Israel’s Sept. 11, only worse
Oct 11, 2023 | AIJAC staff
Update 10/23 #01
So much is being written about the terrible events of Oct. 7, 2023 in southern Israel, and their aftermath, that is is very difficult to decide what readers most need to hear about in this relatively short Update. Many commentators are comparing the attack to what the US suffered on Sept. 11, 2001 but Israeli commentators have noted that, as a percentage of the national population, the death toll from the wave of Hamas attacks on Saturday – now over 1,200 – is at least 11 times worse than what the US suffered. In addition to the terrible human toll of these events, the implications for Israel, the region and the world are, and will long continue to be, immense.
This Update will try to provide some insights into the mood in Israel, where things are today, four days after the attacks, and what is likely to happen next – but not duplicate the reporting and angles that have already been widely covered in the Australian media.
We lead with Israeli President Issac Herzog’s response to the attacks, broadcast to the nation on Monday – hopefully capturing the mood in Israel. It is sombre and mournful, noting Saturday saw the most Jews killed on any single day since the Holocaust ended in 1945, and calling those who carried out the attacks “monsters”. It also expresses a strong determination to prevail, and for Israel to emerge even stronger. For the full statement, CLICK HERE (Video is here). Israeli PM Netanyahu also gave a televised national address the same day, which included listing five goals for Israel’s counter-attack against Hamas.
Next up we bring you a good summary of where things stand today, four days after the attack, from the American publication the Dispatch. It focuses especially on Israeli preparations for a war on Hamas, the complications of this in urban and densely-packed Gaza, and those added by Hamas’ seizure of more than 100 Israeli hostages. It includes expert comments on what went wrong on Saturday, both in terms of intelligence and defensive failures, and what Israel can do now to take on Hamas, from leading Israel and US-based analysts. For this piece, included to bring the current state of play up to date, CLICK HERE. A more detailed summary of all events relevant to the Israeli-Hamas conflict since Saturday morning comes from the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre.
Finally, this Update offers a highly recommended take on the current Israeli plight and mood from Times of Israel columnist Haviv Rettig Gur. He does a remarkable job of explaining the frightening Hamas ideology and mindset, and why the parading and abuse of hostages, designed to humiliate both them and Israel, was very much a part of its strategic plan. And he argues that while the Hamas attacks have undoubtedly weakened Israel both physically and psychologically, they have made it immensely more dangerous enemy to Hamas. the terror group, once seen as a tolerable threat by Israelis, has become a completely intolerable one, he says. For Gur’s must-read analysis in full, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- US President Joe Biden’s emotional and moving speech yesterday promising the US stands with Israel and “will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens — defend itself and respond to this attack.” Biden’s key points are reported here.
- Some of the many good comments and reported stories on the reason for the dismal Israeli intelligence and defence system breakdowns on Saturday – here, here, here, here, here and here,
- Some of the many heart-rending eyewitness accounts of the Hamas slaughter in Israeli towns and villages near Gaza – here, here, here, here, here and here.
- Some important reporting on Iran’s role in this attack – here and here.
- Articles discussing the great difficulty of an Israeli ground operation against Hamas in Gaza – here and here. Plus, Columnist Benny Avni worries that Israel will quickly lose the world’s backing once it begins its fight to overthrow Hamas, as Palestinian casualties escalate.
- Comment on the immorality of those essentially excusing Hamas’ actions – from Bret Stephens, Charles Cook, Martin Bright and Arab commentator Hussein Aboubakr Mansour.
- Articles on the nature of Hamas – here, here, here, here and here.
- Examples of the enthusiastic support for the Hamas massacres, often in antisemitic terms, from the supposedly more moderate Fatah faction affiliated with PA President Mahmoud Abbas – see here, here, here, and here.
- Iranians also celebrated the massacres publicly – but on social media many expressed support and sympathy for Israel.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Joel Burnie’s article in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald about the disbelief and emotional turmoil of Jewish Australians in the wake of the attacks.
