By Ratnadeep Chakraborty
Element of ‘Surprise’
On 6 October 1973, a day when Israelis were preparing for the solemn Yom Kippur services, Israel found itself completely surprised by an unforeseen attack launched by Syria and Egypt. Despite significant improvements in Israeli intelligence and military capabilities over the years, the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War witnessed a possibly more devastating shock as a devastating attack by the violent radical Islamist group, Hamas, rolled through Israeli defences on the border with Gaza.
The attacks that transpired on 7 October marked one of the deadliest days for the Jewish community since the Holocaust. Controlling the Gaza Strip, Hamas executed a well-coordinated assault on civilians, infiltrating by land, air (utilising hang-gliders), and sea, launching a relentless barrage of rockets on southern and central regions. In a chilling sequence of events, Hamas operatives utilised drones to destroy critical surveillance and communication towers along the Gaza border, breaching sections of the border defences and outmanoeuvring one of the most formidable military forces in the Middle East. They then launched a largely uncontested rampage of slaughter and kidnapping.
The timing of these attacks came as a surprise. It didn’t appear to have been triggered by immediate events, despite being referred to as a reaction to the incidents in the Al-Aqsa mosque by the military wing of Hamas, led by Muhammed Deif. The last significant engagement with Hamas prior to this occurred in May 2021, following the Supreme Court’s order for the eviction of six Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah. However, the recent attacks coincide with a period when Israel made notable progress in normalising relations with Arab states through the Abraham Accords and appeared to be shifting the focus away from the Palestinian conflict. It was also actively advancing negotiations with Saudi Arabia, which might not have been well-received by Hamas leadership and its supporters. While there is no direct evidence of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s involvement in planning these attacks, it is known to have provided funding and equipment to Hamas for such operations.
Capt. (Res.) Alex Grinberg, formerly at the IDF Intelligence Research Department and an expert on Iran observed, “These groups like Hamas receive funding, training, and support from Iran, but they retain a significant degree of autonomy in how they carry out their operations. Iran’s guidance is often broad rather than precise, and these proxies can decide on the specific execution of their activities. They provide general directives rather than explicit orders, and individuals in the field understand what the leadership expects.”
Deciphering Hamas and its Ideology
Hamas, officially “Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya,” is a Sunni Islamist organisation whose origins can be traced to the changing political landscape of the Palestinian territories up to 1987. Before the mid-1980s, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood (PMB) held a virtual monopoly. However, its approach focused on the creation of an Islamic society, rather than engaging in persistent and aggressive resistance against the Israeli government.
PMB had not been actively involved in resistance since 1948, as Gaza was under Egyptian influence and the West Bank was controlled by Jordan. As a result, was estranged from the Palestinian population and faced growing accusations of receiving Israeli funding to undermine the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The turning point came with the rise of popular resistance during the First Intifada, triggered by the Israeli control of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967. This uprising was further exacerbated by Israeli settlement policies and economic hardship, which created conditions ripe for the emergence of a sustained and popular resistance movement. PMB’s perceived inaction in the face of these challenges led to increasing demands for resistance and accusations of collusion with Israel.
To address these issues and divert attention from existing Palestinian movements such as Fatah and Islamic Jihad, PMB decided to create Hamas. Hamas solidified its position as a popular resistance movement during the Intifada and labelled the Oslo Accords as a Zionist plot to control Palestinians through a puppet government. The Palestinian Authority (PA) came into conflict with the movement as Hamas intensified attacks to sabotage the Oslo process. The resulting clashes and bombings led to a confrontation between the two. PA’s attempts to maintain power and crack down on Hamas eventually resulted in Hamas taking control of Gaza. This internal conflict had significant implications for the Palestinian territories and further fragmented the Palestinian leadership.
Hamas emerged as the leader of resistance during the Second Intifada, pushing Fatah into the shadows, since it was plagued by corruption and accusations of conspiring with Israel. This period also saw conflict over strategy within the Palestinian resistance. Tensions ultimately culminated in the violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, leading to a split in Palestinian governance. Fatah controlled the West Bank and Hamas governed the Gaza Strip. Historically, the area had relied on funds from Palestinian expatriates, Gulf donors, and Islamic charities in the West. After the Hamas takeover, the Egyptian and Israeli blockade isolated Gaza and left over a million Gazans reliant on international aid. Israel permitted Qatar to provide substantial aid, while other support came via the Palestinian Authority and UN agencies.
