How Israelis woke up in a different country


Hani Alshaer / Anadolu Agency

If Israelis were told on the eve of Shabbat and Sukkot that Hamas militants would come down from the sky on paragliders, paratroopers would land on the beaches, and the Islamists would break through the border fortifications on jeeps and motorcycles, they would have brushed it off: they would say that such a thing could not even be possible. But at dawn on October 7, the majority of Israelis woke up to the loud howl of a siren, and the reality turned out to be even worse than the terrible dream.

Massive rocket fire from Gaza hit not only the border areas in the south of the country, but also the center, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other major densely populated cities. In just a matter of hours, more than 2,500 shells fell on the heads of residents. Israel was indeed attacked on the ground, from the sea and from the air.

Simultaneously with rockets, which the Iron Dome was not always able to repel, hundreds of militants with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles scattered through border settlements and kibbutzim, without meeting serious resistance, not counting local residents from self-defense groups, rare policemen and guards with pistols.

Immediately after the attack began, Hamas military wing chief Mohammed Deif said it was a response to the «desecration of Al-Aqsa», a Muslim mosque located in Jerusalem. And then came the statement of the leaders of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization that they are also joining the war against the Zionists.

It is noteworthy that Israelis initially received information about what was happening from Hamas propagandists. The studios of Israeli TV channels were flooded with streams of panicked reports from residents of the captured kibbutzim. The cyberwar was lost at this point, the information field was entirely controlled by the attackers.

Today it is obvious that the planning of the operation lasted for several years, and the direct training of the militants, according to a captured Palestinian, lasted about a year. Since February 24 last year, the conflict in Ukraine has been going on with the use of Western weapons, modern technologies, and the practice of pinpoint strikes. Obviously, the instructors were thoroughly studying combat actions in the framework of the special military operation in Ukraine. They trained UAV operators, monitored the tactics of clashes in urban conditions, which allows them to destroy targets with light weapons, having aerial correction. They must have watched everything that was posted on the Internet by both sides of the conflict. The Palestinians were trained using completely new techniques taken literally from the battlefield.

Near Ofakim, a town in southern Israel, hundreds of participants in a youth festival were caught in the crosshairs of militants. Islamists shot the fleeing teenagers at point-blank range, the video of this tragic episode was later circulated on social networks, and on it parents recognized their dying children. The result — at least 260 killed. The fate of some of the festival participants is unknown — it is very likely that they will be used in political bargaining and prisoner exchange in the future.

All of this comes just two weeks after senior Israeli army officials and military intelligence chiefs informed the country’s political leadership that Hamas was not interested in escalation because it was aware of the deterrent power of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), as reported by Israel’s largest portal, Ynet. And Hamas has maintained this illusion in every way possible, making it clear that silence on Gaza’s borders can be bought at low cost with money from Qatar and economic easing.

The IDF was caught off guard, military analysts say. They also speak of failures in the intelligence services, which missed preparations for the biggest attack from the Gaza Strip. After a quick meeting of the political-military cabinet, Defense Minister Gallant and Prime Minister Netanyahu called on Israelis to prepare for a «long and hard war».

Many are now comparing current events to the 1973 war, when Israel was also unprepared for war with Egypt and Syria. Or is the prognosis even more unfavorable?

Amnon Abramovich, a hero of the Yom Kippur War, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, believes that «the situation is much worse now: back then Israel was confronted by two professional Arab armies, the IDF suffered heavy losses, but did not allow the capture of peaceful cities and towns». This time, as noted, the civilian death toll is the highest in Israel’s history: over six hundred dead and over two thousand wounded. And the number of casualties is increasing as Israeli border territories are liberated from militants.

The shock for the citizens of the country was the easiness with which the Islamists entered Israel and did not meet with a decent fight from the strongest army, at least in the Middle East. Anyway, as it is presented by the Israelis themselves, but not all analysts and experts share this point of view. The events of recent days show that they were probably right.

The IDF has finally declared military operation «Iron Swords» and has begun bombing Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. The Air Force routinely hit the headquarters and homes of Hamas leaders. They bombed the Palestin Tower. There is no doubt that Israeli pilots and artillerymen can cope with this customary work. Traditionally, in such «retaliatory strikes» ordinary residential houses and civilians have suffered. Recall that the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places in the world. If not the most one. But it is not yet known how many military personnel, including commanders, and civilians have been held hostage by the militants. The IDF spokesman named dozens of people now held captive in Gaza and did not rule out the possibility of launching a ground operation.

At the same time, everyone looks apprehensively to the north, where the Jewish state borders Lebanon, in which the Hezbollah organization plays almost the first violin. There is alarming news that the UNIFIL Peacekeeping Force has abandoned its observation posts on the Lebanese-Israeli border, while Hezbollah has threatened to enter the war if the IDF launches a ground operation in Gaza. And a war on two fronts — north and south — is a tough scenario for Israel.

In any case, the troops of the northern military district have been brought to maximum readiness, and its ranks have been replenished with reservists. Last Sunday, there were repeated reports of mortar attacks, for which Hezbollah claimed responsibility, despite some calls for restraint on the part of the leadership. The Lebanese wars with Israel and their deplorable results have not yet been forgotten here.

Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to wage the war to a victorious end on all fronts. In his address to the citizens of the country he promised that the enemies will pay a high price for the «dark day» October 7. The prime minister also addressed his domestic opponents, calling on them to join a government of national unity.

What would be a victory in the eyes of Israel’s leadership — wiping Gaza off the map? Destroying the radical Islamists of Hamas? The window of opportunity for normalizing relations has practically slammed shut.

Late Sunday night, the UN Security Council held a closed session in connection with the situation around Gaza. As many times before, there were calls for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. But when has Israel ever been interested in the opinion of the international community?

The IRGC units, which had previously been dormant, are being urgently redeployed from Syria and Egypt to Lebanon. The redeployment of forces and means is underway in accordance with plans against the backdrop of the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

Apparently, it will not be possible to avoid a ground operation of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, especially Netanyahu needs to compensate for the image losses of his own military and special services. In this case, of course, the IDF will learn from the experience of Russia and Ukraine, but it will not happen in a matter of days and at the cost of heavy losses.

At the same time, a retaliatory strike may also be launched against Lebanon, which carries direct risks of the conflict escalating on an entirely new scale.

We should not forget the role that Iran plays in Hezbollah, although analysts and the military cannot yet state that Tehran is directly involved in the Hamas offensive. But this does not rule out the risks of a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran, although such a scenario can still be avoided for now.

America’s aid to Israel, usually measured in money, will of course come after the aircraft carrier, but Biden’s critics in the Republican Party have long spoken of a failed Middle East policy. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, China have established their own channels of communication without U.S. involvement or Israeli mediation. And these channels, bypassing Washington, are being preserved, uniting the leading countries of the region, which have been trying to work on their own security architecture without the participation of Western states for quite a long time, establishing bilateral contacts.

America is a powerful player, it will now have to work on two fronts to maintain its global leadership. But the supply of arms and ammunition to Israel is more likely to be additional fuel in the fire that is about to grow dramatically.