- AIJAC’s Walt Secord, a former NSW MP, ties the recent terror slaughter back to his recollections of his own visits to Sderot, one of the Israeli towns hardest hit by the Hamas murder spree, in a Daily Telegraph piece.
- Frequent AIJAC guest and top Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari offers his take on both the hostages taken and the dilemma they create for Israel, and Iran’s role in these attacks, on ABC Radio National.
- Colin Rubenstein was interviewed about the murderous Hamas terror wave, which he described as “beyond belief”, as well as its significance for Israel, the region and Jewish Australians, on SkyNews.
- Both Colin Rubenstein (on ABC-TV) and Joel Burnie (on SkyNews) did TV appearances discussing the ugly pro-Palestinian rally that occurred in Sydney Monday – marred by antisemitic chants – as the Sydney Opera House was lit in the Israeli colours, and the police warned Jews to stay out of the area.
- AIJAC’s statement on the attacks from last Saturday evening.
- AIJAC videos of the many landmarks across Australia, and around the world, lit up in blue and white in solidarity with Israel.
Herzog: ‘Not since Holocaust have so many Jews been killed in one day’
“The brutality. The inhumanity. The brutality. The inhumanity. The barbarity of monsters—not humans—monsters.”
JNS.org, October 9, 2023
Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to the Israeli people on Sunday evening (Image: Youtube screenshot)
Following is the full text of a statement made by Israeli President Itzhak Herzog on Oct. 9.
As president of the State of Israel, I speak to you now from our capital city Jerusalem under the dark shadow of war, as my nation continues to endure a savage attack from a cruel and inhumane enemy. To my mind, not since the Holocaust have so many Jews been killed in one day. And not since the Holocaust have we witnessed scenes of Jewish women and children, grandparents—even Holocaust survivors—being herded into trucks and taken into captivity.
Hamas has imported, adopted and replicated the savagery of ISIS. Entering civilian homes on a holy day and murdering in cold blood whole families. Young and old. Violating and burning bodies. Beating and torturing their innocent victims—Jews and Muslims and other faiths.
The brutality. The inhumanity. The barbarity of monsters—not humans—monsters.
Over the past days, I have spoken with leaders from around the world who expressed their deep outrage at the attack, including [U.S.] Vice President [Kamala] Harris, [U.S.] Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken, the heads of the E.U., the U.N., NATO and others closer to home, like my friend, President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
I call on all nations around the world:
First, most importantly, make clear and loud condemnations of Hamas’s actions. Just as you condemned the abhorrent and unspeakable actions of ISIS because today, they are one and the same.
Second, those nations that have yet to do so: Designate Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist body.
Third, make clear that Hamas carries full responsibility and accountability for the well-being of the hostages it has taken and demand their immediate return to Israel.
And fourth, support Israel—in words and in deeds.
Israel for its part will continue to defend itself. The government of Israel, Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, the IDF and all the Israeli security agencies have my full support. We will act with full force and unwavering commitment to eliminate this threat to our people. We will pursue all those who perpetrate and support such grievous acts against us.
I know the Israeli spirit will overcome. Unfortunately and sadly, there are hundreds of bereaved families all around the country and thousands of injured being treated in hospitals around the country. Today and yesterday, I met some of the wounded in Asaf HaRofeh Shamir Hospital and Beersheva’s Soroka Medical Center, some of the best medical centers in the world.
If you ever want to witness the great spirit of my nation, the great spirit of the nation of Israel, you can see it in hospitals and elsewhere around the country. You will find a people united and committed to prevail, together, and come out victorious.
A wounded soldier makes a peace sign as he is treated for his injuries at Beer Sheva’s Soroka hospital, the closest major hospital to Gaza. Israeli hospitals have had to deal with thousands of injured (Photo: Twitter)
Let there be no mistake by any in the region who may consider operating against Israel. Israel is a very strong country and will employ all its might and strength to defend itself and its people.
