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What happened in Israel? The Hamas attack, its grim toll and what’s next, explained

(JTA) — Saturday was a day of bloodshed unprecedented in Israel’s history. 

Beginning in the morning of a Jewish holiday, hundreds of militants broke through the barrier between Israel and Gaza and spread into more than 20 locations, killing 300 Israelis on the streets, in their homes and at an outdoor festival, taking some 100 hostage and injuring more than 1,800. 

In a country whose chronology is punctuated with wars, terror attacks and military offensives, Saturday stood out in its horror. Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel, and Israelis are comparing the day to 9/11 — and asking how their vaunted military could have been so unprepared for such a major assault. 

Nearly a day after they invaded, the militants — sent by the terror group Hamas — appear to have been mostly but not entirely cleared out of Israeli territory. But the fighting is just beginning. While the day’s grim tally is not yet clear, a huge number of Israelis have been taken hostage in Gaza, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promising an unmitigated war on Gaza, which has seen repeated rounds of conflict with Israel over the past 15 years. 

“Hamas has launched a cruel and evil war,” Netanyahu said in a televised address. “We will win this war, but it will carry a very heavy price. This is a difficult day for all of us.”

Is this the worst Israel-Hamas fighting?

Hamas, a Palestinian terror group, has launched attacks on Israeli civilians for decades and has governed the Gaza Strip for more than 15 years. During that time, it has launched barrages of missiles at Israeli cities on the Gaza border and beyond, sending residents fleeing for shelter, and Israel has responded with airstrikes and offensives that have killed thousands of Palestinians in the coastal strip. 

Israel launched ground invasions of Gaza in 2008 and 2014. The most recent major round of conflict between the two sides took place in 2021. 

But Hamas has never attacked Israel as it did on Saturday. While it has previously built a network of tunnels to infiltrate Israel, Saturday’s invasion was on a much larger scale. Militants broke through a barrier built by Israel, attacked by sea and began killing people in 20 different cities and towns. Makeshift bands of Israeli civilians battled the Hamas operatives while the Israeli military belatedly mobilized.

The militants also took a large number of hostages back to Gaza, in addition to holding hostages in a kibbutz cafeteria and a private home in Israel. 

They captured two ambulances and an Israeli tank. They took control of the police station in the border city of Sderot for some 20 hours. They overran an Israeli military base.

A portion of the violence, and many of the graphic videos circulating on social media, came from an all-night party near the border, where revelers fled Hamas, but where some were taken captive into Gaza. 

Along with the ground invasion, Hamas sent volleys of missiles at targets across the country.

By the end of the day, the official death toll had reached 300 — including many civilians and the commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Nahal Brigade, one of the most senior Israeli military officials to be killed in recent years. 

That is a stark contrast with the rocket fire which — due in part to Israeli warning and missile defense systems — has historically had a low civilian death toll. Saturday was one of the bloodiest days in the history of israel. 

How has the IDF responded?

Israeli-Palestinian violence has escalated all year, but the epicenter of that fighting has been in Jerusalem and the West Bank, not Gaza. A flareup of fighting between Hamas and Israel earlier this year ended after five days. 

But as the day progressed, it became clear that Hamas’ attack took Israel by surprise. Residents of the small cities and kibbutzim on the border, absent any help by the IDF, resorted to forming armed bands and attempting to clear out the Hamas fighters themselves. A senior local official was killed while trying to defend his town. 

A day after the attack started, it appeared the IDF had regained control over the area. But that was after 24 hours that included news no Israeli expected to hear: that Hamas had taken control of an army base and police station; that it had captured military and medical vehicles; and that it had taken hostages to Gaza. 

The invasion came as Israel’s government has been occupied with other matters, including a contentious effort to weaken Israel’s court system and a possible diplomatic accord with Saudi Arabia. The future of those initiatives is unclear. Instead, exactly 50 years after Israel was caught by surprise by the invasions that began the Yom Kippur War, the country was once again asking how this could have happened. 

