New report says the IDF's elite intelligence unit saw signs Hamas was preparing a terror attack

  • A new report says an elite IDF intelligence unit warned that Hamas was practicing for a big attack.

  • An officer detailed the extensive drills in July, according to Israeli outlet Channel 12.

  • The Hamas exercises reportedly included storming a kibbutz and mass killing.

An elite intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) saw signs that Hamas was preparing for a massive terror attack, but early warnings ultimately went ignored, according to a new report.

Israeli media outlet Channel 12 obtained internal correspondence from within the IDF's Unit 8200 showing that in early July, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) warned others in detail that Hamas had carried out extensive drills practicing various assault tactics several weeks earlier.

Unit 8200 is part of the IDF's decades-old Military Intelligence Directorate, which is responsible for collecting and processing intelligence from enemy groups like Hamas. 8200 is the directorate's main information gathering unit, and its soldiers are also tasked with analyzing and sharing intelligence with relevant officials. "The unit operates in all zones and in wartime, they join combat field headquarters in order to enable a faster flow of information," the IDF said of the unit in 2021.

In an email titled "Death in the kibbutz," the NCO described very specific training that Hamas carried out in late May.

According to Channel 12, which published its report on Monday, the militant group practiced mounting vehicles, shooting at aircraft, attacking a military base, and storming a kibbutz. Hamas went on to do all of these things on October 7 during its bloody rampage in southern Israel, which killed around 1,200 people, wounded many more, and saw more than 200 others taken hostage in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Hamas militants are seen during a military show in the Bani Suheila district on July 20, 2017 in Gaza City, Gaza.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

According to Channel 12's reporting, the NCO's colleagues did not ignore the warnings, and they even collected intelligence on additional Hamas training a few days later.

"Another small and cute note — during the training, the following conversation occurred: 'What is your situation, and what is the situation of your preparation. I am waiting for instructions from you so we can enter through their gate. We are in full preparation, waiting for instructions from you," the NCO reported in a follow-up email after collecting the reports of new training.

In mid-July, a senior officer in the 8200 praised the NCO for her work but dismissed the scenarios in her warnings as unrealistic and imaginary, according to Channel 12. But the NCO, along with another colleague, pushed back and argued that the training had real, strategic implications.

"This is a plan with intentions to start a war," the NCO said at one point in defense of the seriousness of the intelligence. She quoted high-ranking Hamas militants in saying "war phrases" about preparing to kill Jews and decapitate people. "They are training, in large forces, for a big event. This is not a parade of power, this is preparation for the real thing," she said.

A soldier steps over debris outside a damaged home in Israel.
Aftermath of a mass infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip, in Kibbutz Be'eri.REUTERS

"The IDF is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas. Questions of this kind will be looked into in a later stage," the IDF said in response to Business Insider's request for comment on the Channel 12 report.

The report is the latest attempting to piece together the larger account of how the terror attacks managed to unfold and unpack the major security and intelligence lapses that occurred in the lead-up to the most catastrophic breach of Israel's defenses since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Shortly after Israel declared war on Hamas, reports began to surface about the various factors that potentially contributed to the carnage. For example, Israeli intelligence was focused on other threats, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, and downplayed the dangers of Hamas. The militant group, meanwhile, misled the country by indicating that it was not seeking a major confrontation and even refrained from carrying out rocket attacks in recent years. Israel also relied heavily on the remote surveillance and weaponry that it had deployed near the Gaza border, and its forces were focused on other areas of instability like those in the West Bank.

Paul Pillar, a non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington-based think tank, said that while part of the failure relies on intelligence, it was also a broader defense issue. Israeli officials didn't believe Hamas had the capabilities to pull off a large attack, and they were confident enough that protective measures like border fences and other safeguards would be enough to prevent such an operation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with soldiers as he visits an Israeli army base in Tze'elim, Israel November 7, 2023.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with soldiers as he visits an Israeli army base in Tze'elim, Israel November 7, 2023.Israeli Government Press Office/Haim Zach/Handout via REUTERS

"They were wrong about that," Pillar, who had a nearly three-decade-long career in the US intelligence community, told Business Insider. Although "it's not just a matter of intelligence analysis, but rather of larger security policy and security considerations."

Intelligence analysis, he stressed, is also a product of consensus building; a single report won't necessarily change the entire discussion overnight. And beyond what's been revealed about the warnings in hindsight, it's also unclear what other signals and noise analysts had to sift through and make sense of at the time.

Domestic political drama also factored into the bigger picture. A controversial plan to overall Israel's judiciary — led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government — created internal divisions and distractions within Israeli society, raising concerns that the country's security apparatus was weakened as a result. Experts suggested after October 7 that Hamas sought an opportunity to exploit this.

Pillar said Netanyahu's government exuded a confidence that the security situation was contained, and there was an added incentive to have this thinking prevail because of the tense political environment. This was "bound to distract from the ability to do sound analysis when it came to asking … questions about what Hamas might've actually been up to," he said.

Business Insider's Deep Cleaned Video Fellow Alisa Kaff provided translations for this report.

Update: December 1, 2023This post has been updated with comment from the Israel Defense Forces.

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