, the alternatives are either they wanted it to happen, or gross negligence.
The idea that one existential war every 50 years is inevitable and an acceptable risk may or may not be true, but this article does not make that case as regards October 7.
Until and unless demonstrated otherwise, I venture that this article is the first move in a coordinated effort to rationalize away the Israeli government’s responsibility for not protecting its people on October 7, to enable it to return to power after the war is over and the unity coalition is dissolved.

Last edited 7 months ago by Martin Johnson
Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
7 months ago

Yes. However the attack could have been thwarted without calling up any reservists. The writer doesn’t mention that it has indeed been reported that the plan was originally for Pesach and was called off because they saw that Israel was on alert and waiting for them. Because of that, there was apparently a sentiment in the army that it had all been a false alarm. Just like Yom Kippur. However to stave off this attack, a few conscripted soldiers and their commanding officers would have stayed in for the Holiday weekend, not a general callup of reserves. That was the difference here, and the Intelligence missed it or didn’t want to look stupid and the alarm bells that were being sounded off everywhere from the people on the ground were ignored.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

They were there and were killed.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
7 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

How sad…

Tony Price
Tony Price
7 months ago

I’ve no idea about the general view of the piece, but I am pretty sure that having normal but short arms does not prevent one strangling someone with an armlock, especially if they have already been captured and so offering minimal resistance!

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
7 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Glad I’m not the only one looking at my arms and thinking that, while they’re not particularly long, necks are much narrower!
As to the article, always enjoy Luttwak.

Johan Rehnstrom
Johan Rehnstrom
7 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Perhaps he looked like a T-Rex.

Arthur G
Arthur G
7 months ago

The issue with the IDF is that they relied completely on a thin border defense. There was no “defense-in-depth”, as Luttwak wrote about eloquently in his Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire.
Israelis near the border were not armed. Reservists had to go to their depots to get weapons. Civilians were largely denied gun ownership. Kibbutzes with 1000 people had defense forces of 10, instead of every able bodied adult being armed and ready to fight. Hamas would have faced more armed resistance in a typical US town than they did from people living within 5 miles of Gaza.
If you can’t keep your border fully manned, your plan better not rely on stopping the enemy at the border.

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Is Israel big enough for ‘defence in depth’?

Vicky Ladizhinskaya
Vicky Ladizhinskaya
7 months ago

This article is misleading in a number of key facts. Israeli papers and my friends in the know in Israel all acknowledge a catastrophic misjudgement on the part of the current Israeli government which thought that the Gaza wall and it’s advanced technology would hold back Hammas within Gaza borders without doing a simple calculation that commercially available drones, paragliders and a construction bulldozer can make short work of it,call fcwhich was in their leaked plans.

It focused the might of the standing army in the West Bank because it is full of settlers, currently sitting in Government, which needed protection after their regular provocations, while neglecting the left leaning villages next to the Gaza border, which was not their core electorate.

It allowed all communications from the Gaza wall to go to a single base right next to the border, which was overrun in minutes.

And most crucially it allowed billions to ow to Hammas to equip itself as Netanyahu thought he cleverly divides the Palestinians by supporting Hammas against the Palestinian Authority.

Not acknowledging the catastrophic intelligence and planning failures of 7/10 just invites the next catastrophe instead of helping Israel.

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
7 months ago

The charge that the government diverted forces to protect people who voted for it and abandon those who didn’t, is a blood libel that has already been refuted. Forces were allocated by level of perceived threat and there was a total collapse of the governments’ wall-based defense strategy and blindness of those in the military hierarchy who were supposed to understand the signas coming to them that it was coming.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
7 months ago

Ah, well. Ex-post Connect-the-Dots-ism (ex post rationalizations) are easy to … rationalize ex post: Something bad happens; bad results indicate that the system is broken; we need to do something!
An alternative view would be that even the best designed systems will sometimes yield outcomes that deviate from an hypothesized ideal. Yield management is never 100%, and there may not be any wisdom to glean from connecting the dots ex post.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
7 months ago

No, there is ALWAYS wisdom to glean from an after-action analysis. It may conclude that it is not reasonable to hold anyone accountable for not stopping something bad, but you always want to know what happened so you can prevent similar from happening again.

Rob N
Rob N
7 months ago

Interesting article but I have to say that I doubt any vaguely normal bodied person is so short armed as to be unable to strange someone in an elbow lock.
“Meir Dagan, the later Mossad chief, would personally strangle captured terrorists in an elbow lock when serving in military intelligence — a physical impossibility for short-armed Dagan.”

N T
N T
7 months ago

Hubris is a terrible thing.
Also, there is a saying in financial markets that might apply:
Early is wrong.

