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Israeli military says it failed to protect Gaza border town on Oct. 7


The Israeli military Thursday released the results of its first internal probe into the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, admitting to major failings in the defense of Kibbutz Beeri, a hard-hit town on the Gaza border, but falling short of holding individual commanders to account and leaving key questions unanswered.

The report said that “severe mistakes and errors” were made in the army response as Hamas overran the community. The army was underprepared, it said, and did not always prioritize civilian lives. The report detailed how in the afternoon, Israel Defense Forces units waited outside the kibbutz even as residents were killed. It blamed a lack of command and control and multiple points of fighting.

Military officials presented the findings to the surviving members of the community at the Dead Sea resort they now call home. A total of 101 people died in Beeri — a 10th of the population — as Hamas fighters from Gaza broke through Israel’s high-tech border fence and took military units by surprise.

Dozens more were taken hostage, 11 of whom have yet to be released.

Up and down the border, outgunned community guards and residents were left fighting virtually alone.

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“We failed to protect the kibbutz,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman, conceded as he spoke to residents, according to Israeli press reports. He noted that the IDF probe fell short of a wider independent commission of inquiry that he said “should be established.”

Nine months after the attack, there is increasing public pressure for accountability over the historic collapse in security that enabled Hamas-led militants to rampage into Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip. So far, only a smattering of security leaders have resigned, and the prospect of culpability among the political echelons appears even more distant.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected establishing an independent commission while Israel is at war. The IDF’s internal investigations are unlikely to go far in assuaging public demands, and there is deep skepticism over the army’s ability to investigate itself.

“It’s taken with a grain of salt,” Tamar Hermann, a senior research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said of the probe. “People expect some kind of official commission of inquiry composed of people who were not involved in any way.”

Whereas the IDF has managed to partially repair its reputation in the eyes of many Israelis over the course of the Gaza war, anger still runs particularly deep in Beeri, she said.

“We should note that Kibbutz Beeri did not need the results of the investigation to feel the IDF’s failure every minute since 6:29 AM on that black Shabbat,” the kibbutz said in a statement. “The army’s failure has been etched into our bodies and hearts for nine months now.”

The investigation did contribute to understanding of the depth and complexity of the fighting in some parts of the kibbutz, the statement continued, but it said he probe did not provide satisfactory answers to “critical questions.”

Those questions include why military forces gathered at the gate of the kibbutz for hours without entering, the root causes of the intelligence failure that permitted Hamas’s invasion and whether the soldiers who arrived understood that their primary objective was to protect civilians.

Rami Gold, a 70-year-old member of Beeri’s security squad who attempted to hold off the militants that day, said the army’s investigation produced little new information.

“From my perspective,” he said, “what they said is, ‘We abandoned you.’”

Small IDF units that arrived at the kibbutz were hit and left, he said. It was only in the afternoon that large units came to the rescue. Trust is broken, said Gold, who is among the few residents who have returned to live in Beeri.

“The army’s job is to make us trust it,” he said. “Right now, that’s not the case. I trust us.”

Days after the assault, The Washington Post observed rescue workers still clearing away the corpses from Beeri’s streets. Dead Hamas militants lay on the neatly clipped lawns and blood-smeared doorsteps of the modest homes of families who awoke to the rampage on a holiday morning.

The home of Pessi Cohen, the scene of one of the most controversial IDF incidents of Oct. 7, was left scorched and partially reduced to rubble. During their assault, Hamas militants holed up in the house with 14 hostages.

Despite the presence of Israelis inside, the military decided to bombard the building with tank shells. It was one of the most controversial acts of the morning by IDF forces.

“The tank fire towards the area near the house was carried out professionally, with a joint decision made by commanders from all the security organizations after careful consideration and a situational assessment was made, with the intent to apply pressure to the terrorists and save the civilians held hostage inside,” the report said.

The report did not specify whether Israel’s notorious Hannibal directive had been enacted that day and was in effect during the incident. The directive instructs troops to do anything in their power to prevent Israelis from being kidnapped, even if that puts their lives at risk.

Haaretz newspaper reported earlier this week that the Hannibal directive was enacted on Oct. 7, with an 11:22 a.m. order transmitted to troops that “not a single vehicle can return to Gaza.” It was one of several orders to use the directive over the course of the day, according to the newspaper.

The IDF has refused to say whether such orders were given.

It is one of the many lingering questions around the attack, which raised deep concerns about the country’s intelligence and defense capabilities. Information came to light in August that an attack was imminent, but warnings were dismissed, The Washington Post reported last year.

A majority of Israelis — some 58 percent of Jews and 81 percent of Arab citizens — think it is time for those responsible for the failings of Oct. 7 to resign, according to an Israel Democracy Institute poll carried out in April. But public sentiment is increasingly polarized over the questions of who should be held responsible and the scope of an inquiry, said Hermann. Left-wing and centrist Israelis are more likely to blame Netanyahu’s government, while right-wingers point the finger at the security establishment, she said.

The scope of any investigation remains unclear, she said, as does the body that would oversee it.

“There is no agreement on what should be done, and as time goes on more disagreement arises,” she said.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has managed to keep his governing coalition together, shielding himself from any accountability at the ballot box. For Gold, accountability still feels illusive.

“The army is an arm of the state,” he said. “The state needs to introspect on what happened and take responsibility. I don’t see that responsibility has been taken.”

Here’s what else to know

An Israeli delegation returned home from Doha on Thursday for further consultations after participating in cease-fire talks, according to the prime minister’s office. The team will head to Cairo in the evening for further discussions. A statement issued by Hamas, however, said it had not been a party to the latest round. “We have yet to be informed by our brother mediators [Qatar and Egypt] anything regarding the negotiations for cease-fire or prisoner exchange.” The group also accused Israel of “procrastination” and aiming to thwart the negotiations.

An Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, has condemned as “absolute madness” a directive by the Israeli military for all Palestinians to evacuate Gaza City. It added that “the international community must demand that Israel immediately stop the war,” which it said has sowed destruction and killed masses of people. The sweeping IDF evacuation call was issued Wednesday as the Israeli military designated the largest city in the Gaza Strip a “dangerous combat zone” and ramped up operations, sending thousands fleeing south.

Gaza’s civil defense force said it has recovered 60 bodies from the rubble of Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood, among them women and children, after Israeli forces withdrew, a spokesman said. Mahmoud Bassal described the area as “unfit for life” following an operation that lasted for days.

The United States is resuming a shipment of 500-pound bombs to Israel. The arms shipment has been held up since May, when the Biden administration suspended delivery of two types of large, airdropped weapons amid concerns about the scale of civilian casualties in Gaza, U.S. officials familiar with the matter told The Washington Post. A supply of 1,700 500-pound bombs will likely move forward, they said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive arms deliveries.

At least 38,345 people have been killed and 88,295 injured in Gaza since the war started, the Gaza Health Ministry said. It does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 325 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operations in Gaza.

Lior Soroka and Hazem Balousha contributed to this report.



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