“These days there’s no king in Israel,” Haaretz reporter Amir Tibon posted online, quoting a Bible verse meant to evoke a sense of disorder. “Take care of yourselves.”

What will happen to the hostages? Does Israel negotiate for hostages?

According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, 100 Israelis have been taken by Hamas and brought into Gaza. If that number, or anything of its magnitude, is accurate, it would be many more than the group has ever captured. 

Hamas kidnappings have, in the past, led to Israeli military operations and to at least one prisoner exchange. 

In 2006, Hamas took one soldier, Gilad Shalit, hostage. Israel sent troops into Gaza following his capture but was unable to recover him. Soon afterward, the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah took two other Israeli soldiers captive in an incident that launched the 2006 Lebanon War.

Five years later, in 2011, Shalit was freed in an exchange with a controversial legacy: Nearly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were released in return for the soldier. Indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas led to the deal.

Three years after that, in 2014, some of the Palestinian prisoners released in the Shalit deal were involved in another kidnapping of Israelis — the abduction and subsequent murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank. That incident led to the 2014 Gaza War, which saw Israel invade the territory and lasted 50 days. 

If Hamas has abducted 100 Israeli civilians and soldiers, it will be another element of Saturday’s violence with no precedent in history, though in 1976, Palestinian hijackers took more than 100 hostages at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Nearly all of those hostages were freed in a famous operation in which the only Israeli soldier to die was Yoni Netanyahu, the current prime minister’s brother.

What will happen next?

Little is clear except that Israel’s leaders have promised a large-scale war in Gaza. 

“The IDF will immediately activate all of its capabilities to destroy Hamas’ abilities,” Netanyahu said Saturday. “We will forcefully avenge this black day they have forced upon Israel and its citizens.”

That almost certainly means a ground invasion of Gaza, which promises to bring more death and destruction. Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have already reportedly killed more than 200 people, and masses of reservists have been called up. 

It is too soon to tell how long the coming war will last or how wide-ranging it will be. The last ground invasion of Gaza, in 2014, lasted 50 days and ended with more than 70 Israelis and more than 2,100 Palestinians dead. 

To conduct the new campaign, centrist Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s parliamentary opposition, has called for Netanyahu to form an emergency government that would include centrist parties as well as his current religious and far-right partners. Such an emergency government was also formed during the Six Day War in 1967. 

An emergency government including opposition parties would likely spell an end — or at least a significant pause — for the issue that until Saturday was causing widespread strife in Israel: the government’s judicial overhaul. A government with centrists would not approve such an overhaul, and it is less likely to move forward in the middle of a war. Protests against the overhaul have likewise been put on pause. 

What this means for Israel’s talks with Saudi Arabia is also unclear, but any deal between the two countries was meant to include Israeli concessions to the Palestinian Authority — something Israel would likely be less inclined to agree to while fighting in Gaza. 

“At this moment, I won’t address who is to blame or why we were surprised,” Lapid said in a video message. “This is not the time or the place. We will stand united against our enemies. Israel is at war.”

The post What happened in Israel? The Hamas attack, its grim toll and what’s next, explained appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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On Explosive Northern Front, Hezbollah Lurks; IDF Conducts Precise Defense

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol in the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

JNS.orgAs Israel prepares for the strong possibility of a resumption of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces is also currently in a heightened state of alert and preparedness along the border with Lebanon, responding to the continuous threats posed by Hezbollah.

Since Oct. 7, the IDF has deployed significant military resources, including artillery, tanks and engineering corps, along the Lebanese border, striking Hezbollah anti-tank missile squads and other terrorists whenever they are detected, either after an attack or preparing for one.

This low-intensity conflict when compared to Gaza has resulted in some 90 casualties for Hezbollah and nine Israeli casualties—six military personnel and three civilians.

Several Israeli homes and military bases have sustained heavy damage from Hezbollah strikes since Oct. 7, and tens of thousands of Israeli residents from areas near the border with Lebanon remain evacuated, displaced from their homes by the threat of the Radwan Hezbollah elite terrorist unit.

