Congress briefed on Israel-Gaza intelligence 'failure'

'We're not quite sure how we missed it - we're not quite sure how Israel missed it,' says chairman of influential House Foreign Affairs Committee

Mike McCaul, the Republican congressman who heads the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, speaks to reporters on Wednesday. Getty Images / AFP
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The Hamas attacks on Israel were a “failure of intelligence” and were possibly planned up to a year ago, a top US congressman said on Wednesday, following a classified briefing.

Members of Congress were briefed on the issue by State Department and intelligence officials including acting deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland.

“We want to see this contained in Gaza. However, we're very concerned about the fidelity of our intelligence and the escalation of a conflict in the Middle East,” Republican Mike McCaul, chairman of the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters after the classified discussion.

The death toll in Israel from the surprise Hamas attack has surpassed 1,200 and Israeli retaliatory strikes on Gaza have now killed at least 1,100, with the enclave under a strict blockade that has cut off supplies of fuel, food and water.

At least 22 US citizens are among the dead and 17 are missing, the White House said.

A Foreign Affairs Committee member told The National the panel is “working with the State Department on tracking Americans in need over in Israel” but declined to address questions about reports of Palestinian Americans struggling to leave Gaza.

Mr McCaul on Thursday called the Hamas attack a “failure of intelligence”.

“We're not quite sure how we missed it – we're not quite sure how Israel missed it,” he said.

He added that the US “knows that Egypt had warned the Israelis three days prior”, and that Hamas had planned the attack on Israel “perhaps as long as a year ago”.

Mr McCaul told reporters that Washington was concerned about regional escalation, including from Hezbollah in Lebanon and its “100,000 rockets that would overload the Iron Dome”.

That concern came as cross-border violence escalated into Lebanon, with Israeli shelling on Wednesday hitting southern towns in response to a rocket attack.

Hezbollah said it had fired precision missiles at an Israeli position in response to the killing of its members in an Israeli strike.

Congress is scrambling to respond to the Israel-Gaza war at a moment of historic chaos in the House, after Republicans last week ousted their own speaker, paralysing the congressional chamber.

Bipartisan members of Congress have nonetheless moved to shore up support for Israel despite uncertainty over their ability to act on legislation without a speaker.

Israel already receives the highest amount of US military aid.

Politicians on Tuesday introduced legislation to provide $2 billion in aid to Israel for Iron Dome resupply, which would add to the $3.3 billion already cleared.

Mr McCaul and the committee's top Democrat, Gregory Meeks, were joined by 390 of their colleagues in introducing a bipartisan resolution standing with Israel “as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists and condemning Hamas’s brutal war against Israel”.

That resolution includes claims that “since October 7, 2023, Hamas is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, and the expansion of this war to other fronts by Hezbollah, Iran or others would create an even more devastating regional catastrophe”.

The chaos in the region has inspired both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the US.

The US historically has maintained a strong pro-Israel stance, avoiding harshly condemning its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and playing down human rights abuses against Palestinians.

Some members of Congress, though, have moved the needle on that legacy.

Democrat Andre Carson said in a Tuesday statement that the latest escalation “painfully demonstrates the urgent need for just and lasting peace”.

“To achieve this, the US must rededicate ourselves and our resources to a real two-state solution, and call for the end of Israel's unfair, two-tiered rule over the Palestinian people.”

Mr Meeks told reporters that Washington “must keep innocent Palestinians in mind … they want nothing to do with Hamas”.

“Hamas is their enemy, too,” he said.

Israel announced a complete siege on densely populated Gaza this week – including blocking deliveries of food, water, electricity and fuel to residents, half of them children, while also engaging in an intense bombardment of the region and warning of a ground operation. On Wednesday, Gaza's power supply had started to run out.

Collective punishment is a war crime banned by the Geneva Conventions.

In response to the small but growing amount of support among Americans for the Palestinian cause as Gaza faces an escalating siege, Mr McCaul told reporters he “worries about narrative changing”.

“As we see, Israel going into Gaza to root out the terrorists … that the narrative is going to flip to that Israel is somehow the bully here and Hamas the victim,” he said.

He equated criticism of Israel to “a rise in anti-Semitism” and warned about potential “nay” votes on the bipartisan resolution.

“Watch who votes no on it – that will tell you who stands with whom,” said Mr McCaul.

Israel-Gaza war latest – in pictures

Updated: October 12, 2023, 5:42 AM