Iran also became a major supporter, contributing funds, weapons, and training. Despite brief discord during the Syrian civil war, when Hamas criticised the Assad Regime and moved its political bureau from Damascus to Doha, Qatar to please the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (the ideological fountainhead for Hamas), Tehran pledged some USD 100 million annually to Hamas and other US-designated Palestinian terrorist groups.Turkey, a staunch Hamas supporter, faced accusations of funding terrorism, mainly due to its alleged aid diversions from the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency after President Erdogan took office in 2002.
Dr Raz Zimmt, Research Associate at the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, notes, “It’s important to distinguish two key aspects. One is Iran’s continuous support for Hamas, which it openly acknowledges. Iran has significantly increased its assistance to Hamas over the years, providing technology, training, and weapons. Without this support, Hamas wouldn’t have been able to conduct such attacks. These groups like Hamas maintain coordination and have overlapping interests with Iran, but they are not under direct Iranian command. It’s more about support and coordination.”
Capt. (Res.) Alex Grinberg further observes, “The Iranians handle these situations quite adeptly. They don’t provide financial support to everyone but prefer groups like Hezbollah to generate their funds through means such as drug smuggling or their networks in Africa and South America. The distinction is that Hezbollah serves as Iran’s proxy, while Hamas is considered Iran’s client. Hamas may seek money from Iran, but they can exist without it. Iranian support enhances their capabilities, and Hamas can secure more funding by demonstrating their commitment through actions, such as launching attacks. Iran offers technical training, including the use of drones and communication systems, mainly facilitated through Hezbollah because of the language barrier between Iranians and Arabic-speaking Hamas members.”
Hamas also has generated revenue by taxing goods transported through an elaborate network of tunnels that bypasses the Egyptian border into Gaza. This complex network of tunnels, reportedly extending several kilometres underground, serves multiple purposes, including the transportation of people and goods, storage of rockets and ammunition caches, and housing of Hamas’ command and control centres. The tunnels provide Hamas with a means of conducting activities without being observed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) surveillance.
Shlomi Eldar, an Israeli Journalist who has extensively reported from the Gaza Strip, states, “The population in Gaza has also suffered as a result of Hamas’ actions. In 2006, Hamas was elected as a response to the perceived corruption within the Palestinian Authority. People in Gaza and the West Bank sought to hold the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO government accountable. However, they likely did not anticipate the dire consequences that would follow the election. Initially, Hamas was established as a welfare organisation. When I met with its leaders in the early days, their approach was notably different. Over time, Hamas has evolved into a more radical organisation. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, one of Hamas’ founders, had a significant role in assisting the impoverished in Gaza. What has transpired is that a new generation has taken the reins, particularly figures like Muhammad Deif, who leads the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, and Yahya Sinwar, who was released in 2011 as part of an agreement with Israel. Hamas has also used the aid money significantly in constructing an extensive network of tunnels throughout Gaza, effectively creating an underground city.”
What has now emerged in its horrific actions in many ways seems to resemble the Islamic State (IS), yet there are fundamental differences between the two. Initially, Hamas received some support from organisations such as Al-Qaeda for the Liberation of Palestine. However, this cooperation was short-lived and ended with the Mecca Agreement between Hamas and Fatah. The Islamic State views Hamas as an apostate associate of Iran, a Shia-dominated country. IS declared war on Hamas after the execution of a Hamas member in the Sinai province.
Ksenia Svetlova, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs and a former member of the Israeli Knesset however disagreed with the analysis and stated “In terms of ideology, these movements share a common foundation rooted in the teachings of the radical preacher Sayyid Qutb, a key figure for both the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Their ultimate goal is to establish a caliphate. Hamas, often considered an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, doesn’t seek a national state for Palestinians. There was even significant cooperation between the ISIS and Hamas military wing in northern Sinai from 2014 to 2017. During those years, they launched joint attacks and learned from each other. While there are nuances between various radical Islamist groups, some being more pan-Islamic and others displaying nationalistic features, they all share the same origin, strategy, tactics, and endgame: the establishment of a caliphate and a return to the golden age of Islam in the 7th century.”