N T
N T
7 months ago
Reply to  N T

Or…it doesn’t matter how many times you are right…

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago
Reply to  N T

For Israel that is even more the case. They’ll only ever lose once to combined Arab enemy states. The staggering thing is how many in the West must read or watch much of what Hamas and Islamists have to say about what they intend and then don’t believe it.
Any on here think Churchill was wrong demanding that the war continue until Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered or ask why he demanded it?
Here is a ‘Hamas mother’.
https://twitter.com/dee_didasko/status/1732605678747861470
and a child suicide bomber still kills people, as many in Afghanistan discovered.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
3 months ago

Well, according to Haaretz and others, October 7 has been seen in Israel as an unforgivable failure, so who is Luttwak trying to convince? Luttwak has shown himself to be so pro-Israel that he has lost his credibility as an analyst.

William Brand
William Brand
7 months ago

Israel also made the mistake of not arming its civilian population. Arms were kept in depots rather than people’s homes. They should require every civilian to keep the equipment of an infantryman in every home. Not in some depot. A child should have been given a pistol as part of his or her Bar Mitza ceremony and required to wear it whenever he or she leaves the house. Note that this would also deter schoolyard bullies.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago

SAUL HAS SLAIN HIS THOUSANDS AND DAVID HIS TENS OF THOUSANDS.

(* 1 Samuel 18:7.)

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago

IF these are the ‘tens of thousands’ – perhaps they sought it out as this women says they would.
https://twitter.com/dee_didasko/status/1732605678747861470

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
7 months ago

Far be it from me to defend the NYT, but this article lets the IDF and Mossad off too lightly. It reads like propaganda.

At the very least, the Israeli defence establishment is guilty of gross incompetence. But the incompetence was so spectacular that it’s reasonable to ask whether they deliberately allowed the attack.

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Hubris. Unbelievable complacency. The national narrative was that we were on a roll and successfully sidelining the “The Palestinian Problem” until it would go away from lack of interest. It is totally inconceivable that anyone deliberately let it happen.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
7 months ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

Inconceivable?

Because governments have never cynically sacrificed civilian lives in pursuit of what they considered to be a higher goal?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

It happens all the time, and has probably done so since Day One.

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

As I said earlier, Israel’s war is NOT like a western war. Israel’s war is literally one of annihilation. Their enemies even proclaim that is their aim. The raise their children to believe dying for it by suicide bombing is the greatest good they can do in the eyes of their God. So I do not believe any Israeli , short of treason, considering anything like that.
I think the problem is so many atheists exist in the West now that they have no concept of what Islam is about and the hold that religion has on many of its adherents. They think you can negotiate with the Ayatollah’s of Iran, or Hamas and believe all they say.
The only way I can believe anything Iran or Hamas say, in light of experience, is to ask;
‘Is this so beyond the pale when it comes to Western thought that it would terrify us all if we believed it?”
IF the answer to that is “Yes” – then you can believe them.

John Tyler
John Tyler
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

I think if you read it carefully you’ll see how that charge is answered.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
7 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

I read every word, I just don’t buy the excuses.

Especially around such an important anniversary, forces should have been on high alert.

Listen to Bret Weinstein’s interview with Efrat Fenigson.

John Tyler
John Tyler
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Fair enough!

UMM SPIKE
UMM SPIKE
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

I have; but she speaks as a foot soldier, not an intelligence expert, and admits so. Anyone who’s worked in any government/political arena can tell you that the professor’s account fits Occam’s razor far better.

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
7 months ago
Reply to  UMM SPIKE

She is not even speaking as a foot soldier. Remember that everyone is Israel has military experience and will offer you their learned opinion. She asks some very good questions but her answers are way too conspiratorial for me. Too many people would need to be involved for that conspiracy to have worked.

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

The answer to that is “Yom Kippur” – or was that also a conspiracy of Mossad?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by gross incompetence.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

You might ask the same question of the USS Maine, Pearl Harbour* or even 9/11.

(*82nd anniversary yesterday.)

Warren Francisco
Warren Francisco
7 months ago

*Harbor

Andrew Floyd
Andrew Floyd
7 months ago

Harbour

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Floyd

Not a description but a name, so Pearl Harbor (slightly vexing nonetheless).

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago

and the answers to each would be?

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Once might IF it wasn’t for two facts, a) It is Israel b) the enemy is Iran/Hamas
Israel’s wars are not like the wars we fight. Even the second world war for the Allies wasn’t a war of annihilation if defeated.
So I”d say, it is unreasonable to say they deliberately allowed the attack without there being ‘treason’ involved.

William Amos
William Amos
7 months ago

“Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian
 yoke;
Yet stay, let me not rashly call in doubt
Divine Prediction; what if all foretold
Had been 
fulfill’d
 but through mine own default, 
Whom have I to complain of but my self?”