"Tufan al-Aqsa" and Israel's Security Doctrine: Indicators of Failure and Challenges
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According to Israeli estimates, the Tufan al-Aqsa, a complex and multi-faceted operation, was neither accidental nor spontaneous in planning, and lasting a few days. It may have begun that way, but it had been discussed, studied, planned, and put into effect across many months or even longer.[1] Of note, and perhaps prematurely, is the fact that the Palestinian resistance in Gaza, especially the Qassam Brigades, has not yet revealed how it planned its operation, the means employed, the foreign aid received or how it carried it out, all these constituting progresses and an advance in quality and quantity from every point of view. The unprecedented operational, tactical, and strategic action points to the fact that the resistance did not carry out the operation until it had developed its military capabilities and performance in the field.

The October 7 attack resulted in a real crisis that touched the very heart of Israel’s military doctrine to the point where it has been described as a strategic earthquake that shook to the core the prestige of the Israeli army and its standing. Three of the four basic elements of that doctrine collapsed: advance warning, deterrence, and defense. The fourth element, victory (not outright victory) still depends upon the result of the ongoing war.

Israel’s military failure in the Tufan al-Aqsa operation occurred at three levels: leadership, intelligence, and military action. In this article, we shall discuss the following elements from the viewpoint of a failed military doctrine.

Early warning- intelligence failure

The failure of the early warning system was visible at several levels: human intelligence, excessive reliance on technology and coordination between various units, and intelligence estimates.

The failure of human intelligence was obvious in the lack of intelligence gathering and advanced listening equipment, since no information or even advanced warning of the planning of the operation existed, an operation that was long in planning, as is commonly thought. This meant that Israel did not possess any intelligence information about the operation, quite apart from social media networks among civilians which provided the warning signs to the security services as the attack began. Perhaps the excessive reliance on technology was one of the causes of intelligence failure since HUMINT (Human Intelligence), based upon spying, was unable to predict the possibility that the military arm of HAMAS was capable of a breakthrough and of being found in locations which provide an idea of what was happening.

Likewise, failure occurred through excessive reliance on SIGINT, which includes the internet, phone calls and media networks, run by Unit 8200, which ignored HAMAS’s formidable ability to maintain secrecy. Nor did it estimate that HAMAS was capable, over the course of two years of planning, preparing, organizing, and launching a broad-based military operation without using electronic signals.[2]

Infatuation with the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence was at the heart of the fiasco that overtook Unit 8200, causing it to fail in predicting the HAMAS attack on October 7, 2023. There is a widespread claim that Unit 8200 had described with great accuracy the forthcoming attack with all the detailed steps to counteract it, and all except its date. However, the Red Alert system, which introduced a centralized system run by super algorithms, a highly developed system in theory, was in practice unable to understand anything, since these algorithms didn’t know Arabic at all well and failed to understand the messages.

To this should be added weakness in coordination among various military units. It is possible that information gathered by tactical intelligence units (units that observe and gather information) was not conveyed to the analysis section of military intelligence or was ignored by general intelligence estimates and simply remained intelligence gathered by a single specialist unit. This would indicate a basic failure of culture and organizational performance as well as weaknesses in coordination with operational units.[3] Some reports indicated that the intelligence services issued documents warning of an escalating danger and clear signs of movements and maneuvers by HAMAS aimed at increasing its capabilities, but these reports were not given any importance or provided any reason that called for vigilance. 

The failure of both intelligence services, AMAN and SHABAK, was not confined to their failure to warn of real dangers but also their failure to predict, part of a larger strategic vision that for several successive years adopted strategic estimates to the effect that HAMAS was intimidated. This, in part, explains the lack of military readiness in the region of the Gaza Strip envelope. No discussion took place of a possible scenario where a sudden attack by several thousand elite HAMAS units would require a pragmatic military response, even though the protection of frontiers was one of the major issues which preoccupied the thinking of the army’s general staff in recent decades. Three years previously, to the month, i.e. in October 2020, Herzi Halevi published an article entitled “multi-lateral defense” which simulated the Tufan al-Aqsa operation, but which more likely focused his fears upon the tunnels dug by Hezbollah and the declarations by its leaders regarding the “occupation of Galilee.”[4] To be noted is the fact that HAMAS exploited these Israeli estimates and understood that endemic Israeli weakness which, as a “satisfied power,”[5] interpreted reality to suit its purposes. The facts on the ground would thus allow Israel to remain in a “comfort zone” that required no modifications.

The October 7 attack exposed the fragility of Israel’s strategy of technological deterrent. By using relatively simple technology, the fighters were able to breach the electronic wall and destroy its infrastructure. This, to a large extent, demolished the image that Israel had been constructing over many years: that of a citadel, technologically advanced and unbreachable.

On the other hand, HAMAS succeeded in forming an accurate military and intelligence idea of Israel’s defense system along the frontier wall, allowing it to evade the warning system, in addition to possessing effective scouting abilities which allowed it to attack military outposts and frontier settlements.