The Scale and Magnitude of the Attacks
The assault on the outdoor Tribe of Nova music festival stands as the most devastating civilian massacre in Israel’s history, resulting in approximately 260 fatalities and numerous individuals held captive. Hamas militants opened fire on around 3,500 young Israelis who had gathered for an electronic music celebration during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, intended to promote peace. Disturbing videos emerged of indiscriminate firing at unarmed civilians and the abduction of young women into Gaza. An American citizen, Natalie Sanandaji, who attended the festival, recounted the incident: “We hastily gathered our belongings and proceeded to our vehicle, following the instructed route to safety. Initially, not overly panicked, knowing the protection of the Iron Dome, we began driving. However, the security changed directions, indicating the escalating threat was not yet clear to them. This realisation unsettled us. As we manoeuvred, we heard gunshots, realising the danger extended beyond rockets. Following the security’s instructions, we abandoned our cars and ran on foot. It was a chilling moment as we heard gunfire and had to make instant life-or-death decisions about where to flee. This continued for about four hours, the uncertainty and split-second decisions defining our survival.”
Apart from the music festival, several kibbutzim, small farming communities near the Gaza border, were also targeted. Kfar Aza, one of these kibbutzim, endured one of the deadliest attacks, with houses ransacked and set ablaze, resulting in numerous fatalities. According to Tal Heinrich, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “There were babies and toddlers found decapitated.”
Adele Raemer, a resident of a kibbutz located two kilometres from the Gaza border, shared her harrowing experience: “I was in my house with my 33-year-old son who was visiting. We stayed in the safe room from 6 a.m. onwards, anxiously waiting for the IDF to come and rescue us. Although each community has a team of first responders, they are not initially sufficient to handle a large-scale infiltration, such as the one we experienced. We heard terrifying messages through our internal messaging system from people desperately seeking help as the terrorists stormed inside their houses, even setting them on fire to force occupants out. We were petrified, listening to Arabic voices, gunshots, and explosions all around us. As someone who has lived in a kibbutz since 1975, I had never experienced such fear in my life.”
A former journalist, speaking under the condition of anonymity, shared her experience covering conflicts in the past decade. She expressed that reporting on warfare in which soldiers are the intended targets is markedly different from witnessing the tragic loss of life, including entire families and young children being brutally killed. The “distressing similarity to the actions of the Islamic State is quite apparent.” Recently, her husband received the heartbreaking news that a friend and her husband were killed “while protecting their ten-month-old twins,” who had to hide from the terrorists in a closet for over ten harrowing hours.”
While many have drawn parallels between this assault and the Holocaust, Dov Golombovitch, a Holocaust survivor who escaped from Poland and found himself tragically confined to a safe room for 10 hours during the attack at his Kibbutz, observed, “In the Gaza Strip, the actions of Hamas are not equivalent to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a systematic and industrial genocide of unprecedented magnitude, making it inaccurate to draw a direct comparison. It’s important to understand that the situation in Gaza involves a radical Islamic group, Hamas, which not only expresses a desire to eliminate Israel but has also sought to suppress other Palestinian factions. Approximately a decade ago, they forcibly took control of the Gaza Strip from another Palestinian organisation.”
As events unfolded, the full scope of this brutal assault became painfully apparent, with a staggering toll of at least 1,400 people killed and 3,800 injured, along with 239 individuals of diverse nationalities kidnapped.Israel found itself caught off guard by this savage onslaught, exposing a critical intelligence failure and a breakdown in its entire security infrastructure.
According to The New York Times, an initial assessment highlights the factors contributing to the success of the recent attack, which includes Israel’s intelligence and military facing significant security failures. These lapses encompass intelligence officers’ failure to monitor essential communication channels used by Palestinian attackers, a heavy reliance on border surveillance equipment vulnerable to disruption by assailants, the clustering of commanders in a single border base overrun during the attack’s onset (hindering communication with other armed forces units), and a propensity to be led astray by disinformation planted using private channels known to be monitored by Israel, especially false indications of a lack of combat preparations.
Rami Igra, the former head of the Hostages and MIA Unit within Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, acknowledged that the Israeli military had “heavily emphasised advanced technology, particularly along the border. This overreliance on cutting-edge solutions overshadowed the importance of having soldiers on the ground equipped with binoculars”. It became clear that technology couldn’t adequately substitute the value of human observation and vigilance. Furthermore, due to concerns about the safety of West Bank settlers, the government shifted its focus away from the Gaza Strip and redeployed troops. This change in deployment left “insufficient forces to prevent Hamas from launching their attack”.
