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October 7 Was an Intelligence Catastrophe; Humility Will Be Required to Repair It

An Israeli soldier stands guard at moshav Netiv HaAsara which borders the Gaza Strip, in the aftermath of the deadly October 7 attack by terrorists from Palestinian Islamist antisemitic terror group Hamas, in southern Israel, November 19, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli intelligence failures — particularly those leading to the failure to warn of a large-scale attack, as suffered by Israel in the Hamas attack of October 7, 2023 — are typically followed by the creation of investigative committees that scrutinize intelligence processes, highlight gaps and vulnerabilities, and recommend mechanisms to prevent future failures.

But without a profound cultural shift within the intelligence organization and its personnel — specifically, the integration of humility into the organizational DNA — these mechanisms will not deliver the desired outcome.

Following the end of the current war, and after it receives its historical name (which probably will not be its current name, “Swords of Iron”), a State Commission of Inquiry will likely be established, and be tasked with providing accountability for the events leading up to the Hamas attack on the Jewish state on October 7, 2023.

One of the commission’s main areas of interest will be intelligence, which has been at the center of discussion in the weeks since the barbaric attack by Hamas. The Commission of Inquiry will investigate intelligence collection systems, research and analysis processes, the relationship between agencies in the Israeli intelligence community, the warning process and flow of information, the connection between the intelligence and political echelons, and more.

As always, after the committee examines the sequence of events, it will highlight positive aspects and strengths — but, as is often the more central aspect of such a commission’s work, it will primarily focus on the intelligence lapses that affected operational preparedness and contributed to the Israeli failure to anticipate and prepare for the Hamas attack.

The commission will make recommendations in various areas and address deficiencies in action that need to be overcome, as well as aspects related to responsibility and authority, organizational structure, and work processes among different apparatuses and units in the Israeli intelligence community. Some of the commission’s findings, it can be assumed, will concern the faulty “conception” or consensus within the intelligence community preceding the Hamas attack, similar to that found by its predecessor to have existed prior to the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago.

Within this framework, solutions and mechanisms challenging intelligence discourse will be offered. This occurred in the past with the establishment of the institutionalized “Red Team” (“Ipcha Mistabra“), which was tasked with generating alternative thinking to that of the consensus intelligence assessment; and the “Different Opinion” mechanism, which allowed any intelligence officer to present his or her assessment to the intelligence echelons regardless of rank or command hierarchy. However, none of these measures prevented the massive intelligence failures of October 7.

Research literature in the field of intelligence, both theoretical and empirical, is filled with learned and in-depth analyses of how intelligence agencies fail in their assessments. Sometimes there are gaps in collection and there are almost always gaps in analysis; together they adversely affect operational preparedness. Many have analyzed the cognitive biases leading to assessment failures. Some have focused on developing mechanisms to overcome these biases, such as structured analytical techniques, creating processes with built-in challenges to fundamental assumptions, diversifying those involved in intelligence work to present interpretations from different perspectives, and so on.

These ideas may be good, but none of them will lead to the necessary improvement without incorporating the fundamental component required by intelligence personnel and organizations: humility.

As long as the culture of the intelligence organization and the individuals who comprise it fail to internalize this characteristic into their professional DNA, the technical mechanisms designed to generate discourse challenging fundamental assumptions and prevailing interpretations — visible though they may be on the surface — will be limited in terms of their weight and influence on the final product of the assessment.

What does humility mean in this context? Maimonides defined humility as “the middle road between arrogance and self-abasement.” In other words, it does not require one to be hesitant or evade professional responsibility (self-abasement). For generations, intelligence personnel have been educated to express their opinions, innovate, and think, and rightly so. The role of intelligence is to generate statements that contribute to operational assessment and enable decision makers to prioritize, decide, and navigate at all levels, from the national level to the military tactical field level. Humility in this context does not mean creating an intelligence system that lacks backbone and self-confidence and hides behind convoluted and ambiguous formulations.

The reality is more complex. Humility means refraining from arrogance — that is, it is a constant conscious choice to enter into unsolved or dissonant areas despite the natural instinct to avoid such areas. Faced with the natural tendency of humans (including the author of this article) to gravitate towards harmonious places where one is on solid, familiar ground, intelligence humility requires, as expressed by an educational sage, “to agree to dwell in the realm of questioning.”

Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke about the concept of the “unknown unknown.” In the realm of things that humans do not know, the simpler area is things we know we don’t know (the “known unknown”). In other words, we know there is a gap in information, so we understand that attention should be given to either fill the gap or at least be cautious in our decision-making due to incomplete information. These are areas where, from an intelligence perspective, there is often a high awareness, such as coverage gaps or accessibility gaps, and they are mostly an integral part of the intelligence assessment processes.

The more challenging problem is in areas where we don’t know what we don’t know (the “unknown unknown”). These are interpretations of existing pieces of information that might be considered peculiar or unusual. This also involves the consideration of scenarios that not only would not be defined as a possibly dangerous course of action in military assessment but would not even be considered scenarios to be evaluated. These are the “unknown unknowns” from which intelligence surprises often come.

