After what can only be described as an unmitigated Israeli intelligence failure, and a massive armed incursion into Israeli territory by scores of Hamas militants which resulted in the mass murder and kidnapping of hundreds of Israeli citizens, it’s clear that the perpetually simmering Middle Eastern cauldron has begun to boil extraordinarily hot. This vicious surprise attack by Hamas marks the beginning of what will be a costly and catastrophic conflict for both sides, one that could explode across the region like flames over dry tinder.
This morning, Palestinian militants breached Israeli borders from multiple directions in a complex and coordinated assault launched by land, sea, and air, while firing thousands of rockets screaming into Israeli cities. Hamas gunmen slaughtered Israeli civilians, soldiers, and police, while kidnapping dozens of Israelis, unleashing a new and terrifying level of violence and uncertainty in the troubled region. Harrowing videos of the multi-pronged attack are circulating on social media, showing nightmarish scenes of horror and brutality.
Early estimates of Israeli casualties are already above 300 and still rising, with an unknown number of hostages seized and taken into Gaza, complicating any Israeli military response. Thousands are wounded. It’s an unprecedented escalation of hostilities, and it could easily mushroom into a regional conflagration between Israel and their sworn enemies in Iran, which sponsors Hamas, as well as with Hezbollah in bordering Lebanon. It’s an incredibly explosive situation that will have grave global geopolitical repercussions and implications far beyond the Middle East.
In Washington, President Joe Biden harshly condemned the attack, calling it “unconscionable,” while promising “rock solid and unwavering” American support for the Israeli government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he’s had a somewhat strained relationship in the past. That will include military, intelligence, and political support, as the Israelis begin to retaliate against Hamas for its wanton aggression.
For the Israelis, today’s attack is immediately being compared to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, the deadliest attack in a generation, and will likely provoke a staggering military response, as Netanyahu contemplates a full-scale invasion of Gaza, among other options. Netanyahu said this while declaring war: “We will bring the fight to them with a might and scale that the enemy has not yet known.” He has vowed that Hamas will pay a “huge price” for its aggression today, as the region braces for what’s to come.
A grim anniversary
Indeed, today’s attack came exactly one day after the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when Egyptian and Syrian armies suddenly invaded Israel’s borders, setting off a bloody 19-day conflict that traumatized Israelis for a generation. Yet again, Israel has been caught flat-footed and shockingly unprepared for the worst security crisis to hit Israel in 50 years, but there will likely be hell to pay for the militants who authored this brazen attack.
At this point in the early evening, scattered fighting continues across a broad swathe of border regions within Israel in the small towns of Ofakim and Be’eri, after gun battles in Sderot and Ashkelon. Huge quantities of rockets continue to be fired into Israeli cities, even as Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome air defense system continues to intercept many of those rockets.
Much remains unknown right now, but one thing is utterly clear: there will be a fiery, overwhelming military response from a grievously wounded Israel, and cataclysmic fighting in the near future. It’s a response that will unfold over the next days, weeks, and months, and with global reverberations of an unknown scope. Suddenly, there’s a major new conflict in the Middle East, launched by Hamas, an Islamist terrorist organization.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was very clear: “This is war.”
As I write, Israel is moving huge amounts of military equipment and materiel toward the Gaza Strip, likely preparing for what most analysts believe is an imminent invasion of the small, densely packed coastal enclave, long blockaded by Egypt and Israel. Tanks and helicopter gunships are operating near the Israeli borders, alongside special forces troops. Israeli Defense Forces are launching precision guided missiles in surgical strikes against Hamas targets, destroying a 14-floor high rise in central Gaza City, and there will be much more to come, as Israeli airstrikes continue to expand and evolve, alongside events on the ground.
It’s an extremely fluid situation, a tenuous moment for Israel.
As Israeli security forces attempt to secure their borders and mop up the Hamas fighters still within Israel, they’re also almost certainly preparing for a large scale ground operation and perhaps occupation of the Gaza Strip, in what will surely be an extremely bloody and brutal urban fight. There are also an unknown number of Israeli hostages being held by Hamas, adding yet another troubling problem for Israeli leaders to solve, amid a security crisis of immense scale and seriousness.
A stunning attack
This stunning surprise attack will likely erode support for Palestinians in the democratic West, in the capitals of Europe, and in Washington. Israeli restraint will melt away. This murderous assault does much to justify Israel’s hardline security posture, as Israel fights a brutal enemy with murderous intentions and capabilities. Obviously, the fighting is going to be punishing for Palestinian civilians and militants alike. It’s going to be a bloody and protracted battle, and the IDF can be expected to take the gloves off, and unleash vengeance of a kind rarely seen.
In recent months, Israel has been consumed by its own internal domestic political dysfunction, as Netanyahu’s right-wing government has attempted to denude the Supreme Court of its power, in a destabilizing campaign at judicial reform that many Israelis believe is a blatant and antidemocratic power grab. He’s also battling corruption charges, while leading the most hardline nationalistic government in Israeli history.
Israeli society has been badly fractured, though this vicious attack will likely force a measure of unity and resolve, at least temporarily, as Israelis respond to the worst security crisis in decades. Israel was also in the process of normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Sudan, Morocco, and other Arab countries. Hamas, and their sponsors in Tehran, clearly wanted to interrupt this fragile process, shepherded by the United States.
This devastating attack will change the calculus of the Israeli government, and will lead to a ferocious response. It’s a war that risks burning totally out-of-control, and turning into a raging regional conflagration that could suck in other countries. It adds another bloody dimension to a world that is increasingly breaking out into open hostilities, from the war raging in Ukraine, to this latest chapter of a Middle Eastern blood feud that is now exploding into unimaginable proportions.
In the past, Israeli governments have hesitated to occupy Gaza, instead using targeted airstrikes and assassinations to degrade Hamas, rather than large ground operations, but that pattern seems unlikely to continue. Rather, Israel is going to need to dismantle Hamas and its leadership, and that may include significant ground operations, up to and including an all-out invasion of the Gaza Strip, in what will certainly be a bloody and costly affair for all involved.