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The State of Israel has been at war since Saturday morning. Hamas initiated an effective, sudden attack that caught the Israeli intelligence organizations completely by surprise and shattered the operational defense doctrine on the Gaza Strip border.
There is a large number, which has yet to be finally determined, of dead and wounded on the Israeli side. According to reports in Gaza, a considerable number of hostages and corpses have been brought there from Israel.
At this time, the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police are conducting house-to house battles with armed Palestinians holed up in homes in Israeli communities along the border. The army is calling up reservists at an extent commensurate to war.
There have been terrible massacres in some communities and military bases. Although thousands of rockets and missiles have been fired into Israel, from the south to Jerusalem and the greater Tel Aviv area, that has been mainly a diversion: Hamas’ military effort is concentrated on the Israeli communities on the Gaza border. Tragically, it has been very successful.
The Israeli response – at this time and even more so in the days to come – will exact a high price in blood on the Palestinian side. However, Gaza is not the only arena that could go up in flames. Though the IDF is now concentrating forces on the southern front, it must also consider that fighting could develop on multiple fronts. These could include the West Bank, East Jerusalem and possibly also Hezbollah in the north and also extremist Arab elements within Israel proper. Hezbollah is eyeing developments and weighing its options. Presumably Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s trigger finger is itchy.
The historical comparison in this case is inevitable. It is sad to say this: The Israeli konzeptzia (the term for the mistaken concept of its defense doctrine as infallible became known after 1973’s Yom Kippur War) has collapsed – with respect to policy, deployment of forces for defense, preparedness for a surprise attack and the total absence of any intelligence alert.
Hamas was planning this campaign for months, and during that entire time Israel was dithering over whether to increase the number of Gazan workers to be permitted to enter Israel.
- Over 250 Israelis killed, 1,000 wounded; Civilians and soldiers held hostage in Gaza
- Int’l community slams ‘horrific’ attacks on Israeli civilians by infiltrators from Gaza
- Netanyahu: First goal is to purge Israel from enemies, then exact huge price
The catastrophic result – 50 years and one day after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War – is a huge systemic failure on the part of the entire political and security leadership. However, these things will have to be clarified in depth only after the war ends.
The trouble is that Israel is entering this from an unprecedented internal crisis in which the government’s extremist and insane conduct has dictated an agenda in the framework of which the state has been focusing on all the wrong things. This does not absolve the professional levels of civil responsibility, but it will definitely make the functioning of the country harder during the difficult days ahead.
Hamas learned its lessons from Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 and prepared accordingly. During that campaign, even though it tried to send militants out through tunnels, the organization failed in almost all its efforts as most of the attacks crashed against the Israeli army’s defense forces. This time, there have been attacks on military outposts, which were at a relatively low level of readiness and with forces deployed only to a limited extent.
When these outposts were temporarily silenced, the Hamas Nakba forces (named after the Palestinian catastrophe in 1948, Israel’s War of Independence) entered a large number of communities along the Gaza border, which were left without significant defense. The result is that even hours after the attack, which began at 6:30 A.M., these communities are still cut off and many terrorists are entrenched in homes there.
Most regrettably, these plans are entirely congruent with what Hamas has been rehearsing all these years. With no early warning, and with weak defensive preparedness, the walls have been breached.
Moreover, the barrier Israel built by means of a tremendous defensive wall against tunnels did not help. It was simply circumvented. The voices emerging from inhabitants of the Israeli communities – some of them literally occupied by Hamas – are heartbreaking. This drama is unfolding live on national television as the entire nation watches and sees what is happening. The long-term consequences – for the Israeli settlements along the Gaza border, relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and also perhaps the entire region – will be massive.
In the opening move, Hamas has already achieved its “victory picture” and will rejoice over it on social media and the television channels. At the same time, it will bring down disaster on the organization, its leadership and the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Israel will now respond with tremendous force, and with very few restrictions on the use of live weapons in the heart of densely populated urban areas.
It is not possible to rule out a maneuver by Israeli ground forces and occupation of the Gaza Strip. The morning of the defeat they inflicted on the IDF, Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif might yet earn their aspirational martyr’s death – even if now they scurry into deep subterranean shelters. The leaders of other regional organizations are also not safe.
The nightmare scenario to come will not necessarily end in Gaza. Things will quite possibly also spill over into the other arenas. As noted, all of this has caught Israel at a bad time domestically. This was possibly part of the calculation by Hamas, which assumed it is possible to exploit the Israeli weakness.
In light of the grave intelligence failure, it is impossible to rule out the assumption that we do not know what is happening on other fronts. Has there been a coordinated move with Hezbollah and Iran here? Is Hezbollah waiting for Israel to waste a large part of its Iron Dome missile defense rockets before it too joins the fight? Presumably Israel is now sending very severe warnings via various channels to Tehran, Damascus and Beirut.
The war that has emerged from Gaza has scrambled the whole deck of cards with regard to political and diplomatic developments. Nearly all the reservists who announced that they would stop reporting for duty because of the judicial overhaul returned to their units and command posts Saturday morning. Presumably some of them are now participating in the forays that will be dropping munitions on participants in the Gaza Strip.
Exactly as happened 50 years ago, the surprise came on a Shabbat. When the day of rest is over, the mouthpieces will begin the battle for control of the narrative: the Shin Bet security service is to blame; Military Intelligence is to blame; the chief of staff is to blame; the protest is to blame. Those demonstrations will stop now until the war is over, and rightly so. At its conclusion, it will be impossible to avoid the big question: What happened to us, and how did we fall into such a murderous trap?
Seemingly there was no intelligence, but there were prior indications coming from both Gaza and the West Bank. They received complete indifference from the entire leadership. It is possible to expect a tremendous aftershock in this case too, just as there was in 1973.