More recent assessment, however, has echoed what is now known about past spectacular failures, such as 9/11 and Pearl Harbor – in addition to Yom Kippur 1973 itself. That is, it now appears that much in fact was monitored but that the dots were not connected.
Most tellingly, preparations are now known to have gone on for at least a year prior to the assault. The attack does not appear linked to a specific triggering incident as reasoned by the Hamas leadership, though key Israeli intelligence officials did attempt to warn the government that there were strong indications that the distraction accompanying Netanyahu’s ongoing attacks upon democracy was creating a critical vulnerability that foes seemed to be considering exploiting. Despite the outward emphasis on security and safety by the government, strategic distraction was the order of the day.
Former Deputy National Security Advisor, Dr. Eran Lerman, observed, “This wasn’t a recent intelligence failure over the last few weeks or months leading up to the recent operation. Instead, I believe this represents a failure that extended over a more prolonged period. The extent and precision of the Hamas operation, which involved infiltration by land, air, and sea, suggests meticulous planning over at least a year. The fact that they knew specific locations, including events like the Peace Festival and the rave party, indicates thorough preparation. Detecting these preparations earlier should have been our priority, and our inability to do so represents a significant intelligence failure.”
Amit Halevi, a Knesset member representing the Likud Party, also offered a longer look: “The Israeli political landscape may witness transformations in the future. However, it’s crucial to contemplate past decisions. Throughout the years, blunders made by left-wing political parties have significantly contributed to our present circumstances. The crux of the matter is to adapt our approach. We must explore various strategies and concepts that encompass the intricate security landscape we confront. This pertains not just to politics but also to the security system itself. I hold hope that a fresh generation will emerge, characterised by profound and analytical thinking, stressing a comprehensive comprehension of the challenges we encounter, going beyond superficial politics. This is imperative for our nation’s future, assuring the triumph of peace, justice, and morality.”
The comparison of these attacks to the 9/11 attacks in the United States thus warrants thorough analysis. While the 9/11 intelligence failure primarily resulted from shortcomings in the analysis of the gathered intelligence rather than intelligence collection itself, the Hamas attacks revealed a significant deficiency in both. In particular, while there was, on the one hand, excessive reliance on Signals Intelligence (SIGNIT); reporting indicates, on the other hand, that key monitoring at the tactical level, which could have provided an invaluable early warning, had been stopped as non-productive. Likewise, it is clear that the vaunted capabilities of Israeli Human Intelligence (HUMINT) failed utterly.
Additionally, “hubris,” a term that has surfaced often in recent analysis, was the order of the day. Israeli policymakers displayed a sense of overconfidence which led to confirmation bias, akin to their attitude before the Yom Kippur War. Israeli assumptions as to threat perceptions reflected not evidence gathered but what the Israeli authorities themselves wanted to believe. In the event, the illusion of invincibility was shattered when the enemy swiftly penetrated Israeli territory, marking the first such incursion since the War of Independence. The fallacy that economic incentives could contain a self-proclaimed resistance organisation proved to be a grave miscalculation, since it assumed interests would trump ideology.
Yet there were few who did not know Hamas ideology openly aims at the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people, as highlighted by specialist Bruce Hoffman in The Atlantic. Hoffman references Article 2 of the Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS), which states, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
In dealing with such motivation, evidence becomes essential, gathered in response to a calculated collection plan that allows forks in the decision tree, the result emerging from the analytical process, not predetermined conclusions. Micky Aharonson, who formerly headed the foreign relations directorate of the Israeli National Security Council in the Prime Minister’s office, concurred as to the now fully revealed self-deception: “We faced a significant setback with this strategy. At the outset, there was a collective belief that engagement with the Palestinian authorities, potential management of Hamas and its supporters, and gradual regional progress were achievable goals. The objective was to await more favourable opportunities for peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians while simultaneously striving to enhance their living conditions. Unfortunately, this approach proved to be highly unsuccessful.” 
