Israel at War

October 12, 2023

Meir Kass

Words fail. The horror, depravity, and callous inhumanity emerging in photos, videos, and news reports from Eretz Yisrael have left me speechless, unable to remotely convey the sheer brutality of sonei Yisrael nor encapsulate the depth of heartbreak and terror wrought upon our brethren since Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. Still, I will try. While an ocean of prose and verbosity would do little to express the savage awfulness of what has occurred or properly communicate the difficult days, weeks, and likely months ahead, I hope to at least provide insight and context to the terrible barbarity we witnessed over the past few days, if for no reason other than to turn us toward Avinu shebashamayim with hearts broken and souls aflame, beseeching that Heswiftly bring an end to our suffering.

How the Attacks Unfolded

Early on the morning of Shabbos, Shemini Atzeres (Simchas Torah in Eretz Yisrael), thousands of Hamas terrorists launched a coordinated attack on southern Israel by land, sea, and air, unleashing a wave of violence that resulted in the deadliest day in Israel’s history—and the deadliest single day for Jews worldwide since the Holocaust.

The attack began at approximately 6:30 a.m., with terrorists firing a barrage of some 2,500 rockets, overwhelming the Iron Dome missile-defense system’s capabilities. Following the initial wave of rocket fire, Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel through the Gaza border fence near the Kerem Shalom Crossing—an important checkpoint between Israel and Gaza—and immediately attacked an Israeli military base. At around the same time, additional terrorists raided and overtook the Erez Crossing. Targeting these checkpoints allowed Hamas to neutralize clusters of Israeli forces and spread unencumbered into nearby Israeli towns.

By 7:30 a.m., Israelis began seeing groups of terrorist arriving on pickup trucks in nine towns and cities across southern Israel. They began firing indiscriminately at every Jew they could find.

By late morning, terrorists had completely overtaken the border, and they began dismantling portions of the protective wall separating Israel and Gaza. What had begun as a relatively small infiltration of terrorists had grown into an abject nightmare as waves of them crossed into Israel to terrorize, kill, maim, and assault the tens of thousands who call southern Israel home.

Soon, Hamas terrorists began taking hostages, driving more than 100 captured Israelis, Americans, and other nationals—including women and young children—to Gaza. Many of them were beaten and assaulted along the way, including instances of terrorists shooting their legs so they could not even attempt to escape.

The scenes of devastation and brutality that took place over the course of that fateful day are difficult to describe. Jews were hunted like animals for hours, children were beheaded and burned alive, and women were imprisoned and repeatedly assaulted. Unmitigated evil is too subtle a term to accurately describe the horror inflicted.

By the end of the day, more than 1,000 Jews were dead, around 150 were abducted to Gaza, and thousands more were injured, many of them seriously. Since then, the death toll has risen above 1,200 as of Tuesday evening—including more than 1,000 civilians—and close to 3,000 people were suffering from injuries.

Im Hashem Lo Yishmor Ir

The immediate reaction of Israelis and Jews across the world was pure shock. How could Israel’s vaunted military have been so easily outmaneuvered by a rather ragtag group of rifle-wielding terrorists? How could its intelligence agencies—considered among the best in the world—have missed any and all clues that such a massive coordinated attack was coming? How could all of Israel’s military and government leaders been caught so flat-footed?

There are no easy or obvious answers. In a bitter twist of irony, the attack came just one day after the 50th anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War, when Israel was also caught by surprise, leading to the nation’s near-destruction.

The Wall Street Journal soon reported that Iranian security officials helped plan the deadly assault in the weeks leading up to it and gave the green light for the attack at a meeting in Beirut, Lebanon, the Monday before it took place. According to the report, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had worked with Hamas since August to devise the incursions into Israel, and details of the operation were refined during several meetings in Beirut attended by IRGC officers and representatives of four Iran-backed terror groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah.

The strike was intended to hit Israel while it appeared distracted by internal political divisions over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government and also aimed to disrupt accelerating US-brokered talks to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which pose a major threat to Iran, the WSJ report said.

While the White House says it has not seen evidence of Iran’s direct involvement, Israeli officials have pointed to the meetings as implicating the regime.

“We know that there were meetings in Syria and in Lebanon with other leaders of the terror armies that surround Israel, so obviously, it’s easy to understand that they tried to coordinate. The proxies of Iran in our region, they tried to be coordinated as much as possible with Iran,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said Sunday.

Israel’s Response

As the attack was ongoing and IDF forces battled to root out terrorists from southern Israeli communities, the military officially declared war on Hamas.

“Israel is at war. We didn’t want this war. It was forced upon us in the most brutal and savage way. But though Israel didn’t start this war, Israel will finish it,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said.

“Hamas will understand that by attacking us, they have made a mistake of historic proportions,” he added. “We will exact a price that will be remembered by them and Israel’s other enemies for decades to come.”

