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Hamas attack on Israel: What US intelligence services told their European counterparts

In front of a house on the Be'eri kibbutz, Israel, where more than a hundred residents were killed on October 7, 2023, by Hamas men, October 13, 2023. In front of a house on the Be’eri kibbutz, Israel, where more than a hundred residents were killed on October 7, 2023, by Hamas men, October 13, 2023. LAURENT VAN DER STOCKT FOR LE MONDE

The attack by Hamas against Israel on October 7 did not just stun the public. Leaders in countries near Israel realized how little they knew about what was going on in the Gaza Strip, the point of departure for the terrorist commandos. And the element of surprise was so great and so destabilizing for the Western camp, also confronted with Islamist threats on its own soil, that the United States felt it was necessary to explain this major security failure to its main European allies.

Le Monde was able to collect, from sources who requested anonymity, part of the account given by Washington to its British, French and German partners. It highlights the limitations of Israeli and American intelligence on Hamas and the overemphasis on technological surveillance. It also attests to the fact that Hamas itself never imagined that its operation could reach such proportions. Finally, it repudiates the existence of any co-organization of the October 7 offensive with Iran and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

The American debriefing stressed, first and foremost, that the political wing of Hamas, whose leaders are based in Gaza but also abroad, notably in Qatar, was “kept out of the preparation of the armed attack.” Only the military branch was involved. However, the Americans pointed out that while Shin Beth and Mossad, Israel’s internal and external intelligence services, have human sources within the radical movement, they are essentially linked to its political wing.

Oblivious Israeli security

The Israeli security apparatus therefore remained oblivious to the activities of Hamas’s military wing. This US analysis of the events of October 7 did not, however, rule out the possibility that certain members of the political wing of Hamas, particularly in Gaza, may have been informed in advance on an individual basis. It simply suggested that the Israeli intelligence services did not have any informers among those individuals, and that any members of the Islamist movement whose interceptions could have been intercepted escaped the nets of Shin Beth. The strict separation between the political and military branches of Hamas is one of the keys to understanding an operation that slipped under the radar.

The strength of Israel’s technological surveillance, which is greatly supported by the US, also showed its flaws. According to the data passed on to the Europeans, even the powerful American surveillance tools aimed at the Gaza Strip, a 40-kilometer-long stretch of territory with a maximum width of 12 kilometers, were unable to pick up early warning signals that the attack was being prepared. The military wing of Hamas has long resorted to rudimentary but effective means of communication, thwarting the most modern interception techniques.

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