By Akiva Eldar Haaretz 9 Janaury 2008
[Reply follows item]
On Monday, February 9, 2004, members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and
Defense Committee waited tensely for an analysis by the director of Military
Intelligence (DMI), Major General Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash. The surprising plan
put forward by the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to pull the Israeli army
out of Gaza and evacuate all the settlers, had stirred a furor among the
Knesset and the Israeli public. The Prime Minister's Bureau was well aware
that Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon had called the plan a "prize for
terrorism" in internal discussions. Sharon's staff hoped that the DMI, who
is responsible for Israel's national-security evaluation, would be
noncommittal in his assessment of the plan.
Ze'evi-Farkash did his best: "A unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip
will be construed by the Palestinians as surrender to terrorism," he said.
"That is liable to be a catalyst for intensified terrorist attacks." He
later added, "The evacuation [of the Israelis from] the Gaza Strip may
actually restrain terrorism."
Right-wing MKs immediately passed on what the DMI had said to reporters,
emphasizing the first part of his analysis, of course. The next day's papers
noted that the senior officer's remarks "had heightened the tension between
the Prime Minister's Bureau and the defense establishment."
On Tuesday, April 20, Ze'evi-Farkash again appeared before the committee.
This time he was more optimistic about the withdrawal. "There is a high
probability that terrorism in the Gaza Strip will decrease," he said, adding
that in the West Bank, in contrast, the motivation to perpetrate terrorist
attacks would grow.
A PowerPoint presentation prepared by the Intelligence Branch entitled
"Fashioning a Convenient Long-term Political, Security and Economic Reality
for Israel" lauded the advantages of disengagement and downplayed the
attendant risks. The presentation predicted that the disengagement would
destroy the purveyors of terrorism and weaken the support of external
elements, such as Hezbollah, for their Hamas brethren.
In September the DMI was more unequivocal. "I think that after the
disengagement the trend in Gaza will be to restrain terrorism," he told the
daily Ma'ariv in a Rosh Hashana interview. "Similarly, those acting against
us will want to show that they are not operating from areas Israel has
already left and therefore will move their major activity to Judea and
Samaria in order to bring about a withdrawal there, too, by means of the
same terrorism..." And to ensure that his words would not be construed to
mean that he agreed with the evaluation that withdrawing from Gaza under
terrorism would encourage "the elements" - meaning Hamas - to continue their
terrorist activity, the DMI concluded the sentence with the words "in their
At the end of the year, Military Intelligence invited Dr. Matti Steinberg, a
former Shin Bet security service adviser on Palestinian affairs, for a
meeting as the MI prepared its annual situation appraisal.
"I tried to take advantage of the meeting to talk about the danger of
ignoring the negative implications of the disengagement," Steinberg says. "I
warned that a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would weaken Abu Mazen
[Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] and strengthen Hamas."
Steinberg's impression was that the officers were inattentive to assessments
that were not consistent with the upbeat analysis MI had presented to the
political echelon. Ze'evi-Farkash and the head of the research unit in MI,
Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser, removed the subject from the agenda.
The intelligence appraisal for 2005 stated: "Completing the evacuation will
afford Hamas a significant achievement in the short term, but in the long
term will increase the pressure on the organization to restrain terrorism
and enable security calm in the Gaza Strip, and also to become part of the
government, while the legitimization of terrorism from Gaza erodes."
A document entitled "Army and Society in the Limited Conflict," drawn up by
the Israel Defense Forces in 2005 in conjunction with the Israel Democracy
Institute, states: "Whereas the hope of the political echelon was that the
disengagement would allow Israel to 'buy time' for a more pragmatic
Palestinian leadership to emerge, the military echelon tended to prefer a
withdrawal under an agreement, due to security and other considerations. For
example, the withdrawal was liable to be construed as a prize for
One of the authors of the document was Zionit Kuperwasser, from the office
of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the
spouse of the head of research in MI, the unit that had backtracked from the
assessment that a withdrawal without an agreement would be "a catalyst to
intensify terrorist attacks."
In September 2007, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was an ardent advocate
of the unilateral disengagement, took part in the UN General Assembly
opening session in New York. By then Hamas was in full control of the Gaza
Strip and its depots were filled with hundreds of rockets and missiles. In
an interview with television journalist Charlie Rose, Livni explained that
Israel and the Palestinian Authority were making an effort to reach a peace
agreement, as "we cannot just throw the key to the other side of the border
and hope for good"; and to dispel any possible doubt about what she was
referring to, she added, "look at the situation in the Gaza Strip."
