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NY Times investigation: IDF had no plan for responding to a Hamas attack

The Israel Defense Forces’ lack of a plan to handle a massive Hamas assault on the country contributed to its slow and inefficient response to the October 7 attacks, The New York Times reported Saturday, in a story focused on the military’s operational failures as the attack unfolded. The investigative report was based on interviews with current and former soldiers, officers and officials, some of whom spoke anonymously.

“There was no defense plan for a surprise attack,” Amir Avivi, a former deputy head of the Gaza Division, told the paper, while former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror added: “The army does not prepare itself for things it thinks are impossible.”

Much has been written of the Israeli intelligence failures that enabled Hamas to catch Israel by complete surprise in its brutal onslaught on southern Israel, which saw terrorists kill some 1,200 people, most of them civilians slaughtered in their home communities and at an outdoor music festival amid vicious atrocities — rapes, executions, the burning of people alive — and kidnap around 240 others. But another aspect under scrutiny is its lackluster and sluggish response to the attack once it began in the early hours of October 7, with multiple failures of defensive strategies and command and control systems enabling terrorists to rampage through communities for long hours, murdering and pillaging.

The New York Times report paints a picture of a military that for too long on the day failed to understand the scale of the attack, sending teams that were ill-equipped to deal with a mass assault. As the military grappled with the unfathomable situation playing out in southern Israel, the first troop deployment occurred at 7:43 a.m. — over an hour into the Hamas invasion — when orders were issued for all emergency forces to move south.

The report also highlighted Hamas’s attack on the IDF’s Gaza Division base at Re’im as key to the assault’s success. With gunmen raiding the base, the besieged soldiers and commanders found themselves trying to defend it instead of leading the larger combat effort.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yom Tov Samia, a former head of the military’s Southern Command, decried the untenable concentration of the division command as well as the command centers for both Gaza brigades at the same base, meaning that a single effective assault by Hamas terrorists crippled the entire command structure responsible for coordinating all military activity in the region.

“In the same camp, you had all three of them — in the same location… What a mistake. What a mistake,” he said.

The report noted that military intelligence was aware of a long-time Hamas goal to take out this central base, but the IDF did not believe the terror group was capable of mounting such an effort.

Lacking clear directives or orders, many units as well as reservist soldiers resorted to using TV news and apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram to glean information on targets and locations in need of assistance.

The horrific situation in the south brought a rare order from the head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, at 9 a.m. in which he told “all combat-trained, weapons-carrying employees to go south.”

The report noted that adding to the lack of preparedness along the Gaza border, two commando companies of over 100 soldiers had been moved to the West Bank on October 5, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

“In practice, there wasn’t the right defensive preparation, no practice, and no equipping and building strength for such an operation,” Maj. Gen. Samia told The New York Times.

Other interviewees said that the only protocols in place for mobilization in the advent of an incursion were aimed at deployment within 24 hours, under the assumption that troops would be forewarned through military intelligence.

“The procedure states that we have the battalion ready for combat in 24 hours. There’s a checklist to authorize the distribution of everything. We practiced this for many years,” said Maj. (res.) Davidi Ben Zion.

Many soldiers rushed south of their own volition, among them Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram, head of the 99th Infantry Division, who told Israeli media that he received messages from soldiers, including, “Come save us,” “Send the army, quickly, they are killing us,” and “Sorry we’re turning to you, we’re already out of weapons.” Many soldiers left their homes relatively lightly armed, unprepared for the full-on battle that awaited them in the south.

Even at the elite Maglan commando unit, a mere 25 minutes from Gaza, the Times was told there were no “concrete missions,” with troops simply told to “just take a gun” and “save people.”

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot also added to the downgrade in preparedness. While there were three infantry battalions and one tank battalion positioned along Gaza’s border, stated the report, a senior military officer estimated that perhaps half of the 1,500 soldiers were away.

For those forces heading south, further significant delays were caused by Hamas’s ability to swiftly take control of highways in the region and set up ambushes on the key roads leading south, attacking troops as they arrived and causing forces to halt their advance toward communities in need.

The October 7 attacks sparked the worst-ever war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, with much of northern Gaza decimated by airstrikes and many thousands killed as the IDF seeks to end the terror group’s rule over the Strip and eliminate its command structure.

The military’s performance since it began its offensive in Gaza has been generally praised in Israel, with fewer losses than initially anticipated while facing Hamas’s long-prepared deadly urban battlefield within Gaza’s cities, with their vast arrays of tunnels, booby-trapped buildings and ambush traps. Israel has racked up significant military achievements in the two-month ground offensive so far.

But the country is widely expected to launch a massive investigation into the intelligence, policy and operational failures that enabled October 7’s atrocities to occur when the war in Gaza concludes.