Yet, amidst many other indicators that were ignored, Hamas had reportedly created a simulated Israeli settlement in Gaza to conduct military training and operations. Yael Medina, a resident of Moshav Netiv Haasara, observed, “Hamas established checkpoints near the border, monitoring our daily activities. As civilians, we had been discussing this situation for two years, and we had a growing sense that something significant was imminent.” 
Regardless, distracted and committed to limiting the powers of the independent judiciary, Israel’s right-wing government convinced itself that Hamas was not fully prepared for a hostile confrontation. Apparently, the Gaza front had even been stripped of forces in order to support right-wing settler attacks and death-squad activity against West Bank Palestinians – even as, just a week before the attack, the Erez crossing was opened, allowing Gazans to seek employment in Israel.
Amit Halevi, a member of the Knesset, acknowledged Israel’s miscalculation. “It’s a sobering realisation,” he observed, “that well-intentioned actions can lead to unintended consequences. Israelis have consistently extended a hand for peace and prosperity. Every Israeli Arab residing here attests to the positive transformations Israel has brought to this region, turning the desert into a thriving environment. This reflects the character and heritage of our nation. However, the perpetrators of this atrocious act are entirely contrary. One among them, who had been employed on the kibbutz for 25 years and even worked as a babysitter, resorted to such extreme violence. We must treat these matters with utmost seriousness and refrain from solely concentrating on economic aspects. This was an error, and we must acknowledge it.”
Dr. Ely Karmon, senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, adds, “The current situation is a glaring example of both strategic and tactical intelligence failures. There were clear indicators that should have prompted an assessment of an impending event. For instance, the increased missile firings towards the sea, initially perceived as attempts to enhance precision or operational efficiency, were integral to their preparations for this assault. Likewise, exercises conducted by groups such as the Islamic Jihad along the border fence initially portrayed as routine drills, were tactical preparations. Unfortunately, our intelligence lacked access to vital strategic information and failed to conduct a thorough analysis of these precursor signs. The second major failure lies in their successful execution of tactics to infiltrate and occupy parts of our settlements, villages, and breach towns, using a modus operandi well known to our army. It’s concerning that they managed to breach some of our military posts on the frontline and neutralise defending soldiers.
The Hostage-taking and Crisis Management
“Soldiers” are perhaps the least vexing challenge of the moment. A manual retrieved in the aftermath of the attack indicates that hostage-taking was an explicit objective, even if operations did not go entirely as planned. The manual suggests that the group originally intended to take hostages inside Israel for a prolonged standoff rather than bring them into Gaza. It describes methods of torture, abduction, and using hostages as human shields. The manual details separating women and children from men and advises senior field commanders to negotiate with Israeli authorities. However, a final section regarding threats to prisoners was not authenticated. The manual is written in Arabic and features references to Israeli military ranks and weaponry. It was produced by the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, and includes a watermark from the “al-Quds Battalion.”
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, founder of Shurat HaDin–Israel Law Center, further notes, “This situation is indeed a war crime and a crime against humanity. The majority of the hostages are civilians, including women, children, and even babies from various countries. Among the hostages are foreign citizens from different countries. These people are held by Hamas, and we don’t know if they are alive or dead, or if they are wounded. It is crucial to involve the Red Cross in this matter. Despite initial claims that the Red Cross doesn’t work in Gaza, they do have a presence there. They should be fulfilling their duty according to the Geneva Convention, similar to how they monitor and ensure compliance with rules in other conflict situations. The international community needs to put pressure on Hamas to release these innocent hostages, and Israel should approach other nations and show them the evidence of the brutality of Hamas.”
An illustration of what happened at the individual level is provided by the case of “Ron,” a 19-year-old officer in the IDF. He was one of the hostages seized while on duty, which involved facilitating the movement of goods between the Gaza Strip and Israel, fostering positive relations with local traders. Despite not being required to work on a specific Saturday, he opted to stay at the base, a common practice for a handful of soldiers during weekends and holidays. His mother states, “The day took a dire turn at 6:30 a.m. when Ron’s text message alerted us to what he initially perceived as a missile attack. It was, however, a barrage of bombings, grenade explosions, and other alarming sounds. Ron’s subsequent phone call reflected palpable fear and a growing sense of abnormality. His messages took a more distressing turn when he mentioned the presence of terrorists within the base, instilling an ominous certainty of his fate. After an agonising four to five hours, we received videos posted by Hamas on social media, offering a surprising glimmer of hope. These recordings showcased Ron appearing unharmed, which offered relief. They meticulously documented his journey from abduction to his presence in the Gaza Strip. While the assurance that he had been taken alive provided solace, his current status remained uncertain. Our pressing concern was securing his inhaler to manage his severe asthma. We engaged with organisations like the Red Cross and sought any available assistance to ensure his vital medical needs were met.”