There is no way of knowing what would have happened if intelligence had
warned the government and the Knesset about the implications of throwing
Gaza's key to Hamas. Would Livni, Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon, who pushed
hard for disengagement, have taken to heart a warning that the Gaza Strip
would become a Muslim Brotherhood state? And if so, would they have been
able to dissuade Ariel Sharon, who was determined to leave Gaza without an
Be that as it may, the hard question remains: Why did MI not tell the
government and the Knesset loudly and clearly that the disengagement might
well pave Hamas' road to power and to control over Gaza? Was this a
professional glitch, or a case of tailoring assessments to fit politics?
MI's credibility and reliability in the critical years between the 2000
intifada and the 2005 disengagement continue to trouble Colonel (res.)
Ephraim Lavie. Since his 2002 retirement from the Palestinian section of
MI's research unit, a section he headed for four years, the reticent Middle
East expert, who is now the director of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace
Research at Tel Aviv University, has been knocking on every possible door.
He is demanding a thorough investigation of how the Palestinian sector
intelligence assessment was presented to the decision makers and the public.
Lavie had a rich career in the intelligence unit 8200, as Arab affairs
adviser to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and
in MI's research unit. In 1997 he graduated cum laude from the National
Security College. After leaving the IDF he entered academia and recently
completed a doctoral thesis on Palestinian society. In an April 2004 letter
to Ze'evi-Farkash, Lavie wrote: "The conception underneath the 'no partner'
approach became a model with grave national implications. Its consequences
are manifested in the unilateral disengagement plan for Gaza and in the
construction of the separation fence in Judea and Samaria." Lavie added that
he had discovered, from conversations with former Shin Bet and Mossad
espionage agency personnel, that their organizations had also seen the same
disparity between oral and written doctrine, which had helped deepen the
In response to a previous letter on the same subject, Ze'evi-Farkash wrote
to Lavie that he felt "a sense of missed opportunity on your part for not
having expressed these views when you felt the disparities were coming into
being." He added: "There is no need for us to examine the validity of your
viewpoint. We believe you wrote from a subjective viewpoint, it is true, but
with sincerity and clarity, and this is indeed your perception of the
developments." Ze'evi-Farkash suggested to Lavie that he approach the
"relevant parties," namely his predecessor as DMI, Amos Malka, and the
former head of the MI research unit, Amos Gilad.
It was not until 2008 that the internal investigation was conducted, under
the tutelage of the current DMI, Major General Amos Yadlin. Its findings,
which are being publicized here for the first time, are that MI suffers from
knowledge gaps, a dearth of resources and a lack of group thinking, and that
it speaks in two voices. The written voice is intended for internal control
and potential commissions of inquiry; the oral voice, which is not
documented, is for the senior political level. The report found that as long
as the political echelon rejected the idea of a unilateral disengagement
because it would be "withdrawal under fire," MI's research unit produced
papers in a similar vein. However, when the political level decided to go
ahead with the disengagement, the research unit wrote: "A unilateral
disengagement will pose a challenge to Hamas and place a wall in front of
[Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat."
Lavie described the "two voices" syndrome in a November 2003 letter to the
DMI, headlined "Failures in the Work of Intelligence Regarding the
Palestinian Issue." The "oral doctrine" is documented in the minutes of
General Staff and cabinet meetings where senior MI officers gave briefings.
In these closed forums (though much of the content finds its way into the
media) MI officers provide assessments that are close to the leaders' views
but often deviate from internal written assessments.
"This situation leaves the researchers with the very unpleasant feeling that
the written assessments lack all influence and are meant mainly for
[possible future] commissions of inquiry. The result is that the expensive
work of collecting material and the professional analyses by dozens of
officers and noncoms go down the tubes," Lavie wrote.
According to Lavie, the voices diverged even farther during the run-up to
the disengagement. "This is both a substantive and an ethical problem," he
says. "It allows the DMI and the head of the research unit to say 'We told
you so' and to 'cover themselves' no matter what direction reality takes:
the direction indicated in the unit's written work, or the direction
presented to the leadership. The result, as indeed occurred, is that the
entire system is liable to be tilted toward a mistaken conception that
carries a very steep price for the nation."
