Swords of Iron

Change needs to come to Israel’s post October 7 state

Practically, what Netanyahu wants to do is also keep the public focused on the SIM cards and distract people from what really led to October 7.

When I moved to Israel in the mid-1990s, there were two bus lines that could take me from my home in Jerusalem to high school on the other side of town. Some days I would take the 24 and on others, especially if I wanted to stop in the center of town, I would take the 18.

February 25, 1996 started like any other Sunday – I woke up early, packed a bag, a lunch and headed out to catch a bus for the 45-minute ride to school. I took the 24 that morning and when the bus crossed near the Knesset I saw the smoke rising just a few hundred meters away on Jaffa Road. A Hamas suicide bomber, we later learned, had blown himself up on an 18 bus killing 26 people.

It was a tragic morning and, today – 26 years later – I still remember how when I passed through town on the way home, people were standing at a bus stop just a few feet away from the scene of the attack. They were waiting for another 18.

It struck me as strange. The burnt marks were still visible on the street. Didn’t people want to give themselves a day before taking the 18 bus again? Didn’t they want to wait a bit?

The story has stuck with me since as a tale that encapsulates what I believe are Israel’s strength and weakness together. On the one hand, there is definite strength in deciding to press forward and in refusing to let a terrorist group dictate how to live your life.

Had Israel refused to get back up after all the tragedies that have been inflicted upon the state in its almost 76 years, it would never have achieved what it became – a powerful, robust, and vibrant democracy.

With that said though, there is also a flaw in this way of life. By immediately getting up and moving on, the country sometimes misses the opportunity to seriously grapple with the issue at hand. By providing tactical responses, it doesn’t deal with the root and foundation of its problems.

This is all worth keeping in mind in the context of the news this week that Israeli intelligence had an indication late at night on October 6 that something might be amiss. Several dozen Hamas terrorists had switched their Gaza SIM cards for Israeli ones in the hours before the attack and doing so set off an alarm in the Israeli intelligence community. Unfortunately, the alert was misinterpreted, and did not prevent the massacre that would start in just a few hours later.

Until this week, the story had been banned for publication by the Military Censor which changed its mind after Channel 14 violated the ban, pushing the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to put out an official statement.

But here is where things got interesting. Netanyahu’s office initially put out a statement claiming that he did not know about the SIM cards until it came out on Channel 14. The statement was strange: how is it possible that the PM did not know about one of the main causes for alert that fateful night? Is it possible that he had not heard what practically every journalist in Israel who has been covering this war has known for months?

After a couple of hours, and after some defense officials were said that they had been at meetings with the PM in the days after the October 7 attacks where the SIM cards were discussed, Netanyahu’s office put out a new statement changing his original version. Apparently, he had heard about the SIM cards but not to the extent now released for publication.

THE QUESTION is why would Netanyahu issue a false statement to begin with? Why not either say nothing or say that you knew about it and have ordered the agencies to investigate what went wrong?

What Netanyahu seems to be trying to do is distance himself, as much as possible, from the intelligence failures that led to the Hamas attack. He wants to avoid any connection to the mistakes, which is why he has also consistently refused to take responsibility for how we got to where we are today. In other words, what happened that night was the IDF and Shin Bet’s fault. It had nothing to do with Netanyahu.

Security Cabinet of Israel. Photo by GPO

Practically, what Netanyahu wants to do is also keep the public focused on the SIM cards and distract people from what really led to October 7. He wants to make it seem as if everything that happened that day is because of misinterpreted intelligence. That is why Hamas broke through the border and that is why Hamas succeeded in murdering more than 1,200 Israelis. Israel messed up the intelligence.

This is going back to that same symptom described above. It is meant to make Israelis focus on the here and now, the tactical, the obvious problem and the quick and easy solution that will follow. The Shin Bet and IDF didn’t read the intelligence correctly? Next time they will. The border defenses didn’t stop the infiltrators? Next time they will.

These are easy solutions that try to avoid the root of the problem – how we got here, how we were blinded as a country and how we believed in an illusion in which our enemy, Hamas, could be contained and not succeed in pulling off an attack the likes of October 7.

That was a mistake, and the question that Israelis need to ask now is not only how to ensure that such an attack does not happen again, but also how can we guarantee that the country – in five, 10 and 20 years – will not fall into another strategic blindness.

The problem is that this state of mind does not apply only to high-intensity conflicts like Gaza. It is also evident in smaller, yet still important matters and October 7 has the potential to be the catalyst for change that Israelis have long needed – substantive change and deep-rooted transformation that tackles the main challenges our country faces. This includes the lack of equality in military service, the flaws in our electoral system, our failing education system, and obviously also the way we perceive the enemies along our borders.

Grappling with these issues will be the real win that Israelis deserve from this war. It is not about SIM cards but about change. That is what is needed.

Published by Jerusalem Post