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US, Israeli counterterrorism policy must adjust after Hamas attack

Oct 26, 2023

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Revered Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies failed to detect the signs of an imminent Hamas attack on Israeli villages near the Gaza Strip. The surprise attack was planned within Hamas’s military wing and highlights both Israel’s intelligence blind spots as well as Hamas’s use of “old-school techniques” like in-person communication.

Straight Arrow News contributor Katherine Zimmerman explains the challenges of counterterrorism and outlines what both Israel and the United States must do to stay one step ahead of their adversaries.

Nations, including the United States, meter the dedication of their national security resources to defending against terror attacks based in part on the assessment of the threat, and, of course, resources needed to protect against other national security interests. As the assessed threat goes down, so to do the resources to monitor it.

While this is less likely to have been the case for Israel, it is certainly the case for the United States with regard to the threat from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Years of U.S. special forces and the CIA hunting down terrorists and eliminating attack capabilities, “mowing the grass” in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, has reduced the terror threat.

U.S. intelligence assesses some groups have the intent, but not the capability, to attack. But as resources go down, so to should our confidence in the fidelity of the threat landscape from our intelligence. While such a catastrophic terror attack remains a remote possibility, we must also assume that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State will use all the tools at their disposal to ensure any attack is a surprise.

The United States needs to ensure that, as it has reduced counterterrorism resources down to a sustainable level, it maintains sufficient sources of intelligence to see when the threat changes, and to assume that groups with the intent to strike the United States are always trying to find a way.

Total horror. That’s how the survivors of Hamas is attack in southern Israel describe the scenes they witnessed. The terror attack killed over 1000 people, with the count still rising and shattered Israel’s perception of security. Hamas conducted a sophisticated assault by air, land and sea to penetrate Israeli territory and maximize not just the casualties, but also its impact on the Israeli psyche.

The question that the Israeli government will need to answer once the dust settles is how how we’re assessments of Hamas capabilities are so at odds with reality. How did Israeli intelligence failed to see the signs that Hamas was planning such a major incursion? But the bigger question, the same one the United States continues to ask is how to prevent such an attack.

The Israeli intelligence and military forces are considered to be some of the best in the world at what they do. A seemingly steady intelligence picture and remote surveillance help the Israelis keep an eye on the Hamas threat. counterterrorism operations against Hamas focused on what could be called mowing the grass going after the leadership targeting cells responsible for rocket fire and essentially eliminating threats as they arose. In the past regular Israeli military operations into Gaza. Cast Lead pillar defense Protective Edge, all use overwhelming military strength and capabilities to neutralize the Hamas threat.

Intentional misdirection by Hamas likely helped Israelis believe Hamas had given up terrorist aspirations. Just a week before the attack. The Israeli National Security Adviser described a recent downturn in Hamas attacks, and that they indicated that the group had made an unprecedented decision to restrain itself from violence. Hamas is deterred or so the Israelis thought

Hamas still uphold its founding sentiment that Israel must be destroyed. Hamas is election into power in Gaza in 2007 led some to argue that the challenge of governing would force the group to moderate and make pragmatic decisions.

What’s clear is that political power and the threat of an Israeli response have not dampened Hamas has ambitions. Hamas leadership sanction the recent attack knowing full well the Palestinian civilians living in Gaza would pay a high cost for its actions.

Today’s discussions about Israel’s next steps have to do now with what Israel could do to end the Hamas threat and change the reality in Gaza. After this war is over, there will be a reckoning in Israel over what led to complete security collapse.

But drawing back from the current Israel Hamas conflict, the attack exemplifies a broader challenge for counterterrorism. staying vigilant to monitor terror threats is resource and time intensive. nations including the United States, meter the dedication of their national security resources to defending against terror attacks based in part on the assessment of the threat and of course, resources needed to protect against other national security interests, as the assess threat goes down, so to do the resources to monitor it.

While this is less likely to have been the case for Israel, it is certainly the case for the United States with regard to the threat from al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Years of US special forces and the CIA hunting down terrorists and eliminating attack capabilities. Mowing the grass in places like Afghanistan, or Iraq and Yemen has reduced the terror threat.

US intelligence assesses some groups have the intent, but not the capability to attack. But as resources go down, so to should our confidence in the fidelity of the threat landscape from our intelligence. While such a catastrophic terror attack remains a remote possibility. We must also assume that al Qaeda and the Islamic State will use all the tools at their disposal to ensure any attack is a surprise.

The United States needs to ensure that as it has reduced counterterrorism resources down to a sustainable level. It maintains sufficient sources of intelligence to see when the threat changes, and to assume that groups with the intent to strike the United States are always trying to find a way

 

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