The internal investigation found that, regardless of its position on the
implications of the disengagement, all the papers produced by the MI
research unit predicted a tie between Hamas and Fatah in the January 2006
Palestinian Authority election, or at most a tiny advantage for Hamas. In
November 2005, two months before the election, the research unit wrote that
the opening of the Rafah crossing and the Fatah primary had improved that
faction's situation. A month later, the unit was a bit more cautious, taking
note of "an atmosphere of uncertainty and high volatility." It warned that
the feeling of despair was causing Mahmoud Abbas to contemplate retiring
Along with unsubtle hints about the politicization of Military Intelligence,
the internal investigation indicates the existence of a series of structural
and professional problems, which were instrumental in MI's failure to
produce correct assessments of the Palestinian sector in general and Hamas
in particular. These included a shortage of experienced Arabic-speaking
researchers and insufficient use of materials provided by the office of the
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and academic
experts. Young researchers tend to focus on specific events and have
difficulty identifying long-term social and political processes such as
Islamization and the rise of Hamas.
Another internal report, drawn up by MI in February 2006, noted that the
research unit had been two years late in noticing that Hamas might become an
alternative to the Palestinian Authority and had failed to discern the
political implications of this organization's rise to power and political
ambitions. This report stated that the tardiness was due to the perception
of Arafat as the be-all and end-all.
MI did not only assist the political echelon by disseminating optimistic
forecasts about the likely aftermath of a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza,
the status of Hamas and the danger of rocket fire. The research unit also
described the famous letter sent to Prime Minister Sharon by U.S. President
George W. Bush on April 14, 2004, which was intended to present a certain
quid pro quo for the Gaza withdrawal, as a "historic and precedent-setting
declaration by President Bush ... a substantive change in the position of
the United States regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
However, the control department of MI, seeking to tone down the enthusiasm,
argued, "the declaration is no more than a collection of trivial
statements." Indeed, in a counter-document, the department stated that the
final outcome would be the opposite of what the political echelon
anticipated, as the Palestinians would view the disengagement declaration as
a commitment that they would get territories without having to give anything
Dr. Steinberg said MI also ignored his analysis, which stated explicitly
that the Bush letter did not represent any sort of achievement for Israel
and that its only "contribution" was to intensify the feeling of the
Palestinians that the United States was ignoring them.
The internal investigation shows that MI also failed in evaluating the road
map in 2003. The research unit persuaded the DMI to convey a message of
reassurance to the political echelon, the gist of which was that the road
map was only a tactical move by Bush, intended to muster Arab support for
the war in Iraq, and that after the war everyone would forget about it. When
it turned out that Washington expected Israel to take the road map
seriously, Sharon adopted the disengagement idea, in order to avoid a
confrontation with Bush.
According to Lavie, the conception that left room solely for unilateral
moves and a policy of brute force did not originate with Sharon. Since the
failure of the Camp David summit in July 2000, when Ehud Barak adopted the
"no partner" theory, the research unit, then under Amos Gilad, supported
describing Israel's response to the intifada as a "war of no choice," a war
preplanned by Arafat for ideological reasons.
Kuperwasser, in an article for the online bulletin of the Israel
Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center, reiterates this approach,
citing military moves by the PA and militant declarations by Arafat and
Fatah leaders. In response to allegations of bias in the research unit's
assessments, Kuperwasser claimed that if the written and oral versions were
in fact incompatible, this was not a deliberate failure "but obviously
reflects an administrative problem that needs to be addressed."
The 2008 internal investigation contradicts this view. On August 29, 2000,
shortly after the Camp David summit, the research unit stated in its
situation appraisal that Arafat continued to prefer the negotiations as the
way to advance his strategic goals, and he was convinced that violence would
not help his cause at that stage. On August 30 the unit advised that Arafat
was restraining the crisis and continued to adhere to the Oslo process. In
an unprecedented step he also issued instructions to prepare public opinion
to accept an agreement that would include compromises. On September 19 the
MI suggested that in the coming period the Palestinians would not try to
challenge bluntly the validity of the interim agreements, as they wished to
play out the negotiations.
On September 27, 2000, when Prime Minister Barak allowed Sharon to visit the
Temple Mount, the research unit urgently submitted an "intelligence
compendium" in which it warned that in light of the religious and political
sensitivity of the site, "violent confrontations are liable to develop with
our forces." Three days later the intelligence researchers stated: "Arafat
is not interested in an all-out confrontation, which is liable to pull the
ground from under him." A 2004 investigation of "Ebb and Tide" (the official
name for the operation to quell the second intifada), conducted by MI's
Palestinian desk, found unequivocally that the second intifada erupted as a
"popular protest" because people wanted to let off steam and vent the anger
that accumulated due to the failure of negotiations and the inability to
extract political achievements from Israel. Arafat encouraged the popular
activity in order to extricate himself from his plight after he rejected the
Israeli offers at Camp David, and to compel Israel to walk an extra mile by
demonstrating the price it would have to pay, or alternatively, to create
chaos that would take the conflict to an internationalization.