The situation of the hostages remains uncertain, with Hamas’ spokesperson Abu Ubaida stating that hostages will be executed if Israel continues its offensives in Gaza. While Israel has increased its airstrikes on Gaza to exert pressure on Hamas, experts suggest that negotiations are likely the most viable means to secure their freedom. Notably, two elderly Israeli women were released on October 23, following the earlier release of an Israeli-American mother and daughter on October 20. In both cases, Qatari officials played a mediating role. Israel finds itself faced with the challenge of both pursuing hostage negotiations and pressing ahead with its offensive. Senior military officials, in an interview with The Guardian, have highlighted the difficulty of any military rescue operation.
The Israeli government has been working with the American and Qatari governments, which are aiding in mediating the release of hostages. Lt. Col. (Res.) Maurice Hirsch, former head of the military prosecution in Judea and Samari, notes, “In examining Hamas’ approach to hostage releases, it’s crucial to acknowledge their use of innocent civilians as human shields, a tactic frequently involving the concealment of rocket launchers and weapon stockpiles within civilian areas. Notably, the release of hostages is being conducted incrementally. Hamas spokesperson Abu Obeida has made it explicit that in the event of an Israeli ground operation in Gaza, they intend to initiate executions of all the hostages, a deeply serious matter. This underscores the necessity for the international community to comprehend their intentions, raising the possibility of witnessing distressing live executions of Israeli hostages, which would inevitably draw unsettling parallels with the actions of ISIS. Furthermore, there are indications that the officially reported figures by Israel regarding the number of hostages held by Hamas may not be entirely accurate, suggesting the potential existence of more hostages than currently disclosed. In their attempts to improve their image, Hamas released some hostages, but they still hold many others, including women and children. There’s no distinction between Hamas and ISIS, regardless of whether they release terrorists or hostages bit by bit.
Rami Igra emphasised “The Israeli public no longer responds to hostage-related pressures. Hamas, however, clung to outdated strategies, using hostages to manipulate the Israeli government. However, there isn’t any precise information about the hostages available. Nevertheless, efforts are underway to gather intelligence and mount rescue operations. As the Israeli army continues its manoeuvres in the Gaza Strip, tactical opportunities are anticipated to secure the release of many, if not all, of the abducted individuals.”
Israel’s Retaliation and The End Game
Iron Sword, the IDF thrust into Gaza, was initiated by first focusing (as reported) on Hamas infrastructure which has offensive capabilities. Prime Minister Netanyahu invoked Article 40 of the Basic Law, officially declaring a state of war. An emergency war cabinet was assembled, which included former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, albeit his prior declarations of not entering a coalition with Netanyahu. Opposition leader Yair Lapid was also extended an invitation to join the cabinet, although he has yet to respond due to unmet conditions for his participation. Prime Minister Netanyahu, addressing the nation after the war cabinet’s formation, emphasised the government’s unwavering commitment to eliminating the Hamas threat “from the face of the Earth.” Idan Roll, former Deputy Foreign Minister and Knesset Member representing the Yesh Atid party, noted that Israelis have a unique trait of unity during crises to safeguard the nation. As previous mistakes are acknowledged and rectified, the Israeli populace has for the moment set aside “political differences to ensure effective management and leadership during this war.” As for Lapid’s absence from the emergency cabinet, inclusion hinges on future developments and the necessity for “experienced figures in pivotal ministries, aiming to create an agile decision-making body.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated the objective of eliminating both the political and military leadership of Hamas in Gaza. There was an initial delay in the IDF ground offensive to allow the United States to deploy air defence assets to protect U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East, even as the Israeli Air Force continued airstrikes on targets in Gaza, particularly in the northern region where most Hamas assets are considered concentrated. Civilians in the Northern region, as has by now been widely reported, were ordered to relocate for their own safety. Regardless, the current death toll in Gaza has surpassed 8,000 and will rise further.
