Australia/Israel Review

Behind the News – November 2023

Nov 1, 2023 | AIJAC staff

US President Joe Biden visits Israel on a solidarity mission on Oct. 18 (Image: Flickr)
US President Joe Biden visits Israel on a solidarity mission on Oct. 18 (Image: Flickr)

Rocket and Terror Report

Between Oct. 7 and Oct. 25, more than 7,512 rockets, mortars, drones, and other projectiles were fired from Gaza toward Israel, about 4,000 on Oct. 7 itself.

On that day, more than 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, were butchered across a wide swathe of territory following a mass invasion from Gaza by terrorists from Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. Some 4,600 people were injured. Three hundred and eight IDF and security personnel were killed on Oct. 7 or in the two weeks which followed. Those murdered on Oct. 7 included at least 32 US citizens, 24 Thais, 21 French nationals, 17 British nationals, ten Nepalese, and nationals of at least 19 other countries, including Australian grandmother Galit Carbone. 

According to the Israeli Government, at least 222 hostages are confirmed to have been taken into Gaza. Four were released on Oct. 20 and Oct. 22. At least eight German nationals, 17 Thais, four Portuguese, two Italians, and two Mexicans have been confirmed as having been taken hostage, while 11 US nationals, nine French nationals, 15 Argentinians and numerous nationals of other states remain missing, with many believed to be hostages. 

More than 200,000 Israeli citizens, from both the area around Gaza and northern Israel, have been displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict. Israel continues to launch hundreds of airstrikes daily as it prepares for a ground operation into Gaza to destroy Hamas, and several Hamas politburo members and senior commanders have been killed in targeted strikes. 

While the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health claims that more than 6,500 Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes between Oct. 7 and Oct. 25, the Ministry was caught peddling highly inflated casualty tallies in the early days of the war (see below) and there is no reason to believe these figures are credible.

In the West Bank, more than 100 Palestinians have reportedly been killed since Oct. 7, mainly in clashes with the IDF. At least two airstrikes have been conducted and one Israeli border police officer was killed in the ongoing battles there. 


Captured documents show Hamas intentions

Documents found on a Hamas fighter killed on Oct. 7 show an extremely detailed and well-planned operation – with operatives given detailed maps of towns, military bases and infiltration routes and specific instructions about all elements of the attack. Instructions included orders to specifically target civilians for murder or hostage-taking, the latter focussing especially on children. One document said the goal was to “kill as many people as possible.” 

Some of these captured documents, coupled with the massive arsenal and food supplies brought into Israel by the terrorists and recovered by the IDF, also suggest Hamas’ original plan was to invade as far as Kiryat Gat, a town over 25km away from Gaza, and then to try to hold territory and hostages inside Israel for at least a month – although other documents indicate plans to take hostages back to Gaza immediately. Captured Hamas operatives also revealed in interrogations that they were specifically instructed to torture, behead, mutilate and rape Israelis, and one said they were told “whoever brings a hostage back [to Gaza] gets $10,000 and an apartment.”


Unity government formed in Israel

On Oct. 11, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from the Likud party and Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity party, agreed to form an emergency unity government in the aftermath of the mass terror attacks on Oct. 7. It was also agreed that Gantz, a former IDF Chief of Staff and Defence Minister, would join Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in an Emergency War Cabinet which will oversee Israel’s response to Hamas’ deadly attack. Gantz’s party colleague Gadi Eisenkot, another former IDF Chief of Staff will attend war cabinet meetings as an observer, together with Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer of Likud. Three other National Unity MKs will be appointed ministers and will join the wider security cabinet.

It was also agreed Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”), the current Opposition Leader, would have a place reserved for him in the war cabinet if he wants to join it, but Lapid has said he will support the Government from outside for now. Gantz said of the new unity arrangement: “This isn’t a political partnership, this is a shared fate. We are lending a shoulder and are enlisting in the war.” 


Claims Iran gave go ahead to Hamas attack

Iranian, Hezbollah and Hamas sources told the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 9) that Iranian officials assisted in planning Hamas’ surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7 and explicitly gave the go-ahead for it during a meeting in Beirut on Oct. 2. 

According to the report, Hamas began coordinating its attack with Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers in August, and the details of the operation were ironed out in meetings in Beirut between Hamas, the IRGC and Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. 

Responding to this report, both US and Israeli officials said they had yet to see conclusive evidence of Iran’s direct involvement in the attack, while acknowledging that the long and close relationship between Teheran, Hamas and Hezbollah meant Iran certainly had some role in it. 

A later Wall Street Journal report (Oct. 26) said up to 500 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters had received specialised combat training in Iran in September, under the auspices of the Quds Force, the IRGC’s foreign operations arm. 


Another front on the Lebanon border

In Israel’s north, Israeli infantry and artillery units have been reinforcing the border with Lebanon after the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group dramatically escalated cross-border attacks there following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. Hezbollah has fired dozens of anti-tank guided missiles, rockets and mortars at Israeli military positions and towns since Oct.7, while also repeatedly sending gunmen – some affiliated with Palestinian terror groups – to infiltrate northern Israel. Several drones have also been intercepted over northern Israel.

At least six Israeli soldiers, over 40 Hezbollah operatives and six Palestinian terrorists were killed in these exchanges as of Oct. 25. 

Due to the escalation in the fighting, Israel has evacuated all towns and villages along the Lebanon border, including the northern city of Metulla, and there are reports Lebanese towns near the border have also been evacuated.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 19, the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen fired approximately 30 drones and five cruise missiles apparently aimed at the Israeli city of Eilat. All were intercepted by the US Navy. 


Biden visits Israel, US sends Carrier groups 

US President Joe Biden became the first American president in history to visit Israel during wartime when he flew into the embattled country on Oct. 18 for a one-day solidarity visit. This followed visits by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin the previous week. 

In a meeting with Israeli PM Netanyahu, Biden stated that he would give Israel “whatever it needed” in its battle against Hamas and said that he had “come to Israel with a simple message. You are not alone.”

Biden also stated that the US had moved “military assets to the region.” 

The USS Gerald Ford carrier strike group was sent to the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Oct. 9. It was announced a few days later that the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group would also be moved to the eastern Mediterranean, but that was altered on Oct. 21 when Austin announced that the Eisenhower would instead be deployed to the Persian Gulf.

Austin also said that he ordered a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile battery and Patriot missile defence system battalions to the Persian Gulf and that he had placed unspecified additional US forces on “prepare to deploy orders.” Austin had previously ordered 2,000 troops to be prepared to deploy to the Middle East. 


False hospital strike claims cause international violence

Soon after reports based solely on claims from the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health spread globally that Israel had bombed Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital on Oct. 17 and “killed at least 500 civilians,” Israel, US and European intelligence agencies and neutral experts concluded that the cause of the blast was in fact a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) rocket that had failed and fallen in the hospital car park. Israel also released a recording of an intercepted phone call between two Hamas members blaming the PIJ rocket for the casualties. Actual casualties have been estimated by different intelligence sources to be anywhere from as few as 50 to 100-300.

Despite the story being quickly proven fictitious, Arab and Muslim leaders took the opportunity to vehemently condemn Israel, riots broke out across the Middle East, and Israeli embassies and consulates were the targets of violent demonstrations in Turkey and Jordan. Israel was forced to evacuate its embassies in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain and Turkmenistan as a result. 

In addition, an ancient synagogue in Tunisia was destroyed by a mob, a synagogue in Berlin was firebombed, and a synagogue in Melilla, a north African enclave of Spain, was besieged by a mob with worshippers inside. 

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