In many cases throughout history, and apparently also with the recent Hamas attack, information was available, and there were even some who were willing to think in a dissonant way about it that contradicted the more comfortable interpretation. But in retrospect, the entire security sector and intelligence community failed to create a situation where the information received the correct interpretation and/or was translated into operational readiness in accordance with that interpretation.

As described above, in the Israeli intelligence community there are many mechanisms ostensibly designed to allow a variety of interpretations, and it is reasonable to assume that interpretations willing to accept existing information did arise. However, the results teach us that humility, the basic component that can provide the proper attention to conflicting interpretations, was lacking in the system. Humility is a fundamental characteristic that affords the willingness to break systemic thought patterns and be open to interpretations that are not the consensus and likely will require a profound change in perceptions and actions.

It should be emphasized that there is no intention of letting any hypothetical scenario divert military force employment and deployment from end to end. It is self-evident that these processes should be built and prioritized in the face of an assumed scenario, based to a large extent on intelligence and geo-strategic analysis. However, an organizational and personal spirit of humility will lead to a significant tuning of the development of these scenarios, their diversification, and the addition of shadings that the absence of humility prevents from appearing. Finally, it should always be remembered that intelligence cannot be a condition for operational preparedness but should support and assist it.

An examination of the lessons learned from the intelligence failures discussed by the Agranat Commission, which investigated the Yom Kippur War, reveals that two of the main factors that contributed to the failure in assessment were a lack of humility, as defined in this article, and an overinflated confidence in the assessment of our forces’ capability to stop the threat. There was also found to be conformism in intelligence assessment. Even though there was, on the surface, room for different opinions, they didn’t influence the final and official “Israeli Military Intelligence Corps position.” For all the mechanisms intended to “save” the organization from being captive to a conception, both existing and those to be established in the wake of the current war, the intelligence community needs to be trained and educated to approach intelligence assessments through a lens of humility.

Dr. Natanel Flamer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University and senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA Center). He is the author of “Hamas Intelligence Warfare Against Israel”, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. Dr. Flamer specializes in intelligence, terrorism, and asymmetrical warfare in the Middle East. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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University of California Student Government Passes BDS Legislation

Graphic posted on a social media account administered by University of California-Davis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine on February 17, 2024. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Davis (UC Davis) student government passed on Friday legislation adopting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions, (BDS) movement and falsely accusing Israel of genocide.

“This bill prohibits the purchase of products from corporations identified as profiting from the genocide and occupation of the Palestinian people by the BDS National Committee,” says the measure, titled Senate Bill (SB) #52. “This bill seeks to address the human rights violations of the nation-state and government of Israel and establish a guideline of ethical spending.”

Puma, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Airbnb, Disney, and Sabra are all named on SJP’s “BDS List.”

Powers enumerated in the bill include veto power over all vendor contracts, which SJP specifically applied to “purchase orders for custom t-shirts,” a provision that may affect pro-Israel groups on campus. Such policies will be guided by a “BDS List” of targeted companies curated by SJP. The language of the legislation gives ASUCD the right to add more.

“No ASUCD funds shall be committed to the purchases of products or services of any corporation identified by the BDS List as being complicit in the violation of the human rights guaranteed to Palestinian civilians,” the bill adds.

A notable provision of the bill regards the charter for the Special Committee on Ethical Standing. It says the committee must be “dissolved” in a year and its”responsibilities” absorbed by UC Davis’ Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission, a division of the student government that which describes itself as a special advocacy group for non-white students. The requirement makes BDS a permanent policy of the school and links it to the issue of racial justice, which, on a college campus, serves as a safeguard against any future attempt to pass legislation proscribing the adoption of BDS.

SJP praised the bill’s passing and signing by ASUCD’s president, Francisco Javier Ojeda.

“The bill that was passed prevents any of the $20 million in the ASUCD budget from being spent on companies complicit in the occupation and genocide of Palestinians, as specified by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement,” the group said on social media. “From McDonald’s to Sabra to Chevron, none of our student feeds that fund ASUCD operations will be used to financially support 30+ companies that are complicit in Zionist violence.”

Students for Justice in Palestine at University of California-Davis is one of many SJP chapters that justified Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7. In a chilling statement posted after the world became aware of the terrorist group’s atrocities on that day, which included hundreds of civilian murders and sexual assaults, the group said “the responsibility for the current escalation of violence is entirely on the Israeli occupation.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters — which have said in their communications that Israeli civilians deserve to be murdered for being “settlers” — lead the way in promoting a campus environment hostile to Jewish and pro-Israel voices. Their aim, the civil rights group explained in an open letter published in December, is to “exclude and marginalize Jewish students,” whom they describe as “oppressors,” and encourage “confrontation” with them.

The ADL has urged colleges and universities to protect Jewish students from the group’s behavior, which, in many cases, has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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‘Horrifying and Heart Wrenching’: IDF Releases New Footage of Shiri Bibas and Her Young Sons in Gaza 

Ofri Bibas Levy, whose brother Yarden (34) was taken hostage with his wife Shiri (32) and 2 children Kfir (10 months) and Ariel (4), holds with her friend Tal Ulus pictures of them during an interview with Reuters, as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas continues, in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 13, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The IDF released “horrifying” new footage on Monday showing Israeli hostage Shiri Bibas and her two children flanked by gunmen in the Gaza Strip, filmed shortly after their abduction during the October 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel. 