Furthermore, the HAMAS attack was based upon intelligence data, a basic part of which was civilian or military data not considered secret and were available to the public at large but were in fact of value to an enemy. In addition to military information, HAMAS possessed civilian, especially administrative, information allowing it to achieve its goals and to act effectively inside the settlements it invaded, in addition to possessing maps widely available to the public.[6]

Asymmetrical wars are characterized by large disparity in the balance of power between two sides. That is why the weaker side resorts in a conflict to non-conventional tactics based on flexibility and adaptability, allowing it to change strategy to conform with the conditions of battle. In the Tufan al-Aqsa operation in particular, a cluster of non-conventional tactics reached its maximum point in a traditional attack on Israel when elite units, trained to an unprecedently high degree, breached the metal fence. The attack was both sudden and shocking to Israel, on both the political and military levels.

Asymmetrical war forced the resistance to adopt attack as a tactical option and defense as a strategic option. In the Tufan al-Aqsa operation in particular, HAMAS adopted a combination of strategic deception and surprise on the strategic and tactical levels.

Strategic deception reflected itself in the way HAMAS conducted itself, encouraging Israel’s political and military leaders to base themselves on intelligence estimates that HAMAS was incapable of achieving any real goals, judging by its performance in earlier encounters. The fact that HAMAS had refrained from joining the previous two escalations against Al-Jihad al-Islami was interpreted as “proof” that HAMAS was following a path of moderation.

However, the greatest tactical surprise was the use of tunnels stretching right up against the frontier fence, making it impossible for any warning to be set off concurrently with the attack. Of equal importance, HAMAS managed to deactivate the surveillance and automatic firing systems as well as the communications system found at the frontier itself, using ordinary drones that dropped explosive devices.

The strategic surprise consisted in the fact that HAMAS managed to keep its movements secret or unworthy of note up until the very last moment, whether by preventing information leaks or by masquerading obvious preparations on the ground as simple maneuvers or preparations to celebrate “Return to the Homeland” parades. This prevented the surveillance and signaling systems placed by the Israeli army on the frontiers with Gaza from alerting the army to any suspicious moves taking place deep inside Gaza.


Israel’s deterrence strategy suffered a massive failure, failing on the one hand to understand and assess the conduct and mentality of its foe, and on the other, failing to implant in the mind of its foe the idea that if that foe acted in a hostile manner the harm done to that foe will far exceed any possible gain.

On the military level, Israel was unable, throughout the many previous conflicts, to recover deterrence, especially since the various Palestinian movements were able to retain their offensive capabilities against targets deep inside Israel and to offer steadfast resistance on the battlefield.

The failure of deterrence through punishment during previous bouts of escalation and the limited confrontation with HAMAS led to the failure of strategic and cumulative deterrence based upon containment and on maintaining the conflict with HAMAS and other Palestinian groups at a low level of tension. Surprisingly, the Israeli policy of containment not only failed to arrest the gradual advance in resistance capabilities but also afflicted Israel with strategic blindness.

Specifically, during this current war, there is an Israeli view that the withdrawals from Gaza, starting with the withdrawal of five brigades from the Gaza Strip on December 31, 2023, did not contribute to repairing the deterrence image, despite the withdrawal being justified as a tactical decision aimed at refurbishing these brigades to prepare them for the wider assault on Rafah.[7]

Concurrently, there was further deterioration of strategic deterrence in the way Israel handled the hostile strategic environment represented by Iran and its allies.

Israel is now committed to a deterrence strategy which provides it not only with achieving actual security but also allows it to enhance its awe as a deterrent power. Although this strategy has several advantages in granting Israel security, such awe could also have negative consequences. First, excessive reliance on the efficacy of the “awe of deterrence” played a vital role in allowing Israeli decision makers to grow even more extreme in handling Palestinian affairs, pushing the Palestinians into a corner and gravely complicating the current situation. Secondly, the deterrence awe created the illusion that deterrence solved all Israel’s problems and that, beneath its shadow, less attention need be paid to the threats of a “deterred” HAMAS. Nor is there any need to achieve a general settlement with the Palestinians, not to speak of the fact that deterrence also characterizes the conduct of the foe.

Outright victory

Outright victory remains a basic constituent of Israel’s security doctrine even though it abandoned that strategy and chose to resort to a deterrent strategy following the war on Lebanon in 2006.

The change from fighting regular to fighting irregular armies contributed to a reexamination of the concept of outright victory. Here, what we are talking about is not a regular army with a central command and forces deployed in certain locations to which a “decisive” blow can be aimed but about war against scattered groups, difficult to target and to wholly exterminate with one decisive blow.

In the ongoing war on Gaza in general, and particularly at its “third phase”, Israeli politicians and the military avoided speaking of an outright strategic victory such as HAMAS’s inability to repair its military capabilities and its response. Instead, the talk was of an outright military victory in the sense of an outright victory on the battlefield, that is, exterminating HAMAS in war. Likewise, in Israeli discourse there was a mingling of the terms victory and outright victory, aimed at enhancing the image of the security doctrine, i.e. victory in the sense of defeating HAMAS and creating an atmosphere where Israel appears to have achieved its declared military objectives. However, real victory depends upon the arrangements arrived at for the “next day” that follows the war, when outright military victory may not necessarily guarantee victory, which in future may simply be confined to outright victory in the sense of confronting diverse resistance groups with no central command. These latter will be difficult to undermine or eliminate. Thus, victory may mean “sufficient victory” in war, which means disabling the capabilities of resistance groups and perhaps achieving a period of peace but without eradicating these capabilities completely.