I pray for the swift and full recovery of the injured, I pray for the bereaved families, and I pray for the wellbeing of those taken hostage. And through all this, with the solidarity and support of our brothers and sisters in Jewish communities all around the world, with our friends and allies all around the world, I know that Israel will emerge stronger, more resilient and united.
Israel Readies for Long War
James Scimecca and Grayson Logue
The Morning Dispatch, Oct 10, 2023
Bodies being collected at Kibbutz Be’eri, where more than 100 people, more than ten per cent of the community’s total population, were murdered on Saturday (Image: matzav.com)
|After being caught flat-footed by Hamas’ surprise attack over the weekend, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) quickly mounted a forceful response—and on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made their goal clear. “Every place where Hamas is active and working will be completely destroyed,” he said in a prime-time address. “What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations.”|
|Now four days removed from the initial wave of atrocities, the casualty numbers have continued to climb, solidifying the surprise strike as the deadliest attack in Israeli history. As of this morning, more than 900 Israelis—a majority of them civilians—have been confirmed dead, along with at least 687 Palestinians. But both those counts will continue to rise. First responders were still recovering bodies last night from the towns and villages terrorists attacked near the border, with more than 100 bodies removed from Be’eri alone—greater than 10 percent of the small kibbutz’s population.|
|In his remarks on Monday, Netanyahu laid out his case for the barrage on Gaza, drawing comparisons between Hamas and the terrorist group ISIS. “We always knew what Hamas is and now the whole world knows,” he said. “Hamas is ISIS and we will destroy it the way the enlightened world destroyed ISIS.”|
|Israeli Defense Forces continued their campaign against Hamas targets in Gaza on Monday, launching nearly 1,300 airstrikes, according to Israeli authorities, and destroying dozens of buildings. Meanwhile, IDF forces began assembling in southern Israel in preparation for a likely ground invasion of Gaza—the military has dubbed the war effort Operation Swords of Iron. As Israelis brace for a bloody and protracted conflict—potentially on multiple fronts—the country’s political leaders are working to sort out a unity governing coalition to weather the crisis.|
|“I can say now, finally, today, now many hours after Hamas invaded into southern Israel that Israeli security forces, IDF, police, and the others have reestablished control of southern Israel,” IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said last night, 62 hours after the initial attack. IDF Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari reported early this morning that Israeli forces had also regained control of the Gaza border. And shifting to offense, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced yesterday a “complete siege” of Gaza, declaring electricity, food, water, and fuel would be cut off. “We’re fighting against human animals,” he said. “And we’re acting accordingly.”|
|More than 130 hostages—Israelis and foreign nationals, likely including U.S. citizens—remain trapped in Gaza, and Hamas leaders threatenedyesterday that the group would begin executing the captives unless Israeli airstrikes stopped. “We announce that any targeting of civilian homes without advanced warning will be met regrettably with the execution of one of the enemy civilian hostages we hold, and we will be forced to broadcast this,” Abu Obaida, the spokesperson for Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement.|
|The presence of hostages has further complicated an already difficult operation for the IDF. “We are engaged in formulating a full assessment of the situation and are acting with full force to create an effective mechanism, an address for all families that are anxious for the fate of their loved ones,” said Gal Hirsch, an IDF brigadier general appointed on Sunday to coordinate the response to missing and captured Israelis. Qatar is reportedly trying to mediate negotiations over a swap of Palestinians in Israeli prisons for the Gaza hostages—though Israeli officials denied that there were negotiations underway.|
|While the situation may be more in hand in the south, there are signs a new front could open up in the north. IDF forces said they killedmultiple Islamic Jihad militants entering the country from Lebanon on Monday, and Hezbollah spokesmen said the group shelled Israeli military installations in response. Israel also returned artillery fire, and the Israeli air force struck a Lebanese village following the incursion.|
|Israel has mobilized more than 300,000 reservists over the last two days—the largest such mobilization in the country’s history. There is a strong sense of duty and unity among Israelis—including those who fiercely opposed the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial reforms and boycotted reservist duty in protest in recent months. “It’s been striking to see them, literally overnight, pivot to all going and joining up with their reserve units and calling on Israelis to do whatever they need to do to support the IDF and the military effort,” Michael Koplow, the chief policy officer at the Israel Policy Forum, told TMD.
