Did Netanyahu ignore the Egyptian warning of Hamas assault?

The war against Palestinian militants might be convenient to a premier charged with corruption.

As Israel is mounting a terrestrial counter-operation against Hamas, a Palestinian political and military organization that controls the Gaza Strip, questions linger over why Israeli intelligence and security forces had been unable to anticipate the 7 October attacks and whether reports about his knowledge of the attack are true.

Israeli intelligence agencies have cultivated an air of invincibility through a series of remarkable accomplishments over the years. Israel has successfully thwarted schemes originating in the West Bank, purportedly pursued Hamas operatives in Dubai, and faced accusations of eliminating Iranian nuclear scientists within Iran itself. Even in moments of setback, these institutions have managed to preserve their reputation.

Aman, the military intelligence directorate, and Mossad, the agency responsible for foreign intelligence work, were suspiciously quiet on the issue and it’s not clear whether they knew about Hamas’ plans.

The proportions of the assault suggest that it had been meticulously prepared in advance during a long period, therefore the silence of Israeli intelligence and security services – which are respected for their extensive knowledge of enemies’ intentions – hardly can be explained.

A view from Gaza today. Credit: Axios

Although the Tzahal (Israel Defense Forces) was unprepared for a conflict of such scale, the argument that Israel was taken off guard is a very bleak explanation, given that the country has been under frequent attacks by Islamic militants and fought 17 wars and armed conflicts with its neighbors since its inception in 1948. 

Premier Benjamin Netanyahu himself had served in the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (known as Sayeret Markal) in 1967-1973, advancing to the rank of captain in the Israeli defense forces before being honorably discharged.

Was Netanyahu informed of the operation?

The largest Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been informed of the preparations for “something unusual, terrible operation” by Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel, ten days prior to the attack. 

The warning was also published by the Associated Press.

General Kamel was “astonished by Netanyahu’s indifference,” the agency cited a high-ranking source in the Egyptian government, who claimed that the prime minister ignored the warning. The Israeli government, however, denied knowledge about the warning and described the reports as “unreliable.” 

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Would the Egyptians lie about the intel sharing? Egyptian media quoted General Kamel all over again and Israeli officials never accused him of lying. So, why would Premier Netanyahu keep the information away from the public and his defense and security staff? The most plausible answer would swing between “I don’t believe” and “Let it be”. Which one and why?

There’s no secret that Benjamin Netanyahu is a combative politician who defended and promoted the policy of expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which is illegal under international law. He is also a proponent of tighter security controls and more power to law enforcement agencies, proposals that are valid mainly during security threats or conflict rather than during peaceful times.

It was under Netanyahu’s tenure as Israeli leader the United States recognized the 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel, in 2019.

The ongoing Israeli-Hamas war is an opportunity for Israel to expand its occupation of Palestinian territories. Whether this will bring more security to the region – this is hard to believe. Will the law enforcement agencies get more powers to handle the situation – this is very likely.

Forget about corruption trial

A second motive, which is linked to the first thought, is that Mr. Netanyahu has been trying for months to reform the way Israel’s judiciary system works. A legislation proposed last July seeks to remove the power of the Supreme Court (and lower courts) to cancel government decisions deemed "extremely unreasonable".

A weaker Supreme Court would enable a simple majority of one in the Knesset (parliament) to overrule such decisions and would give the government – the most right-wing government ever – a decisive say over who becomes a judge, including in the top court, by increasing its representation on the committee which appoints them. The sitting premier also wants to scrap the requirement for ministers to obey the advice of their legal advisers - guided by the attorney general - which they currently have to do by law. 

Israeli Supreme Court in session. Credit: CNN

Israel has no written constitution, only a set of quasi-constitutional basic laws, making the Supreme Court even more powerful. But the country also has no check on the power of the Knesset other than the Supreme Court.

Not least important, with the justice system under control and a majority in the parliament, Mr. Netanyahu could escape prosecution in a number of high-profile corruption cases. He faces official charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, which would attract on him a long term in prison.

More than that, the general prosecution office was about to decide whether to declare Netanyahu unfit for office over violation of his own statement of conflicting interests while assuming the post. 

His reforms prompted mass protests in Israel, with tens of thousands marching through cities to stop undemocratic practices. Polls by the Israeli Democratic Institute show that 66% of citizens want the Supreme Court to strike down laws. When the war started, the protests stopped.

Israelis protests against Netanyahu's reforms. Credit: Reuters

The ongoing conflict with the Hamas has overshadowed both the judiciary reform and the corruption trial. If Netanyahu – a decorated former special forces serviceman – wins the war, he will become a hero again.


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