Israel's Defense Establishment Must Rethink its Conception of Technological Superiority

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The paradigm of reliance on technology for our security seems to have led us to a point in which infinite data points and technological tools are at our disposal failed to produce a response. It is of course essential to continue investing in technological superiority, but this needs to be done with a clearer head.

Iron Dome firing missiles. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The similarities between the massacre of October 7, 2023 and that of October 6, 1973—the Yom Kippur War—are chilling. Now, as then, several layers of interwoven “conceptions” were held by the prime minister, the political leadership and the heads of the defense establishment. In the present day, Israel conceives of itself as a regional power and the entities surrounding it as weak; a conception according to which the threat Hamas posed could be contained, and attention should instead be directed toward the West Bank and Lebanon; and a conception which held that even if an attack were to come, our technological superiority—the Gaza border fence, the cameras, the sensors, the control centers, and the digital intelligence gathering—would consign it to failure.

This last concept must be examined in more detail—it is highly reminiscent of the conception which the Agranat Commission of Inquiry following the Yom Kippur War referred to as “the regular troops will hold the line.” The belief then was that even if Egypt were to launch a war, the regular army and air force would be able to withstand an attack on two fronts until the reserves were called up. I contend that the modern concept of “technology will hold the line” is the 2023 equivalent of that failed idea. It is still too soon to draw firm conclusions, and in any case, it is possible that this disaster would have occurred anyway. But perhaps there are several initial lessons that can learned now in order to assist with the management of the war from this point on.

Over the last twenty years, the IDF has undergone a very extensive process of technologization, as part of the global technological revolution. This has suited the political class well, allowing every new security challenge to be met with a newer, more creative, more innovative technological solution to protect against and prevent attacks, rather than hands-on, strategic leadership. It's given Israeli leaders the false confidence that has allowed them to focus their political capital elsewhere—in Riyadh, for example.

This comes alongside such societal developments as a fall in motivation to enlist into combat units and a rising preference to serve in technological units, which has made it almost essential to replace people with machines. This was what led to turning the Gaza border into a "smart" border, through various camera and drone systems and unmanned vehicles, and that's without even mentioning developments currently in the implementation stage, from unmanned tanks to bulldozers and miniature drones with weapon capabilities. The problem is that when technology replaces humans, it comes at the cost of dulling human intuition and research capabilities, and a disconnection of humans from the battlefield. All these, it would currently appear, played some part in the disaster of October 7, 2023.

An additional layer to this is the apparent government and military addiction to the sense of technological superiority. Armed with the latest buzzwords like AI, Netanyahu claimed the halo of technological capability, innovation, and superiority not only as a weapon of deterrence against our enemies, but also as a geopolitical and strategic asset. He rode the Pegasus steed all the way to the Abraham Accords, with the export of military drones and surveillance technology being doled out like gifts to friends around the world.

The problem is that this feeling has also seeped into the IDF itself. One can't help but wonder whether the goal of such military technologization is to find real solutions that have an advantage over humans, or if it rather signifies a “techno-euphoria” and a passion for smart new toys simply because they are, well, smart and new. Technologically induced euphoria is a problematic phenomenon, leading to a preference for technological solutions even if there is no basis for their preferability nor proof of their efficacy.

To make matters worse, those who suffer from techno-euphoria also have the tendency to ignore their creation of new problems. For example, the construction and boasting of the technologically enhanced ground-barrier on the border with Gaza forced Hamas to adopt a different offensive approach, which proved to be extremely effective. Moreover, the very existence of the barrier on the ground and the declarations about Israel’s technological vision, with all its creativity and innovation, led to heightened complacency in the government and the IDF, and contributed to a lack of thinking about the possibilities that Hamas might explore in order to bypass the barrier.

More than anything, techno-euphoria results in partial, imprecise, or insufficient implementation of technological solutions. Examples of this have become glaringly evident in recent weeks, and it is worth thinking about them ahead of the coming stages of the war, and also ahead of future review and learning processes. The following must be top priorities moving forward:


The principle of redundancy. Reports indicate that snipers were able to neutralize border observation equipment, and three observation balloons went down and were not replaced in the weeks leading up to the war—this seemed to almost complete blindness in real time at the border. Redundancy, which is essential when depending on sensitive technology, ensures that if one means of defense fails, the others can cover for it without creating a blind spot.

Breaking through the noise of intelligence data. The intelligence establishment has also undergone accelerated technologization in recent years, in terms of accessible information (for example, from social media platforms), intelligence-gathering capabilities, and machine-based analysis. How then to explain the huge failure to interpret events on the ground, given such a huge quantity of information? Perhaps we neglected to notice that as the quantity of “signals” grew, so did the noise, and that having such a huge mass of data at our disposal created an illusion of knowledge, while what we lacked was intelligence analysis and assessment by humans.

The Tower of Babel of systems and networks. When organizations adopt technological systems, this is supposed to challenge existing structures and blur boundaries between silos, thus fostering work organized around groups and networks rather than around a top-down hierarchy. But experience shows that this is not always the case. Indeed, this was one of the painful lessons learned from the intelligence failure that preceded 9/11, and it is far from certain that we have learned the same lesson. Different arms have been created that were supposed to meet similar needs (such as monitoring and analysis of content on social media), which are not aware of each other’s existence and which certainly do not share information and insights.

Cyber defense. Pictures of the Hamas terrorists inside an IDF base pulling out a well labeled aerial photo of the base are hugely frustrating Even worse are the pictures of terrorists going directly to locations containing a cluster of electricity, communications, and antenna cables and cutting and burning them. Some of the intelligence needed for these actions came from human sources or from open digital information, while others presumably stemmed from flaws in cyber defenses. This is not a new phenomenon: the state comptroller has repeatedly warned of insufficient security for sensitive military databases, and this needs to be quickly addressed.

Protection of hardware. The “City of David” server farm, which was on the frontline of Hamas’s targets and is located geographically close to the fighting, was the subject of criticism in the past, due to this concentration of servers in a single location so close to the border instead of creating greater diversity and redundancy by having different server farms. This issue will also need to be examined immediately after the war.



 The paradigm of reliance on technology for our security seems to have led us to a point in which infinite data points and technological tools are at our disposal failed to produce a response. For both the political and the military leadership, facing up to the collapse of this paradigm is not an easy task. Some will say that our technological superiority still exists, but that Hamas’s low-tech overcame the high-tech of the startup nation, and therefore requires new technology to handle low-tech threats. Journalists and influencers are already writing about the new startups being developed to meet this challenge.

To be clear, it is of course essential to continue investing in technological superiority. But this needs to be done with a clearer head, taking into account the broader contexts, ensuring redundancy, and with humans at the helm. Part of this process involves a change of paradigms, and another part involves addressing specific issues like those described above. One thing is clear: we cannot for a moment allow the conception of technological superiority to spellbind us again.


This article was published in the Times of Israel