Swords of Iron

Fighting for your career instead of against Hamas

 Following the October 7 massacre, the question of who should be held accountable remains. We must be vigilant as reports come out about who received a warning before the attack

In June 2021, just a few weeks after Operation Guardian of the Walls had ended against Hamas, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva gave an interview to Yediot Ahronot.

“I believe that we can achieve five years of complete quiet with the Gaza Strip,” the incoming head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence said. “If there is one thing that [Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar wants, it is to go back to May 10 at 5:59 p.m. and cancel the order to fire rockets at Jerusalem.”

Despite renewed violence a year later, Haliva stuck to his prediction of quiet.

In September 2022, he took to the stage at a conference in Herzliya and again predicted that there would be quiet for five years, even though the IDF had just finished another short operation against Hamas in Gaza.

“I stand by what I said – that we will have five years of quiet,” the IDF general said. “In Gaza, I identify that alongside our military force and deterrence, the actions taken by Israel to stabilize the economy, allow in workers, and improve the quality of life all have the potential to create years of quiet.”

The price of error

Haliva could not have been more wrong. The attacks on October 7 proved not only that Haliva was misinformed and misguided but also that he was disconnected. To speak that way and to make promises with nothing to back them up shows a level of disconnect that should not exist in the high echelons of any military.

And while Haliva has recognized his part in the failure and taken responsibility, he is not the problem but rather the symptom. Alongside the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Ronen Bar, the IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.

Herzi Halevi, and the head of the IDF Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yaron Finkelman, everyone was negligent in their role and failed to provide the one thing that intelligence agencies are meant to do: warn when a war is coming.As a result, there is little doubt that these men will remain in their jobs. Sources close to Haliva and Halevi have said, for example, that when the war is over and security has been restored to the country, both men will step down.

PERSONALLY, I am torn on the question if it would not be preferable for them to step down now. There is precedent for replacing top officials in the middle of a war. The British did that in World War II, and Israel did it in more recent wars, like during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when it sent the deputy chief of staff to shadow the head of the Northern Command.

The argument for them to remain in office is that they have the greatest desire to win and that removing them in the middle of a war would be a blow to morale. On the other hand, there is a strong argument that their current decisions and intentions cannot be completely trusted.

Each of these men might have, somewhere in the back of their minds, the thought that if they do something a specific way, just maybe they will be able to salvage their career and their reputation. Is that the person you want making decisions in a time of crisis? I don’t think so.

Nevertheless, this column is not about calling on Israel’s security chiefs to resign right now. They will end up doing what they think is right and whether they stay or go now, the Israeli public and the commission of inquiry that will be established after this war will hold them accountable. Their days in office are numbered.

Who is responsible?

What we do need though, is to be vigilant as various reports come out over who knew what exactly, which officer received a warning, when he received it, and what he did with it.

After the wave of reports this week, the most famous person in the IDF right now is a non-commissioned career servicewoman from Unit 8200 who can only be identified by the first letter of her name, V.

V. has become famous for an intelligence brief she authored a few weeks before the October 7 Hamas massacre, warning that the terrorist group was planning a large-scale attack that would include infiltrating Kibbutzim and other towns along the border. Based on some of the reports, the warning made its way to Haliva, who ignored it.

Other reports claim that Haliva never heard of the V. document and that he had even visited the Southern Command just a week before the invasion, meeting with all of the different officers. No one, these reports claim, warned him of an imminent Hamas attack.

The reason vigilance is needed is because all of these stories right now are coming from sources with an interest in their coming out. The first interested party is Haliva, who wants to try and exonerate his name and salvage what he can of his reputation.

He has served with distinction in the military for 37 years, and while October 7 is a massive failure that will end his career, it should not erase everything he has done over almost four decades for Israel’s security.

ON THE other hand, there is little doubt that some of these stories are also coming from people close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, a few weeks ago, ordered his staff to begin collecting documents from previous security cabinet meetings. The prime minister has a definite interest in shining that spotlight – when it comes to responsibility for the failure – on the IDF and officers like Haliva.

Netanyahu already placed the blame personally on the military intelligence chief’s shoulders when he tweeted in late October that he never received a warning from Haliva or Bar about an impending Hamas attack. Instead, he said, they consistently assured him that Hamas was deterred.

These reports are the manifestation of the battle over public opinion that is currently raging in Israel ahead of the mudslinging that will commence when the war ends. A poll taken by Jewish People Policy Institute fellow Shmuel Rosner asked Israelis who they blame for the failures that led to the October 7 disaster: 30% blame the government, 26% blame the IDF, and 38% blame both equally.

Netanyahu’s goal will be to shift those numbers and move some of the people who blame his government over to the group that blames the IDF.

This is his plan for how to survive politically when the war is over and protests erupt calling on him to resign. If more people start believing now that he is innocent and the IDF was the one that failed to predict that Hamas was going to attack and to warn the prime minister ahead of time, then his chances of survival increase.

This is an ugly battle that has no place right now as the IDF gears up for a resumption of its ground offensive in Gaza and Israel works daily to ensure that more hostages are brought home.

Which leads us back to the question above: should the people who were part of the failures be allowed to remain in office? Here, there is no easy answer.

Published by Jerusalem Post