In response, the IDF has employed a defensive-responsive posture aimed at protecting Israeli territory from Hezbollah’s aggression but not escalating the situation into a full-scale war front at this time.

Its approach is characterized by a reactive rather than proactive stance. Operations are tailored to respond to specific threats and attacks from Hezbollah, avoiding initiating aggression. This goal remains to protect civilian lives and property, as well as to make sure that Hezbollah cannot surprise the north as Hamas did the south. Still, the decision of any expanded war efforts in Lebanon remains up to the war cabinet.

Hezbollah’s tactics, meanwhile, involve embedding its operations within Lebanese civilian areas; using southern Shi’ite villages as bases of attack; firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli northern homes and military positions; and continuing to pose a serious and persistent threat.

The question of whether the Radwan unit, which has murder and kidnap squads much like Hamas’s Nukhba unit, could breach the Israeli border and conduct attacks has no clear answer at this time, although the IDF is present at the border in large numbers and has proven effective at detecting Radwan unit movements in real-time.

Hezbollah’s terror tactics not only endanger Lebanese civilians but are designed to complicate the IDF’s response—a familiar use of human shielding that Hamas employs as well in Gaza.

In this explosive situation, the IDF currently exercises restraint in its counterstrikes, relying on precise intelligence to target terrorist threats while minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

UNIFIL ineffective in curbing provocation

The role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in challenging Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Hezbollah from operating in Southern Lebanon, is nonexistent.

Worse yet, Hezbollah has been actively using UNIFIL as human shields, launching attacks on Israel in some cases from tens of meters from UNIFIL positions.

UNIFIL’s ineffectiveness in curbing Hezbollah’s activities is self-evident, highlighting the limitations of international peacekeeping forces in such scenarios.

Despite this, the IDF continues to remain in contact with UNIFIL and has been transmitting its concern over Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities with no tangible results.

So far, Israel’s policy on the Lebanon border is a delicate balance between essential defense and cautious restraint. But it remains unclear how long this can continue since northern residents will not return to a persistent Hezbollah threat to their lives in the new, post-Oct. 7 reality, and the IDF cannot remain fully deployed in the north indefinitely.

The result is a paradox that appears to suggest difficult decisions in the future by the Israeli war cabinet if the north is to be sustainable and its residents granted a new sense of security.

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The Determination of Israel’s Reservists

IDF soldiers are seen at rest stop near the border with Gaza. Photo: Reuters/Jim Hollander

JNS.orgWho is the Israel soldier? They can be of any age and profession. It may have been a long time since they held a weapon. Many of them are at Tze’elim, one of the IDF’s largest bases, just across the border from Gaza on yellow sand.

When I meet them, they are waiting, as the brief ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was still holding. A short time later, Hamas broke the truce, attacked Israel with rockets, and the fighting began again.

These soldiers are older and more emotional than you would imagine. Their intentions are clear: “Never Again.” The Oct. 7 massacre will never be permitted to reoccur. Israel must be freed from the nightmare of Hamas.

In Tze’elim, rows of barracks and numerous disorderly tents house thousands of soldiers of all kinds. We meet with a group of them from Brigade 252. They are soldiers from the miluim—the reserves. They have completed their three-year military service—or two years, if they are women—but they all keep their “miluim bag” under the bed. If the phone rings, as happened on Oct. 7, they rush to the front, whether they are in Tel Aviv or traveling in Japan, whether they are left-wing or right-wing, professors or taxi drivers. They tear themselves away from the operating room and the shop, the lawyer’s office and the bus they drive.

Commander A. is thin, with gray hair and a kind smile. He is religious. On the morning of Oct. 7, he was in synagogue without a telephone. Someone told him “something never seen before is happening.” A. rushed to his collection point in the south and has yet to return home.

On Oct. 7, the reserves were immediately thrown into the battle to retake the kibbutzim that had been attacked and massacred by Hamas terrorists. They hunted down the Hamas men who remained and collected the wounded and dead Israelis in the fields and on the roads. A. closes his eyes. He has seen hell.

