(photo credit: REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)
The Israeli army withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 as part of the disengagement. The move necessitated a change in the intelligence community, and the direct contact between handler and agent became more difficult and complicated than it had been for the 40 years that Israel ruled over Gaza and was present on the ground. Gaza became, in fact, an independent entity, especially after Hamas carried out a coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007 and took control of the Gaza Strip.
However, it took the Israeli intelligence community 10 years to adjust to this new reality, mainly because the Israeli government, due to political concerns, did not want to define Gaza as an “enemy state” or a “target state,” a move that would have allegedly been seen as recognition of a Hamas state. As a result, the proper division of labor among the various bodies of the intelligence- gathering community was not implemented.
This is the picture that arises from the chapter on intelligence preparedness for Operation Protective Edge in the State Comptroller’s Report released Tuesday on the 2014 Gaza war. The chapter was heavily redacted in order not to avoid exposing intelligence activities and information.
The report emphasizes that in order for the government and cabinet to make decisions, and particularly if they wish to make quality decisions, they must receive all the necessary information from the intelligence community. According to the report, IDF Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) made a great effort to gather quality information, but they did not always present their findings before the security cabinet, or “they did not present the severity of the developing tunnel threat to the cabinet members in detail.”
The report also found that despite the intelligence-gathering efforts, the coverage of Gaza as a whole, and the tunnel threat
specifically, was not complete and there existed “intelligence gaps.” According to the comptroller, a shortage of intelligence can indeed occur, however it is the responsibility of the heads of the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence, as well as the IDF chief of staff and the defense minister, to inform the security cabinet of the shortcomings.
No less serious is the fact that then-Military Intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi and then-Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen did not inform the security cabinet of a “concrete plan” to counter “significant enemy activity,” the report found. This refers to the attack tunnels that Hamas dug, facilitating the infiltration of its operatives into Israeli territory during the war, who were killed by IDF forces during the infiltration attempts. The report recognizes that Military Intelligence did not have specific information on the time of the infiltration, but “the cabinet should have been informed of this.”
The report reveals battles over prestige and ego, and arguments over authority and jurisdiction between IDF Military Intelligence, led by Kochavi, and the Shin Bet, led by Cohen. These two organizations and their leaders did not fully cooperate with each other and at times hid information from one another. They also did not rejoice in cooperating, sharing information and taking part in National Security Council discussions led by Yossi Cohen, who today serves as head of the Mossad.
An argument between the state comptroller and Kochavi broke out over who is responsible for Gaza research. Kochavi decided that the investigation of the tunnels would be done by the IDF Southern Command and not by the Military Intelligence’s research division. The comptroller found that in doing so, Kochavi was practically defining the tunnel issue as a tactical threat, even though in various remarks he made he defined them as a “strategic threat.” Kochavi’s view is that despite his decision to place responsibility for research into the tunnels with the Southern Command, the Military Intelligence’s research division, which is stationed at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, provided information and was a full partner in the research activities and process.
The report put to rest the fundamental disagreement that arose between Shin Bet chief Cohen and IDF chief Benny Gantz and Kochavi, over a story on Channel 2’s investigative news program Uvda. In the television report, Shin Bet members claimed that they gave warning that a war was coming in the summer of 2014. After the broadcast, however, Cohen apologized to Gantz and Kochavi, who were angered by the claims. According to the comptroller, the IDF was right and there was not a concrete warning that a war would break out in the summer because in reality the two sides did not want war and were dragged into it against their will, among other things.
Only when Gadi Eisenkot became IDF chief of staff in 2015 was the decision made to define Gaza as a “target state,” and at the urging of Kochavi and his successor as Military Intelligence chief, Gen. Herzi Halevy, a pact was agreed upon in November 2016. This pact, or “Magna Carta” in intelligence jargon, was put together by the Service Heads Committee, which is led by the Mossad chief and includes the chiefs of Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet. The pact defines the distribution of authorities between the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence in all intelligence coverage of Gaza. It can be assumed that the Shin Bet is responsible for Human Intelligence and that Military Intelligence uses its abilities in the technological intelligence field, including cyber warfare.
However, despite this pact, cooperation between the organizations is inefficient, and the old spirit of suspicion and territoriality is still in the air.