|That sense of patriotism has yet to result in the formation of a unity government—a coalition of the main political parties represented in the Knesset usually formed during a crisis—but such a move appears imminent. Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity party, said he would join a government coalition if Netanyahu allows the National Unity party to have “real influence” in a war cabinet, and Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition and the centrist Yesh Atid party, has indicated he won’t join a unity government so long as the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties remain part of the governing coalition. Netanyahu on Monday signaled openness to such an emergency government of national unity of some kind, but “without any preconditions.”|
|If Netanyahu breaks with the right-wing parties now, he risks losing whatever chance he has of maintaining his hold on power after the current crisis abates. But some Israeli political observers believe that ship has already sailed. “Almost certainly, this disaster means the end of the Netanyahu government after the war is over,” Eugene Kontorovich, professor at George Mason University Scalia Law School and scholar at the right-leaning, Israel-based Kohelet Policy Forum, told TMD.|
|The longer the country goes without a unity government, the more heat Netanyahu will likely face. “It’s more likely that at some point, Netanyahu is going to have to get rid of his more extreme partners—certainly if he wants Yair Lapid to join and perhaps also if he wants Benny Gantz to join,” Koplow says. “Given the deep unpopularity of this government, even before Saturday, there’s going to be lots of pressure on him to do just that and to form a unity government, which is something that you normally would have seen already.”|
|Forming such a coalition would not only signal further a united Israeli front, but also could have practical consequences for the war effort. “Aside from Netanyahu himself, most of the experienced politicians with serious military chops are sitting outside of the government,” Koplow said. Gantz is a former defense minister, Lapid previously served as foreign minister and prime minister, and a number of other opposition lawmakers have been in high-level military and intelligence positions. “You look at all these guys, and you think that, of the people who you would want in a type of war footing in a cabinet, in terms of their experience and their advice, they’re all on the outside looking in.”|
|If Israel proceeds with its expected ground invasion of Gaza, the conflict will only become more challenging to navigate as casualties pile up on both sides of the conflict. A unified government, then, could prove important to maintaining public confidence in political leadership as the war progresses.|
|As the fighting continues, the number of Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire will continue to rise. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry claimed Monday that 140 children have been killed thus far as a result of Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas installations. “You may get the wrong impression that we are aiming for ordinary buildings, and you may hear people say that we’re trying to strike civilian targets,” Conricus, the IDF spokesperson, said yesterday. “That is nonsense. We are striking military targets belonging to Hamas.”|
|Israeli military officials have issued warnings in Arabic to people in Gaza to leave areas targeted for attack—some have even advised people to leave Gaza entirely through the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border. But moving to safer areas can be a challenge for civilians in Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated areas. Although Hamas maintains an extensive network of underground tunnels, Gaza lacks air raid sirens and bomb shelters. Prior to the attack, Israel often used a “roof knocking” system—text messages, calls, and an initially limited strike to the roof of buildings—to warn people an attack was imminent. But IDF officials have indicated such warnings may not be the norm in the current war, citing the broad public evacuation notices and the unprecedented nature of the Hamas attack.
