“That something of this size could be pulled off, I can tell you that that is not done without a lot of observable signals,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. “It was kind of shocking in its size and ambition.”
Committee members have asked for a briefing once they return to Washington on Tuesday, Himes said, noting that he wants to “withhold judgment” until he gets all the facts. Still, while Israeli intelligence is “about as good as it gets,” the attack “raises lots of questions about who knew what,” he said.
Mick Mulroy, a former Pentagon official and CIA officer, called the attacks an “intelligence failure,” noting that there were likely indications of “a buildup of munitions and the preparation of the assault force,” as well as cyber activity.
While he placed blame for the failure primarily on Israeli officials, he said U.S. intelligence also should have picked up on some of the indicators. The U.S. does not provide air defense coverage for Israel, but the two countries share intelligence.
“They should have picked up something of this scale,” Mulroy said.
The complexity of the operation indicates a nation-state such as Iran was likely behind it, he said, noting that one reason may have been to scuttle U.S.-brokered talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“If Iran was behind it and is orchestrating this in any sense, they have multiple proxies around Israel, and could escalate by initiating attacks from multiple directions, including Syria,” Mulroy said.
One former Israeli security official told POLITICO the unprecedented attack was a “catastrophic” failure that was allowed to happen by “disarray” in the Israeli armed forces and intelligence services.
“It’s a failure in terms of intelligence, operationally,” said Chuck Freilich, the country’s former deputy national security adviser. “It’s clear we were caught totally unprepared by this. The divisional headquarters responsible for Gaza was occupied, they’re in disarray, and so the whole response has been delayed.”
Himes also said Iran was likely involved in orchestrating the attack.
“We are absolutely going to support Israel in every way we can, and this is going to end very badly for Hamas,” Himes said. “If Iran had a hand in this, it will end badly for Iran.”
A spokesperson for the National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.