Attempting to act as both supporter and voice of conscience, U.S. President Joe Biden and other high-ranking officials have made wartime visits to Israel. Biden has expressed unwavering support for Jerusalem in its effort to defeat Hamas and conveyed the message that Israel is not alone in the battle. He pledged American assistance as the conflict continues, including the possibility of sophisticated weaponry. Any assistance comes on top of the USD 3.8 billion in military aid presently (as reported) delivered annually.
The firm U.S. stance in support of Israel comes at a time when Washington’s influence in the Middle East faces challenges, particularly from China’s growing presence in the region. To maintain its relevance as a key regional actor, Washington must engage in a manner that is relevant to the moment, hence its outward emphasis upon military might. Former Deputy Foreign Minister and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Danny Ayalon, concurred with the assessment that U.S. engagement in the region has been diminishing. However, he viewed President Biden’s visit to Israel as “not only a show of solidarity but also a strategic move to sustain a presence in the Middle East. The support for Israel is not just a matter of emotions or morals for the United States but a calculated decision to protect its strategic interests. As the sole democracy in the Middle East, Israel plays a pivotal role in promoting democratic values in the region, which is critical for confronting cruelty and dictatorship. The U.S.’s backing of Israel serves as a deterrent to potential adversaries in the region”.
Regardless of such staunch support, Israel faces a multitude of challenges as the conflict persists. Certainly among the most urgent is preventing other members of the so-called ‘axis of resistance’ from entering the war. There have been numerous provocative actions emanating from Southern Lebanon, for instance, where Hezbollah, another proxy of Iran, holds sway. An alarming succession of incidents has drawn concern and forced IDF response.
Lt. Col. (Res.) Sarit Zehavi, the founder of the Alma Research and Education Center, articulated this concern. “Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets surpasses that of Hamas by a magnitude of ten,” he states. “Israel’s military forces are prepared for a multi-front engagement, which encompasses the potential theatres of Lebanon and Syria, all aimed at safeguarding the nation. The mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of Israeli reservists has been initiated to provide security. However, the sustainability of this situation remains a critical question. Should a ceasefire be declared while Hezbollah retains its capabilities, the risk of a scenario akin to that experienced in the southern front looms large.” Hezbollah’s Deputy Chief, Naim Qassem, has issued a warning, stating, “Hezbollah knows its duty well and is fully prepared,” and indicates that they will join the fight “when the time for action arrives.”
While the precise intentions and nature of Hezbollah’s involvement remain unclear, Dr. Raz Zimmt suggests, “Iran is committed to supporting Hamas. While there has been some limited engagement of other proxies in northern Israel, we have yet to witness a full-scale mobilisation of all resistance members by Iran to support Hamas. This may be because Iran believes that Hamas can withstand Israel with its current level of support, potentially involving Hezbollah in later stages. If Israel launches a ground offensive, there is the potential for increased engagement from pro-Iranian militias in Syria, western Iraq, and other regions.” The chances of Iran engaging in a full-scale conflict directly with Israel will be low as it majorly prefers fighting the war through its proxies. The Commander-in-Chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also issued a warning that if Israel launches a ground offensive in Gaza, they would turn into a “graveyard.”
Ultimately, even as the shape of the war remains unclear, as does the strategy for engaging in battle, there persist questions regarding the endgame in Gaza and Israel’s apparent lack of a comprehensive post-invasion strategy. President Biden has voiced similar apprehensions and has drawn parallels with past U.S. experiences, such as the aftermath of 9/11. Israel now faces the challenge of developing an effective governance strategy for the region or formulating an exit plan outlining the future of Gaza after the conflict’s conclusion.
The IDF has initiated limited ground operations involving troops and tanks to target specific military sites within Gaza. These operations are perceived as preliminary steps towards a potential Gaza siege aimed at locating and rescuing hostages. Notably, one IDF soldier previously held captive by Hamas was freed during these ground actions, indicating the military’s intent to conduct more extensive operations to secure additional hostages through these limited ground incursions before implementing a complete siege of Gaza.