The 252 was then sent into the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, home to 50,000 inhabitants who serve as human shields for what is essentially a massive rocket launching pad. The reservists were trained in a mock-up of a Gaza city. They practiced how to enter, shoot, exit, climb, attack and go through tunnels full of TNT. They trained against ambushes, snipers and RPGs.

A. says that, when they went into Beit Hanoun itself, “We had to quickly learn a lesson: Beit Hanoun’s ambush is in his heart, not its outer circles. The terrorists let you enter easily. There’s a row of houses, two or three more, and that’s where Hamas is waiting for you—where you don’t expect it, in civilian structures.”

A. explains, “If we decide to destroy a structure and there are civilians inside, we warn the civilian population. … There are precise rules for evaluating whether we have to act, whether it’s essential because if we don’t act, the lives of soldiers or Israeli civilians are in danger. We try to stop Hamas’s continuous use of human shields by moving the civilians out completely.”

A. is happy to say, “Of civilians killed in Ben Hanoun, the number is zero.”

Israeli soldiers, however, were killed. Maj. Moshe, a 50-year-old engineer who works in high-tech, explained, “An army generally advances on a territory that, once occupied, is the starting point of your next step. But here, through the tunnels under the ground, suddenly you find the enemy shooting at you from behind.”

Thus, great efforts were made to locate the tunnels. “With the use of sophisticated instruments, and also sometimes suffering unexpected explosions given that Hamas’s specialty is to mine everything with large quantities of explosives, we quickly understood that the tunnels were a very sophisticated network, not holes of various sizes dug here and there, but an enormous spider web that converged on the urban center.”

“The structures used by Hamas, which they protected with human shields, included a mosque, a school, a hospital, a public swimming pool, civilian homes, children’s rooms, even their beds. There were weapons everywhere,” he says.

As a result of the truce, Moshe states, some of the evacuated civilians have begun to return. “We can block them,” he says, “but not attack them or approach them. There is a truce.”

Nonetheless, I point out, three soldiers were wounded two days ago in an attack. “True,” Moshe replies, “and we returned fire. If we are in danger we respond.” He notes that some of the returnees are Hamas terrorists, “but we are in a truce, we act according to the rules of defense.”

“We have two ways of being at war: offensive and defensive,” he continues. “The offensive is much easier: You face the enemy. You can move. Defense is unnerving, even dangerous, especially when there are civilians around.”

However, he says, there is much to do, even during a truce. “For example, we had completely dismantled the explosive systems inside a building, and then we realized that everything had been mined again.”

Hamas, he says, is “easier to deal with than endure while you can’t move. So, we wait for orders. The mission is to destroy Hamas and bring the kidnapped people home. That and nothing else.”

Now that the soldiers are back at war, the humanitarian issue is certainly important to them; not because of what the Biden administration tells them, but because that is what an Israeli soldier is.

First and foremost, however, they are Jews who know exactly what was done to their people on Oct. 7 and will continue their war of justice and survival. One of them tells me, “Yes, I feel when we fight, feel it physically, that our kidnapped citizens are not far away, and I fight for them too with all my heart. This is the most just war of all time.”

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The Moral Bankruptcy of IfNotNow

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Photo: IfNotNow via Facebook.

JNS.orgA few days ago, I attended a webinar entitled “Jews for Ceasefire,” presented by the young Jewish anti-Zionists of IfNotNow. It was hosted by an earnest young woman named Gen (IfNotNow activists often don’t use their surnames), who began by reaffirming what the group calls its main goal: to “end American support for Israeli apartheid.” She went on to emphasize that all the positions taken by IfNotNow are “deeply grounded in Jewish tradition.” To prove the point, she called on Rabbi Monica Gomery, who led a prayer and enthusiastically praised the group’s work.

Next up was Noa, a young woman who said, “I’m going to root us in the moment.” “The moment,” however, did not include Hamas’s Oct. 7 genocidal attack on Israeli civilians. Noa said nothing whatsoever about it. Instead, she presented a litany of alleged Israeli abuses inflicted on Palestinians. Her omission appeared to be deliberate, as it helped portray the IDF’s defensive military operations in Gaza as an unprovoked act of aggression.

