Shocked and embarrassed was the best way to describe the mood at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on Thursday after the top brass learned of the final outcome of the Palestinian Authority elections and Hamas's unexpected landslide victory.
But after the shock wore off, senior officers began wondering how the IDF had totally failed to predict what appeared in retrospect to have been clear from the outset - and pointed their fingers in one direction, at Military Intelligence.
In line with the recent Palestinian polls, MI officers, as well as Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry officials, had for the past month predicted that Hamas would win somewhere between 30 percent to 40% of the vote, but that the ultimate winner would be Fatah.
"We slipped up," a member of General Staff told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. "What is most amusing is that the United States listened to us and our predictions, and in the end we were wrong."
But not everyone thought the mishap was amusing. One senior Defense Ministry official said the army had clearly failed in its job to accurately "read" the Palestinian street. The mistake, the official said, showed that MI was "out of touch" with what was really going on in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
"What this mistake shows," the official said, "is that the IDF is not on top of things and is out of touch with what is really going on in the PA territories."
Other officers tried to downplay the error and, in an attempt to do damage control, said a Hamas victory was taken into consideration by the defense establishment as one of many possible scenarios. To back up the claim, one officer recalled chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz's speech on Sunday at the Herzliya Conference, in which he said: "Fatah will win, Hamas will win, or anarchy will win."
The defense establishment is studying the election results and teams of IDF officers have been set up to pass on recommendations to the political echelon. But with Hamas at the helm of a new PA leadership, the IDF now needs to decide if it will keep up its "no contact" attitude toward the group. If so, one officer predicted, the army might be in trouble.
"We rely on the PA just like they rely on us," the officer said, giving as an example the work relationship between the IDF and the PA security forces. "If Hamas takes over, we might not be able to call up the PA police and ask them to blow up a bomb planted along the fence outside Gaza."
For now, officials said, Israel would continue rejecting Hamas just like Hamas continued to reject Israel. The key to creating a working relationship, one official said, was for Hamas "to change its attitude, recognize Israel's right to existence and cease terrorist activity."
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