|While we are just days removed from the initial attacks, analysts are already beginning to unpack not only the intelligence failures but the operational failures that led to such a brutally successful assault. “Israel already understood a scenario like this could happen,” Joe Truzman, a Foundation for Defense of Democracies analyst focused on Palestinian and Lebanese terror groups, told TMD. “However, and this is important, [they thought] that this scenario wouldn’t happen from Gaza, it would happen from the north, from Hezbollah, the infiltration of Hezbollah Radwan units, or their commando units or special forces units, into the Galilee region. I don’t think they ever expected it to come from Gaza.”|
|Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but former Israeli security and intelligence officials have since argued that the signs of an impending attack were present. “After we are able to probe this, we will see that we knew almost everything,” said Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, former head of the IDF’s military intelligence branch. “There were intelligence assessments hours before. The question is, did we understand what we knew?”|
|Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Netanyahu, provided a starker assessment: “This operation actually proves that the [intelligence] abilities in Gaza were no good.”|
|An anonymous Egyptian intelligence official claimed yesterday that Netanyahu’s government had ignored warnings that Hamas was planning “something big,” but Netanyahu strongly denied the report, cautioning Israelis against “fall[ing] into these propaganda traps.”|
|Saturday’s attack also raises questions about the preparedness of IDF ground forces. “This isn’t just an intelligence failure, it’s also a real failure of the IDF operationally,” Koplow told TMD. The bulk of IDF forces were stationed in the West Bank on Saturday, contributing to the slow response time to the incursion in the south.|
|Some Western observers argue the war has exposed the weakness of Israel’s conscripted forces. “Israel has an excellent air force and elite special-operations units, but its conventional line units—made up mostly of conscripts—are neither particularly well trained nor well disciplined by American standards,” argued Andrew Exum, a former United States deputy assistant secretary of defense who assessed Israeli military needs as part of a U.S.-Israel military aid review in 2016. “The country’s semi-professional military relies heavily on conscripts and reservists, which places it at a disadvantage in many respects. Full-time, professional militaries can dedicate themselves to rehearsing collective tasks that high-intensity combat situations often require: reacting to ambushes, conducting raids, incorporating artillery and airpower into maneuvers. Conscript militaries, by contrast, are forever bringing on and training new people.”|
|Such early criticisms in the middle of a war risk veering into armchair strategizing, but the inability of the IDF to stop the attack sooner has shaken Israelis’ confidence in their military. Questions will persist about Israel’s preparedness for such a devastating attack—but what is clear is that the country has a long road ahead. “This isn’t a, let’s say, 11-day conflict like we saw in 2021,” Truzman said. “I highly doubt it’s going to be a -something-day conflict like we saw in 2014.”|
|“If Israel is going to attempt to destroy Hamas and Islamic Jihad completely,” he said, “it’s going to take them many months to do that.”|
A wounded, weakened Israel is a fiercer one
The assault on Israeli towns was as cruel as Hamas could make it, and every agonizing minute was broadcast to Israelis as a message and a humiliation. Now comes the Israeli answer.
Haviv Rettig Gur
Times of Israel, October 8, 2023
Screenshot from a video showing Israeli hostages being seized at Kibbutz Be’eri, posted on social media (Photo: Facebook screenshot)
It was a horror, interminable, impossible. Hour after hour, families sat huddled in their homes awaiting rescue from the Hamas gunmen streaming through their towns and villages.
Families were butchered in cold blood. In one home, a terrorist shot the parents dead, took a child’s cellphone and started broadcasting it all in a livestream on their Facebook account. Grandmothers were pulled in wheelchairs to waiting vehicles ready to carry them as hostages into Gaza. Then came the mothers carrying babies. Footage circulated on social media, put there by Hamas, of an Israeli child asking his mother if the gunmen that surrounded them were going to kill them. “They said they won’t,” the mother replied as they were taken outside to some unknown fate.
The stream of videos didn’t stop. An IDF soldier’s body was paraded in Gaza. A young woman, bleeding, was pulled by the hair from a car after being kidnapped and taken into the Strip. And all of it was broadcast by Hamas to the world in joyful pride, sparking celebrations in Tehran, Ramallah and no small part of the online pro-Palestinian activist world.
And all the while came the stream of messages on Twitter and WhatsApp from Israelis still surrounded by the roving gunmen, friends and relatives begging for a rescue that never came.
Hour after agonizing hour.
Where was the army? Where was the powerful Israeli state? Police, who fought bravely in several locations and saw some two dozen officers killed on Saturday, were too scarce and too poorly armed to repulse the attack.