Following Noa, there was a testimonial from a young man named Boaz. He made what appeared to him to be a confession that his grandfather helped perpetrate the “nakba.” What he meant was that his grandfather was a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence. For Boaz, his father’s participation in Israel’s successful effort to prevent a second Holocaust was a source of shame, not pride. As he explained, he was trying to work through his guilt. A poster behind him bore the slogan, “Palestine will be free,” a popular euphemism for that second Holocaust.

After Boaz’s self-flagellation came the highlight of the webinar—an appearance by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Tlaib has been an ally of IfNotNow for some time. In fact, the group’s leadership began collaborating with Tlaib before she was elected to Congress. During her presentation, Tlaib referred to them as her “siblings.”

Sporting a t-shirt that said, “Justice from Detroit to Gaza”—a slogan that falsely connects Israel to police brutality controversies in the U.S.—Tlaib declared that Congress must demand a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas and “stop funding war crimes.” Like her IfNotNow supporters, Tlaib conveniently made no mention of the Oct. 7 attack or the hostages held by Hamas.

It apparently did not bother the leaders of IfNotNow that the House of Representatives had just censured Tlaib for her genocidal call to free “Palestine from the river to the sea.” Indeed, IfNotNow leaders repeat the same call in their training sessions. That training also endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to economically strangle Israel, as well as the so-called “right of return,” which aims to demographically eliminate the Jewish state.

It seems that IfNotNow leaders are unperturbed that Tlaib has characterized Hamas’s rampage of crimes against humanity as justified “resistance” to an “apartheid state.” These Jews, it appears, are perfectly happy to align themselves with someone who supports murdering large numbers of Jews. They are also unbothered by the fact that Tlaib posted a video on social media that says, “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people”—a genocide that is not happening. One of IfNotNow’s campaigns calling for a ceasefire is entitled, “No Genocide in Our Name.” Having erased Hamas’s genocidal attack, IfNotNow appears to have fabricated one.

In addition, IfNotNow has officially endorsed Tlaib’s statement, “You cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” To them and other young Jews who clasp hands with Tlaib and her compatriots, condemnation of Israel is the sine qua non of being a progressive, and a policy of racist exclusion must be imposed on any Jew who doesn’t get with the program. IfNotNow looks to Tlaib to lead the way, even though, like antisemites throughout history, she is happy to exploit them and eventually discard them once they have outlived their usefulness.

Most tellingly, IfNotNow has been unfazed by Tlaib’s open antisemitism, such as her claim that American supporters of Israel “forgot what country they represent,” clearly invoking the “dual loyalty” libel. She has also engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories, talking about the “people behind the curtain” who are exploiting victims “from Gaza to Detroit.”

Worst of all, Tlaib is the only member of Congress to call for an end to the Jewish state. It should not be surprising that IfNotNow is fine with that, as they proudly state that they take no position on Israel’s right to exist.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has perfectly and accurately described such people as “Hamas’s useful idiots.”

The origins of IfNotNow’s ideology are obvious. Like Tlaib and many other “social justice” ideologues, IfNotNow divides people into two groups: Oppressors and the oppressed. Depending on your racial or ethnic identity, you by definition belong to one or the other. There are no gradations, no nuance and only one permissible narrative. Thus, decades of genocidal Arab violence go unmentioned, including the Oct. 7 massacre. There is only Israeli oppression and Palestinian “resistance.”

It would be a mistake to believe that IfNotNow is an inconsequential outlier. They have nine chapters across the United States and an office on K Street in Washington, D.C. The webinar I attended had more than 1,600 attendees.

They also have powerful friends and an enormous amount of money. According to NGO Monitor, IfNotNow has received grants from the wealthy Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, the New Israel Fund’s Progressive Jewish Fund and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

All that, plus support from a member of Congress. It seems that racism, hate and support for genocide pay off.

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