Israel’s former National Security Adviser says the October 7 attack was a military and intelligence failure.
As Israel’s National Security Adviser from 2011 to 2013, Major General (retd) Yaakov Amidror’s tenure coincided with some of the most critical moments in Israel’s modern history. He headed the Israeli Military Intelligence Research Department, where he was tasked with deciphering intelligence and security challenges. He was also president of Israel’s National Defense College. After retiring in 2002, Major General Amidror remains a sought-after authority on national security issues in Israel. In this interview with Frontline, conducted in Tel Aviv, he shares his insights on the way forward for Israeli military operations and the challenges posed by Hamas. Excerpts:
As a military officer, did the Hamas attack come as a surprise to you? If yes, why, or if not, why not?
Hamas surprised us. It was both a military failure and an intelligence failure. But we have decided to postpone all investigations until the end of the war. As soon as we win the war, we will start a thorough investigation to understand what went wrong. But I can say that everything went wrong.
There was a lot of violence in the West Bank last year, the highest since 2005. Did you not expect the Palestinians to respond?
I told you. We have decided to postpone all investigations until the end of the war. I have no answer and no one has an answer.
The West has been very supportive of Israel. On the other side, the Arab world has united against Israeli attacks.
The Arab world has united on the basis of a lie, that Israel bombed a hospital in Gaza. The hospital was bombed by a failed [Palestine] Islamic Jihad rocket. Hamas claimed it was Israeli action and that 500 people were killed. The Europeans have people on the ground. They said there were no more than 100, probably around 50, and therefore they were certain it was not an Israeli bomb. The leaders know this is a big lie. But yes, the streets in the Arab world have adopted the Hamas lie.
“We are considering the possibility of war with Hezbollah. If Hezbollah comes into play, we will move most of our forces to the north.”
Images of Palestinian children and civilians, of hospitals being bombed, are being replayed all over the world. What is the final aim of the Israeli operations in Gaza?
First, the facts. The President of the US, the German Chancellor, the Prime Ministers of Britain, Greece, Romania, and Italy have all visited here, and the French President will be coming soon. The US and European countries are on Israel’s side in condemning Hamas and the slaughter of men and women and the kidnapping of children. The Arab world also condemns, in guarded terms, the Hamas operation that ended with 1,500 Israelis killed, 80 per cent of them civilians. So there is no erosion of Israel’s legitimacy in the free world. Yes, there are demonstrations, but mostly by Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians, not by the local population. Even among Arab Israelis, many condemn Hamas. They say a Muslim cannot be so disgraceful as to kill innocent civilians, which is forbidden in Islam and goes against the Hadith. I do not see any erosion of support for Israel in the countries that are important to us, like the US, the EU, India, Australia, and Canada.
There are rumours that Israel’s invincibility has been shaken, as in 1973, and that this will help the US get Israel to find a solution to the Palestinian question or make concessions to the Arab countries in the normalisation agreements.
I do not know what will happen after the war. We are not wasting time on that. We are concentrating on one thing now: winning the war. And to win the war, we have to destroy Hamas as an organisation and all its military capabilities. How long that will take, I do not know. Probably a few months. But that is what Israel is doing today. What will be the relationship between us and the Palestinians and the others in Gaza and Israel—these are good questions, but the answers will come after the war.
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Is there a possibility that this conflict will expand? Iran is involved through Hezbollah anyway. Is Israel capable of waging a two-front war like it did in 1967?
We are considering the possibility of war with Hezbollah. This is why Israel has recruited many of its reserve units, and the forces in the north are very strong, and the air force is slowly working through the target list in the south. If Hezbollah comes into play, we will move most of our forces to the north. That will be devastating for Hezbollah and for Lebanon. Much of Hezbollah’s camps are under civilian buildings. The settlements in southern Lebanon are centres of Hezbollah’s special forces.
Understanding this and without telling anyone, many Shiites have left southern Lebanon and moved towards Beirut because they know that the whole area will be under a huge amount of TNT. We need to neutralise Hezbollah’s special forces and the launching pads that are located under the basements of these places. The civilians there know what is under their houses and they expect Israel to act. The day Hezbollah decides to join the war, it will be the end of many places in Lebanon. Look at Gaza, that will be Lebanon. That is why the majority in Lebanon do not want this escalation.
Almost the whole world, including India, is in favour of a two-state solution where Israel has secure borders and Palestine has its own defined borders. Recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complicated this by showing a map without the West Bank and Gaza. There has been no progress on the Oslo Accords. What is Israel’s endgame?
We have had two attempts. In the Oslo agreement, we committed to withdraw our troops from the West Bank and divide the territory into three parts: A, B, and C. In Area A, the Palestinians will be completely independent: they can do what they want. In Area B, Israel will be responsible for security while the civilian side will be under the Palestinian Authority. For Area C, it was decided that Israel will keep control during the negotiations. There were only 52,000 people living in Area C. The rest belonged to the Palestinians. The result was that 122 Israelis were killed in one month—let us remember the spring of 2002. We took back the area, and now we are acting in Area A and Area B in the same way as in Area C when it comes to security issues.
Today [October 22] we bombed a mosque in Jenin with the air force because there was intelligence that Hamas people were there and preparing an operation. Israel is militarily engaged. We will not allow the Palestinian Authority to control Area A and B militarily; it is our duty to protect our citizens as long as Palestinians do not stop the violence.
The second experiment concerned Gaza. In 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed a withdrawal from Gaza, which was approved by the Knesset in February 2005 and completed in September 2005. When we withdrew, no Israeli remained there. We even took graves with us. They were dug up, and we also took bodies. They could have turned it into an enclave of peace and progress. But I do not need to explain what they made of it.
Iftikhar Gilani is an Indian journalist based in Ankara.