TEL AVIV — Did Israeli security chiefs ignore warnings from female border guards who had evidence that something was afoot in Gaza before the deadly attacks by Hamas militants on Oct. 7?
That’s the explosive accusation leveled by several soldiers in Israel’s predominantly female border patrol force – known as tatzpitaniyot, or lookouts in Hebrew. Soldiers tell media their superiors ignored warnings about unusual activity inside Gaza, such as Palestinian guerrillas training with explosives or repeated attacks on a replica tank and fake post observation.
Their media statements are putting increased pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which is facing a storm following last month’s catastrophic intelligence error. The country’s legendary spy services ultimately failed to detect an impending Hamas attack, in which about 3,000 Palestinian fighters killed some 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped about 240.
In addition to the implications of sexism, the accusations fuel the sense that Netanayahu and his security services were complacent, believing they had nothing to fear from Hamas in Gaza. Netanyahu’s opponents even claim that he was actively strengthening Hamas in Gaza, with the support of Qatar, in a risky game of “divide and rule” that pitted the Islamists against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
The women’s warnings, issued over several months, did not fit the conventional wisdom that Hamas had been tamed. In what could prove to be another major mistake in a cascading series of errors, the women say top, mostly male commanders dismissed their concerns, insisted Hamas did not have the intending to go to war and ordered them to stop being so alarmist.
Known as the “eyes of the army”, the tatzpitaniyot use security cameras and sensors to monitor a 15 to 30 kilometer stretch of land for which they are each responsible. Monitoring includes any small changes in activity, including changing farmers’ habits. The work requires a lot of patience, concentration and hours spent staring at screens.
THE tatzpitaniyot, in particular, those at a base in Nahal Oz, one of several kibbutzim invaded on October 7, reported unusual signs along the border with Gaza. The activity wasn’t just minor: Hamas was sending drones several times a day in the weeks leading up to the attack.
One of the soldiers, identified only by her first name Ilana, told the Haaretz newspaper that he had observed Hamas fighters training for assaults. “A month and a half before the war, we saw that in one of the Hamas training camps they had built an exact, scale model of an observer post, like the one we operate. They started training there with drones to hit the shooter (machine gun),” Ilana said.
“Over the last two months, they started sending drones every day, sometimes several times a day, right next to the border, about 300 meters from the fence, and sometimes less,” he said. she adds.
Other tatzpitaniyot reported that Hamas gunmen were repeating attacks on armored vehicles using a replica of a Merkava Mark 4 tank, or that Hamas fighters were digging holes and planting explosives along the border. Israeli public broadcaster Kan and national broadcaster Channel 12 aired interviews with border watchers complaining of being ignored and asked to stop sounding the alarm.
The interviews add to claims last month by two female surveillance soldiers, Yael Rotenberg and Maya Desiatnik, who told Kan that in the months leading up to the attack, they reported numerous behaviors at the border that concerned them. Both were based in Nahal Oz, where 20 tatzpitaniyot were killed on October 7. Desiatnik was one of only two surveillance soldiers on the base that day who was not killed or kidnapped.
“It’s infuriating. We saw what was happening, we told them about it and we were the ones who were murdered,” she said.
One of the reasons why tatzpitaniyot were rejected is that they “did not fit the narrative that Hamas had evolved from a revolutionary movement and had moderated and become more institutionalized and pragmatic,” said Michael Milshtein, head of the Department of Palestinian Affairs from the Israeli Defense Intelligence Agency.
Milshtein criticized Netanyahu not only for misjudging Hamas, but also for allowing Qatar to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to Gaza, much of which is likely spent on the military wing of the faction. (Netanyahu himself told a Likud party conference in 2019 that “anyone who wants to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state must support the strengthening of Hamas.”)
“But it wasn’t just Bibi,” Milshtein added. “Senior politicians across the political spectrum, including Naftali Bennett, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, have embraced the idea, and it has also been promoted by the Israeli military. The Shabak (Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service) was skeptical at first, but then toed the line,” he told POLITICO.
“This narrative has become entrenched in the upper echelons of Israeli politics and has been supported by top military and intelligence officials. Governing was supposed to moderate Hamas and the warnings were not appropriate. But that was just wishful thinking.”
The Israeli army had no immediate comment on the testimony of the tatzpitaniyot when contacted by POLITICO.
Who will take responsibility for it?
Israeli military and intelligence chiefs accepted overall responsibility for their failure to prevent the October 7 attack. “The Directorate of Military Intelligence, under my command, failed to warn of the terrorist attack carried out by Hamas,” General Aharon Haliva, head of military intelligence, said in an open letter. “We have failed in our most important mission.”
A series of other defense officials, including the head of the Shin Bet, the IDF chief of staff and the head of the air force, have also stepped up their efforts and acknowledged responsibility, as have Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. They, however, refused to respond to specific allegations, saying that while the time for investigations will come, the focus should now be on winning the war.
This position has been widely accepted by opposition parties and lawmakers, who also believe that the war and the release of hostages held by Hamas should take priority.
Netanyahu has also taken this line, but unlike his defense and intelligence chiefs, the prime minister has accepted no responsibility for the failures that contributed to the Hamas attack. Instead, he insisted that his responsibility is solely to help Israel emerge from the war.
In an interview with CNN earlier this month, Netanyahu declined to answer when asked whether he took responsibility for his failure to prevent the attack, saying there would be a time for questions as ” difficult” once the war was over. “We’re going to answer all these questions,” he said. “Right now, I think what we need to do is unite the country in one goal: to achieve victory. »
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there was plenty of blame to go around – he described the attack as a collective failure – but he placed the blame squarely on Netanyahu’s court of Hamas.
“Over the past 15 years, Israel has done everything to devalue the Palestinian Authority and strengthen Hamas,” he told POLITICO. “Gaza was on the verge of collapse because it had no resources or money, and the Palestinian Authority refused to give money to Hamas. Bibi saved them. Bibi made a deal with Qatar and they started transferring millions and millions of dollars to Gaza. »
“But we all thought we could flirt with Hamas, that they would behave according to our expectations of them. And it all blew up in our faces.