In 1974, in the wake of one of Israel’s most devastating intelligence failures, the Israeli military intelligence (AMAN) created a new unit dedicated to ensuring the same mistake would not be repeated.
Just a year before, Israel had misread the intentions of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to declare a surprise war on Israel during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Egyptian forces had caught Israel unaware and unprepared.
Based upon the recommendations of an investigation committee, AMAN created a whole unit: Makhleket HaBakara or the Department of Control. This department is often nicknamed the “devil’s advocate” or “Ifha Mistabra” — an Aramaic saying that means “the opposite turned out to be true".
Its role is to actively check and contradict assessments produced by other branches of the Israeli intelligence community. If the general opinion were one thing, “Ifha Mistabra” would say the opposite. It would actively argue against it.
At the time, it was seen as a way to avoid “groupthink”. The practice has now become a common intelligence practice (“red teaming”) aimed at preventing major intelligence failures.
This unit produced some of the great minds of Israel’s security apparatus, such as Yaakov Amidror and Amos Gilad. The department has access to the same pool of intelligence and data points as its main “contradictor”, AMAN’s Research Branch.
But over the last decades, its value has declined, and high-ranking intelligence officials have effectively stopped listening to its assessment.
The assessment it produced rarely proved correct.
The branch could only point to very few successes in providing valuable assessments. This perceived failure is not surprising: Constantly contradicting one of the best intelligence services in the world isn’t a great career path.
The “devil’s advocate” unit was, by definition, bound to be wrong most of the time. And so people stopped listening. One of the tools meant to prevent a repeat of the 1973 War failed.
Fifty years later — almost to the day — Israel repeated this exact failure.
Of course, this is only a small element within the much bigger systemic failure that allowed the 7 October Hamas massacre to happen. This failure adds to the list of unsinkable ships that eventually sank, unattackable countries attacked, and unbreakable dams that ultimately broke.
The truth is no system is immune to failure. Systems deemed unbreakable tend to be the ones that fail most dramatically.
And so, on a quiet morning of 7 October, more than a thousand Hamas commandos from the al-Nukhba unit managed to cross into Israel, attacking border communities and military bases and taking Israelis back to Gaza as hostages.