Touching upon the atrocities, Netanyahu said, “The savage attacks that Hamas perpetrated against innocent Israelis are mind-boggling: slaughtering families in their homes, massacring hundreds of young people at an outdoor festival, kidnapping scores of women, children, and elderly, even Holocaust survivors. Hamas terrorists bound, burned, and executed children. They are savages. Hamas is ISIS.”

A massive call-up of reservists was immediately issued, with up to 360,000 now reporting for duty. Tanks and armored vehicles have fanned out across the southern border with Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon after Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, threatened to declare war on Israel if it commences a ground operation into the Gaza Strip.

As the situation continues to unfold, Israeli warplanes have been hammering Gaza with hundreds of devastating air strikes targeting numerous neighborhoods, flattening buildings and killing hundreds of terrorists. The Israeli military said it had hit more than 2,300 “Hamas targets” as of Tuesday. Still, the response is only preliminary, as a major ground operation—the biggest Israel has undertaken in decades—is expected to begin within the next few days.

Israeli officials have urged Gazans to leave their homes, and the US is reportedly coordinating with multiple countries on a plan that would offer safe passage for civilians out of Gaza and into Egypt.

Support Pours In

Messages of support for Israel and condemnations of Hamas came pouring in from across the globe shortly after the attacks began making international headlines. To its credit, there has been no fiercer and unwavering defender of Israel so far during this crisis than the Biden administration.

Biden has held calls with Netanyahu at least thrice, and in a Tuesday-afternoon address, the US president vowed to provide Israel with the resources necessary to obliterate the terrorists who unleashed evil on them.

“There are moments in this life…when the pure, unadulterated evil is unleashed on this world.,” Biden said. “The people of Israel lived through one such moment this weekend. The bloody hands of the terrorist organization Hamas—a group whose stated purpose for being is to kill Jews. This was an act of sheer evil. More than 1,000 civilians slaughtered—not just killed, slaughtered—in Israel. Among them, at least 14 American citizens killed. Parents butchered using their bodies to try to protect their children. Stomach-turning reports of…babies being killed. Entire families slain.

“In this moment, we must be crystal clear: We stand with Israel. We stand with Israel. And we will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself, and respond to this attack,” Biden said. “Like every nation in the world, Israel has the right to respond—indeed has a duty to respond—to these vicious attacks.”

The White House also pushed back against repugnant liberal lawmakers who have attempted to draw a moral equivalence between the attacks by Hamas and Israel’s crushing response. Those lawmakers are the usual suspects: Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Cori Bush.

“I’ve seen some of those statements this weekend, and we’re going to continue to be very clear. We believe they’re wrong, we believe they’re repugnant, and we believe they’re disgraceful,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“Our condemnation belongs squarely with terrorists who have brutally murdered…kidnapped hundreds, hundreds of Israelis. There can be no equivocation about that. There are not two sides here. There are not two sides,” she stressed.

The US Department of Defense said it has now moved the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the eastern Mediterranean off the Israeli coast, bolstered its fighter aircraft presence, and stands ready “to move in additional assets as needed.”

On Tuesday evening, the first batch of US military assistance landed at the Nevatim Airbase in the Negev, providing what is reported to be advanced munitions for the IDF to use in the coming battles against Hamas and potentially Hezbollah. The IDF says the ammunition is intended “to enable significant strikes and preparations for additional scenarios.”

Now What?

There is no telling where we go from here. What is clear, however, is that Israel is preparing a military response that is perhaps unprecedented in its 75-year history.

For years, Israel’s government pursued a policy of containment against Hamas, using a mix of economic incentives and military force to keep the Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza in check and protect Israeli citizens from violence.

But after Hamas’s deadly attacks, policy makers are adopting a new approach toward the group: eradication.

Israel’s leaders are preparing a large-scale operation intended to either decisively end Hamas’s hold on Gaza or gut its military capabilities entirely.

“What was in Gaza will be no more,” Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday. “They will regret [their actions].”

Israel completely removed its civilian presence in Gaza in 2005 because officials thought Israeli rule of the territory wasn’t sustainable. The next year, Hamas won parliamentary elections. In 2007, the group violently took control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority, after which Israel and Egypt quickly placed a tight blockade on the territory.

Israel has long been caught between its desire to rid itself of Hamas and the reality that removing it from Gaza could require a long war and potentially cost many lives.

The country’s military has responded to previous rounds of violence with limited air strikes to full-blown invasions, but it never risked the all-out war needed to completely topple Hamas’s rule. The IDF typically targeted Hamas only if attacked or if the group had built up a threatening capability, such as tunnels dug into Israel.

Now, neither aerial bombardment nor limited ground incursions are enough to address the threat Hamas poses.

Returning to the Gaza Strip carries massive risks for Israeli ground forces, which last entered Gaza in 2014. Gaza’s populace is packed in urban zones, and Hamas fighters have an extensive network of underground tunnels to conceal their movements.

In addition, mass displacement of civilians and extensive loss of Palestinian life could erode international support for Israel, which Israeli leaders have to take into account.

Despite these challenges, it appears obvious that a massive operation will be launched, with the likely goal of obliterating Hamas once and for all.

What can we do to help? One word: daven.