The great and vaunted Israel Defense Forces, a 64-billion-shekel per year (over $16 billion) institution, seemed to evaporate in Israel’s moment of desperate need. And not just because of the initial surprise. Five hours into the event, battalions had still failed to materialize, government ministers failed to explain the events. Everyone seemed shell-shocked. The whole state apparatus, from the politicians on down, disappeared.
And a great and deadly quiet seemed to come over the Israeli body politic.
Until Saturday, Israelis believed they were strong and safe. On Saturday, they started to believe that they were neither.
In that simple shift, the Hamas attack was massively successful.
The demolished Israeli police station in Sderot, which was seized by Hamas terrorists. (Photo: dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo)
As Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Hamza put it while the attack was still underway: “This powerful enemy is an illusion made of dust and capable of being defeated and broken. Our heroes made the enemy small and humiliated, feeling death everywhere.”
Theories abound about Hamas’s reasons for the assault. Many suggested it was an Iranian-ordered disruption of Israeli-Saudi normalization. Others focused on internal Palestinian politics and suggested Hamas was positioning itself, even at the cost of an inevitable and crushing Israeli retaliation, as the unquestioned leader of the Palestinian struggle after Mahmoud Abbas’s death. Still others said the reasons were simpler: The two Hamas leaders in Gaza who prepared and launched the operation were military chief Muhammad Deif and political head Yahye Sinwar. The first lost his family to an Israeli airstrike aimed at him, the second sat for 22 years in an Israeli prison. Neither needed an overwrought geopolitical rationale to piece together such an operation.
There is probably some truth in all these theories. All make sense. But none are how Hamas itself explained the operation in real-time.
Here lies a part of Palestinian thinking and discourse that many of Palestine’s Western defenders ignore, both because it’s a hard sell to Western audiences and because they don’t really understand it themselves. Palestinian “resistance,” as conceived by Hamas, is about much more than settlements, occupation or the Green Line. A larger theory of Islamic renewal is at work.
As he announced the start of Saturday’s attack, Hamas military commander Deif said it was meant to disrupt a planned Israeli demolition of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. And when Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh called on Saturday for “every Muslim everywhere and all the free people of the world to stand in this just battle in defense of Al-Aqsa and the Prophet’s mission,” he meant just that, that the fight was over holy things, over Islam’s redemptive promise.
This reclamation of Islamic dignity through the ultimate defeat of the Jews occupies a great deal of Hamas’s political thought, permeates its rhetoric and profoundly shapes its thinking about Israeli Jews and its strategy in facing Israel. Israel is more than a mere occupier or oppressor in this narrative, it is a rebellion against God and the divinely ordained trajectory of history. And by showing Israelis in their weakness, the thinking goes, Israelis are somehow actually made weak. Redemption requires only the faith of its believers to be fulfilled, and seeing is believing.
The footage from Saturday, the snuff videos shared gleefully by Hamas supporters, including in some Western far-left circles, weren’t an aberration. Hamas gunmen didn’t get “carried away,” as some explained. They were the essence of the whole enterprise. They were Hamas’s basic message to Israelis: That they weren’t being killed and kidnapped just for tactical advantage in the struggle for Palestinian independence, but rather were being humiliated and dehumanized as traitors against God.
Israelis being kidnapped and taken into Gaza by Hamas terrorists, October 7, 2023, as seen in pixelated videos from social media screened on Israeli television (Channel 12 screenshot)
It was the message at every turn. In one video released for Israelis to see, a little Israeli boy, perhaps six years old, was put in a circle of Gazan children who were told to bully and terrorize him while he stood there helpless. It was a planned and purposeful moment. Israelis’ weakness was paraded through Gaza’s streets and celebrated on social media. It was the point.
Hamas did everything it could to shock Israelis, to humiliate and horrify, kidnapping children, desecrating corpses, and then crowing about it to the world.
And Israelis watched it all, minute by agonizing minute. And they agreed. Their weakness had become clear, unavoidable.
And very, very dangerous.