Captured by surveillance cameras in Khan Younis, the footage shows Bibas wrapped in a sheet and clutching her red-haired sons, Ariel, aged 4, and Kfir, who was only 9 months old at the time of their abduction, and is the first proof of life since October 7. The children’s father, Yarden Bibas, was separately abducted and his condition remains unknown.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari expressed the military’s deep concerns over Shiri and her children’s fate. 

“Seeing this young mother clutching her babies surrounded by a group of armed terrorists is horrifying and heart wrenching,” he said at a press conference on Monday. 

“Those who have the audacity to question our need to operate in Gaza, but don’t have the basic decency and humanity to demand that Hamas release our hostages first of all, they all should take a good look at this terrified mother, Shiri, clutching her babies,” he said, adding that the IDF would “leave no stone unturned” in returning the hostages. 

The IDF, according to Hagari, lacks sufficient information to ascertain whether they are alive or dead but is “making every effort to obtain more information about their fate.” The footage was obtained from a Khan Younis military post belonging to the Mujahideen Brigades, a small armed group who are holding Bibas and her children. 

The Bibas family said in a statement that the videos “tore our hearts out.”

“Witnessing Shiri, Yarden, Ariel and Kfir, ripped away from their home in Nir Oz into this hellscape, feels unbearable and inhumane,” the family said.  “We’re issuing a desperate call to all the decision-makers in Israel and the world who are involved in the negotiations: Bring them home now. Make it clear to Hamas that kidnapping children is out of bounds.”

The family also called for Shiri and her children to be prioritized in any future hostage release deal with Hamas. 

Hamas had claimed in November that Shiri, Ariel, and Kfir were casualties of an IDF strike, a claim the IDF has contested as unverified and said at the time that the claim was part of the terror group’s “cruel and inhuman” psychological warfare. Hamas also released a video of a visibly distressed Yarden Bibas after he had been informed by his captors that his wife and children were killed by the IDF. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the footage as “heartbreaking” and said it “reminds us who we are dealing with — brutal baby kidnappers.”

“We will bring these kidnappers of babies and mothers to justice. They won’t get away with it,” Netanyahu said.

Irit Lahav, spokeswoman for the embattled community of Nir Oz, said that the video “reminds us that we are all held hostage until the return of all the hostages.”

A quarter of Nir Oz’s residents were either kidnapped or murdered on October 7. 

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Antisemitism Accusations Lodged Against Middlebury College

Illustrative: Pro-Hamas demonstrators are detained by police officers in New York during a protest at the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Accusations of institutional antisemitism against Middlebury College in Vermont have been lodged in a civil rights complaint filed by StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel.

The complaint, filed with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) argues that high level Middlebury College officials, by refusing to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally, have fostered a “pervasively hostile climate,” which prevents Jewish students from enjoying the full benefits of being a college student at a higher education receiving federal funds, according to the complaint.

A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering. In an email to one Jewish group that planned a vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”

A month later, the administration uncomplainingly accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official, a request which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.

StandWithUs also noted that Middlebury allegedly ignored numerous complaints of antisemitic harassment committed by anti-Zionist groups. After a local Chabad rabbi  wrote to school officials reporting acts of “intimidation,” including preventing Jews from entering the cafeteria, during a “Day of Resistance” event organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the school’s associate vice president of safety warned him not to report the incidents to outside law enforcement, saying that doing so would be a “risk to individuals and to our community.” The official also denied being aware of any antisemitic incidents.

“The hostile environment at Middlebury College and the administration’s failure to act to correct it are unacceptable,” Carly Gammill, Director of Legal Strategy at SWU Center for Legal Justice, in a press release issued on Friday. “Too often, when Jewish students raise concerns about antisemitism, they are subjected to administrators who deflect the bigotry at play”

“Jewish students deserve the same level of respect, consideration and lawful response as all minority groups when they report cases of bigotry and discrimination,” Gammill added.

Middlebury also allegedly refused to punish anti-Zionist students for using their social media accounts to publish hate speech. Social media posts that cheered Hamas’ atrocities as “decolonization,” called Jews “colonizers” deserving of being victims of violence, and said “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” proliferated in the days and weeks after Oct. 7, but this day, Middlebury has never issued a statement condemning antisemitism.

The Algemeiner has asked Middlebury College to comment on SWU’s allegations.

“Middlebury college has failed egregiously to provide adequate protecting for Jewish students seeking to remedy persistent antisemitic bigotry on campus,” Yael Lerman, SWU director of the Center for Legal Justice said in Friday’s press release. “Middlebury administrators disregarded student allegations, attempted to silence them, neglected to enforce its own rules, and at times were complicit in discriminating against Jewish students. In doing so, the college has violated its obligations under Title VI and must be held accountable.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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