Furthermore, a transformation might occur in the concept of “eliminating the capabilities of the enemy.” If these prove difficult to eliminate, another concept might be adopted, namely, “eliminating the enemy’s mode of operation and performance” reflected on the operational level. This would require focusing intelligence principally on how the enemy accumulates his capabilities and less so on his motives and would also require developing the ability to digest data quickly and to enhance the ability of the Israeli army to respond fast.


Many people believe that preoccupation with defense, and the fact that defense had been successful until the October 7 operation, had effaced the fighting spirit of the Israeli army and relieved the politicians from the task of formulating a “real solution” for the threat from Gaza, since this necessitated long-term arrangements and readiness. Hence, it was decided to confine oneself to a security blanket furnished by the “iron dome.”[8]

According to available information, “defense” of the frontier with Gaza was built upon a mixture of physical obstacles above ground and a warning and communication system linked to command centers and army units stationed deep inside Israel. However, the physical obstacles were designed as a defense against specific attacks by commando groups. In case of the threat of a massed attack, the response would not consist in making the obstacle thicker or more technologically advanced but in fortifying the frontier with military troops, provided there is sufficient early warning.

From a practical point of view, the Israeli army was not ready for defense. No scenario positing a massed attack included any operational plan which at least embraced a second line of defense designed to deal with breaches of the first line. Nor did that scenario include a reserve force that enhanced efforts at “containment” or had the ability to counterattack. In other words, the defense system did not include any in depth defense elements. Hence, breaching the front line allowed the infiltrators to move deep inside the country with almost no obstacles in their path. Likewise, the actual deployment of the forces and of reservists (principally the air force) did not conform to any attack scenario and it is quite clear that the Israeli army had not been trained to deal with such a scenario.

After the war, basic elements for the security doctrine will be discussed, most notably: the necessity of restoring preventive war or a preemptive strike the core of Israeli security theory, and it may adopt new plans for the structure of the army, based on the idea of a people’s army, and a comprehensive review of the concept of recruitment, while previous plans were built on (Tiffin 2012) to invest in relying on qualitative and technological superiority. All this took place to the detriment of the land forces whose fighting capabilities deteriorated. Needed too is a rearrangement of priorities among these constituents with deterrence and outright victory as basic elements together with other possible elements such as thwarting and prevention.[9]

In sum, prediction occupies a special place in military discourse. Thus, an American admiral predicted the attack on Pearl Harbor three years before it occurred. But predictions are of little use unless they translate into credible intelligence estimates and military readiness to confront such operations. Israel tries to ascribe its failure to faulty human behavior, i.e. laziness, negligence, and indifference rather than to failure at the very heart of the intelligence system and its performance.


[1] Ronen Bergman, "The Oct. 7 Warning That Israel Ignored", The New York Times, podcasts, 2023/12/04.

[2] أرييل فيتمان، "رئيس الشاباك السابق يكشف: لقد حذرنا المستوى السياسي طوال الوقت"، "غلوبس"، 27/10/2023 (بالعبرية).

عوزي روبين، "هل أفرط المفهوم الأمني لجيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي وإسرائيل في الاعتماد على الابتكار والتكنولوجيا على حساب المبادئ العسكرية الأساسية؟"، مركز القدس للاستراتيجية والأمن، 2/11/2023 (بالعبرية).

[3] "تحقيق بن كسبيت الصادم: أكبر فشل أمني منذ قيام الدولة"، "معاريف"، 25/2/2024 (بالعبرية).

[4] هرتسي هليفي، "الدفاع متعدد الأبعاد"، مجلة "جيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي" لفن المعركة (بالعبرية).

[5] أحد المصطلحات الواردة في مفاهيم العلاقات الدولية، والتي تصف سلوك الدول بعد الحروب.

[6] Netanel Flamer & Lieut. Col. (ret.) Erez Magen, “The ‘Unclassified Secret’”, BESA Center Perspectives, Paper No. 2,238, 26/11/2023.

[7] Moshe Elad, "Is the IDF losing deterrence by pulling out of Gaza? – opinion", Jerusalem Post, 10/4/2024.

[8] عيدن إرتس، "المهندسة من طاقم تطوير القبة الحديدية تشرح - لماذا يجب أن تفرح عندما تسمع دوياً كبيراً"، "غلوبس"، 26/10/2023 (بالعبرية).

كلمن ليبسكيند، "برعاية القبة الحديدية دولة إسرائيل فقدت إرادة الانتصار"، "معاريف"، 25/5/2023 (بالعبرية).

[9] Shay Shabtai, "How Will the Swords of Iron War Change Israel’s National Security Strategy and Doctrine?", BESA Center Perspectives, No. 2,252, 9/1/2024.

Author Bio: 

Fadi Nahhas is a lecturer and scholar specializing in the field of Israeli national security.