The Israeli public opinion towards the complete Gaza siege is also shifting. Almost half of the respondents expressed a preference for caution, as revealed in a recent poll conducted for the Israeli newspaper Maariv. When asked whether the military should swiftly initiate a large-scale ground offensive, 29% voiced support for immediate action, while 49% favoured a more measured approach, and 22% remained indecisive. This marked a notable change from a poll conducted on October 19, where 65% of respondents backed a ground offensive, albeit without specifying the timing. Maariv suggested that the current emphasis on hostage-related developments significantly influenced this shift in public opinion. The Israeli public probably wants the government to secure the hostages and ensure safety before the siege of Gaza or the attack on Hamas continues.
The complexity of the conflict is further exacerbated by the fact that a significant portion of Hamas’ infrastructure is concealed within intricate tunnel networks whose full extent remains largely unknown. Dr. Daphné Richemond-Barak, a specialist in subterranean warfare at Reichman University, in an interview with the BBC, echoed these concerns, noting that the tunnels inside Gaza frequently employed by Hamas are well-appointed to “accommodate prolonged occupancy. They feature essential amenities such as electricity, lighting, and rail tracks, facilitating smoother movement and extended stays.”
Hence, while there may be a strong desire to assert control over Gaza and reshape its political landscape, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yosef Kuperwasser, former head of the Research Division at the Israel Defense Forces’ Intelligence Corps points out the complexities of prolonged engagement, stating, “Controlling Gaza is not our preference; we are not inclined to manage daily matters like sewage, water supply, and economic issues.” Nonetheless, former Deputy National Security Advisor Dr. Eran Lerman holds a different view, suggesting that there could be “a push to reinstate or potentially rebuild an Israeli presence in the area.
The endgame therefore remains uncertain, even as the ground offensive appears in motion. Whether Israeli forces ultimately will revert to the status quo that prevailed before the 2005 Gaza disengagement is a matter yet to be determined. In the end, Professor Dan Schueftan, former advisor to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, warns against an extended Gaza invasion and advocates a more proactive approach focused on “neutralising Hamas’ offensive capabilities. This approach,” he assesses, “should also consider the group’s use of civilians as human shields, complicating targeted actions without collateral damage. Furthermore, regarding the West Bank, the two-state solution is considered unviable. The prevailing sentiment, similar to Gaza, suggests that without Israeli presence, hostile factions would seize control. Granting them sovereignty would jeopardise Israeli security, as their primary objective is to cause harm. To avert the mistake of providing them with resources and weaponry, a more proactive security approach is needed”.
The Israeli government faces the challenge of maintaining the legitimacy of its actions against Hamas while also prioritising the release of hostages. The recent Hamas attack appears to be a deliberate attempt to provoke Israeli retaliation in Gaza, potentially causing harm to innocent civilians. Hamas may be counting on such actions to wear down Israel and gain international sympathy, possibly paving the way for its recognition as an independent state.
However, it’s essential to recognize that merely targeting Hamas’s military wing through a ground offensive will not fully neutralise the organisation. A significant part of Hamas’s political structure operates from foreign nations like Turkey and Qatar, making it necessary to strangle its financial resources and economic capacities for complete isolation. In Western countries, there is a tendency to distinguish between the political and military wings of Hamas, engaging with the former while outlawing the latter which can be deceptive.
One vital lesson learned from dealing with Hamas, an organisation committed to Israel’s annihilation, is that economic incentives alone are insufficient. Dealing with such groups requires a more comprehensive approach, and their stated positions should not be taken at face value. Following the October 7 attacks, it appears that even Israel’s long-standing strategy of isolating the Palestinian cause to foster Middle East relations has faltered, as the impact on ordinary Israeli citizens has become evident. Relying solely on technical intelligence and substantial firepower to control the armed threat is no longer a viable option. Israel needs to move past its policy of division and control aimed at weakening the Palestinians and instead formulate a comprehensive approach for addressing radical factions. Furthermore, the government needs to formulate a clear post-Gaza seizure policy to prevent the rise of new radical factions in the vacuum following the potential destruction of Hamas.
About the author: Ratnadeep Chakraborty, a project intern with Mantraya, is currently pursuing his Master’s in International Relations from Guru Nanak Dev University and is the co-founder of an independent media company that covers the spheres of strategic affairs called The Honest Critique. This Special Report has been published as part of Mantraya’s ongoing “Fragility, Conflict, and Peace Building” projects. Views expressed in this Special Report are the Author’s and do not represent Mantraya’s position on the issue. All Mantraya publications are peer-reviewed
Source: This article was published by Mantraya
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