US intelligence warned of potential for Gaza clash in days before attack

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The US intelligence community produced at least two assessments based in part on intelligence provided by Israel warning the Biden administration of an increased risk for Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the weeks ahead of Saturday’s seismic attack on southern Israel, according to sources familiar with the intelligence.

One update from September 28 warned, based on multiple streams of intelligence, that the terror group Hamas was poised to escalate rocket-attacks across the border. An October 5 wire from the CIA warned generally of the increasing possibility of violence by Hamas. Then, on October 6, the day before the attack, US officials circulated reporting from Israel indicating unusual activity by Hamas — indications that are now clear: an attack was imminent.

None of the American assessments offered any tactical details or indications of the overwhelming scope, scale and sheer brutality of the operation that Hamas carried out on October 7, sources say. It is unclear if any of these US assessments were shared with Israel, which provides much of the intelligence that the US bases its reports on.

Israel, Gaza and the West Bank are also on a “hot spots” list included in intelligence briefings for senior officials almost daily, a person who receives the briefings said.

Intelligence assessments are written by the intelligence community to inform policy makers and enable them to make decisions.

“The problem is that none of this is new,” said one of the sources familiar with the intelligence. “This is something that has historically been the norm between Hamas and Israel. I think what happened is everyone saw these reports and were like, ‘Yeah of course. But we know what this will look like.’”

But the assessments were among a wave of high-level warnings given to the Biden administration by both its own intelligence community and Middle Eastern allies over the past year, raising questions about whether the US and Israel were appropriately attuned to the risk.

A senior official from an Arab country in the region said their country repeatedly raised concerns with US and Israeli officials that Palestinian anger was reaching a dangerous pitch. “But they never listened every time we warned them,” the official said.

A Middle Eastern ambassador in Washington, DC, also told CNN that their government had repeatedly warned the White House and US intelligence officials of a buildup of Hamas weapons and anger among Palestinians that was set to explode.

“The arms that exist in Gaza is beyond the imagination of anybody’s thinking,” they warned, the ambassador said. “The arms that exist in the West Bank, via Hamas, are also becoming a real problem and Hamas control of the West Bank is a real issue.”

“This in every meeting, every meeting in the last year and a half,” the ambassador added.

And in February, CIA Director Bill Burns told an audience at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service that he was “quite concerned about the prospects for even greater fragility and even greater violence between Israelis and Palestinians.”

“I would not come to the conclusion that the intel community was not tracking this from a strategic level — in fact they were,” a US official told CNN.

Yet those strategic warnings did nothing to help US or Israeli officials predict the events of October 7, when more than 1,000 Hamas fighters poured across the border into Israel in an operation that would leave more than a thousand Israelis dead. For most US and Israeli officials who were tracking the intelligence, the expectation was that there would likely be just another round of small-scale violence by Hamas — perhaps some rocket fire that Israel’s Iron Dome would intercept, one source familiar with the intelligence explained.

“If we had known or if we know of a pending attack against an ally, we would clearly inform that ally,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Friday.

Senior Biden administration officials — as well as current and former intelligence officials — continue to say they remain focused on the crisis at hand and insist that is too soon to review how the planning for such a massive attack was missed.

Multiple current and former intelligence officials, as well as some lawmakers briefed on US intelligence, pushed back on the notion that the failure to provide tactical warning of the attack was the US’s responsibility — because so much of US intelligence reporting on Gaza originated with Israel in the first place.

Another source familiar with the intelligence summed up the US view: “Israel missed this, not us. We have a level of confidence in Shin Bet, the IDF, Mossad and others.”

The New York Times also reported on the existence of some of the reports and that they were not briefed up to President Joe Biden.

The Office of Director of National Intelligence and the CIA declined to comment. The White House did not respond on Friday to repeated requests for comment from CNN.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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