Ami Ayalon, who headed the Shin Bet until April 2000, confirms there was no
intelligence document asserting that Arafat planned the intifada. "On the
contrary," Ayalon says, "I know that documents that were seized in Operation
Defensive Shield [in 2002] and analyzed by the research department of the
Shin Bet prove that the intifada took even senior Fatah leaders by surprise,
including Marwan Barghouti and Kadura Fares, who were very close to Arafat.
It was only a few days after it erupted that they met to examine how it
could be exploited for political purposes."
What Ayalon says is consistent with public statements made by his successors
at the Shin Bet. Both Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin have stated that the
intifada was a grass-roots uprising and was not planned from above.
Brigadier General (res.) Yossi Ben Ari, who was then the head of the
Palestinian desk at the Mossad, also supported this view.
In a November 2003 document, Lavie wrote: "In General Staff think-team
discussions, headed by the chief of the strategic division and with senior
representatives of General Staff bodies, it was understood that defining
Arafat and the PA as 'terrorist elements' was the directive of the political
echelon, even if it did not declare this explicitly and did dictate this to
He emphasized that while any government policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians
was legitimate, the research unit's oral backing for government policy was
faulty both professionally and ethically, and noted that the unit's written
analyses were presenting completely different assessments, based on reliable
intelligence material. Lavie described this as "biasing intelligence
research and adjusting it for the leadership." No less.
In an article he published in the Intelligence Center bulletin, Lavie wrote
that the assessment that "there is no one to talk to and nothing to talk
about" was mistaken. The criterion for that assessment, he found, was the
Palestinians' rejection of the Israeli approach to negotiations. When Israel
resorted to force due to this assessment, Lavie says, it annulled every
distinction between Hamas and Fatah and created a governmental void that
ultimately corroborated the assessment. Instead of presenting and evaluating
the adversary's capabilities and intentions, he wrote, in order to provide
the policymakers with optimal tools to make decisions, the MI research unit
became an instrument in the politicians' propaganda campaign.
Lavie maintains that MI did not analyze the implications of how the IDF
suppressed the intifada. It did not warn against turning the PA into an
empty vessel, or against creating a governmental vacuum that could be filled
by terrorist elements and foreign parties such as Iran and Hezbollah. Nor
did it warn about the population's support for continuing the struggle.
Moreover, the reality that took shape in the territories due to the mistaken
evaluation and the military policy ostensibly justified the evaluation, thus
paving the way for more of the same policy, which ultimately caused immense
According to Lavie, intelligence's main failure in this regard is that since
Camp David, MI has ignored the connection between Israel's acts and their
implications for the Palestinian arena. The "no partner" approach, the fact
that no distinction was made between terrorist elements and the general
population, the destruction of the Palestinians' center of government in
Operation Defensive Shield and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza - all
these developments contributed directly to strengthening Hamas, to its
election victory and takeover of the Gaza Strip, and the fading opportunity
for two states for two peoples.
In an article in a new Intelligence Center book marking 60 years of Israeli
intelligence, Brigadier General (res.) Gadi Zohar also takes note of the
serious defects in MI's evaluations of the Palestinian arena. Zohar, who was
head of the MI terrorism desk from 1985 to 1987, and headed the West Bank
Civil Administration at the beginning of the 1990s, writes: "In the second
intifada, which erupted in the wake of the failure of Camp David and Taba
[the January 2001 summit], military intelligence played an active role aimed
at helping the military echelon and the state leadership realize a policy
irrespective of professional research bodies' evaluation."
Zohar, too, believes that the heads of the research unit "developed and
advanced the 'no partner' theory and [the notion] that 'Arafat planned and
initiated the intifada' even though it was clear at that time that this was
not the researchers' reasoned professional opinion." He accuses the
politicians of sending those in uniform to back their policy positions, and
intelligence research of meeting the challenge. "There is no other subject
that suffered over the years like the Palestinian arena, due to the tension
between public opinion and the political leadership, and the duty of
intelligence personnel to provide unembellished objective intelligence."
More than 35 years after the Yom Kippur War, the military and political
conceptions continue to feed off each other, and Israelis and Arabs continue
to kill each other.