The power of weakness
The Israel that emerged from Hamas’s “Al-Aqsa Deluge” operation was different from the one that went into it. A tectonic shift had occurred in the country’s psyche. The horrors inflicted by Hamas sparked rage and an intense feeling of vulnerability. Where Hamas had always seemed an implacable but ultimately containable enemy, it had now proven it could bring the danger into Israeli homes, could slaughter children and kidnap grandmothers while all the vaunted power of the Israel Defense Forces was helpless to stop it.
Hamas had made itself an intolerable threat.
American-Israeli families whose loved ones are missing and believed to be held hostage by Hamas in Gaza speak at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday, October 10, 2023. (Photo: Debbie Hill/ Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News)
The change is so profound and palpable that many Israeli analysts, apparently assuming that Hamas understands the consequences that this psychological fallout will have for Gaza, argued on Saturday that the terror group was surprised by its own success.
“In my estimation,” tweeted analyst Avi Issacharoff, “the military and political leadership of Hamas did not expect these successes. They meant to kidnap two or three as part of a massive killing spree. But this many? Their problem is that this success may turn into a pyrrhic victory. It seems to me there’s now a consensus in the Israeli elite and among the public that nothing will be the same anymore.”
Arab opponents of Israel speak of it often as an artificial, rootless construct doomed to collapse in the face of Palestinian faith and resilience. It is at heart, they say, a colonialist project that for all its outward power lacks the inner authenticity and conviction to survive.
That interpretation of Israel isn’t just a put-down. It’s a call for action, including and especially the kind of sustained terrorism and cruelty that pushed other colonialist projects out, from the French in Algeria to the British in Kenya. This interpretation of Israel is the basic logic behind Palestinian suicide bombings, rocket fire and the whole slew of terrorist tactics employed by Hamas on Saturday.
And it always, always fails. Decade after decade, the Jews only grow more numerous.
Israeli Jews are immune to anticolonial terrorism, not in the sense that they are not traumatized by it — they possess no more courage or conviction than any other people — but in the sense that they cannot respond to it in the way Hamas wants them to. They cannot, as Haniyeh promised on Saturday, choose to leave their homeland. There’s nowhere for them to go.
Hamas’s threat, then, is double-edged: the raw cruelty of the assault on the one hand and the impossibility of ever satisfying the assailant’s demands on the other.
And so Israelis are uniting, from left to right, liberal to Haredi. None of the domestic fractures are healed, none of the political problems resolved. But Hamas brought home to Israelis the intolerable weakness of a divided Israel. And this weaker Israel that now faces Hamas, and with it the many allies and murderous ideologues who stand behind it from Lebanon to Iran, believes it has been left no choice but to fight desperately to ensure Saturday’s images never return.
There are many different kinds of power. There is the power of the confident, safe and strong. But there’s also the very different sort of power of the wounded, weak and desperate. These are psychological states, not objective realities. And pivoting from one to the other changes everything.
“A wounded tiger,” Arthur Golden wrote in “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “is a dangerous beast.”
It’s an image with a long pedigree in Israeli strategic thinking. Moshe Dayan was said to have urged Israel to act like a “wounded tiger,” unpredictable and desperate, to deter its enemies from attack.
Palestinians sometimes use the image to mock Israel or shrug off the impact of an Israeli reprisal attack.
Hamas is now putting that old adage to the test. Israelis can handle humiliation; they are less moved by the politics of honor than are their enemies. But these heirs of a collective memory forged in the fires of the 20th century cannot handle the experience of defenselessness Hamas has imposed on them. Hamas seemed to do everything possible to shift Israeli psychology from a comfortable faith in their own strength to a sense of dire vulnerability.
And it will soon learn the scale of that miscalculation. A strong Israel may tolerate a belligerent Hamas on its border; a weaker one cannot. A safe Israel can spend much time and resources worrying about the humanitarian fallout from a Gaza ground war; a more vulnerable Israel cannot.
A wounded, weakened Israel is a fiercer Israel.
Hamas was once a tolerable threat. It just made itself an intolerable one, all while convincing Israelis they are too vulnerable and weak to respond with the old restraint.