Israel Grapples with Staggering Hamas Assault, Anticipates Prolonged and Arduous Conflict
Apprehensions regarding a wider eruption of violence surged due to a clash at Israel’s border with Lebanon and a fatal attack on Israeli tourists in Egypt.
Israel found itself in a state of shock and warfare on Sunday, following an unprecedented offensive by Hamas fighters who tore through the southern regions of the country, resulting in hundreds of casualties and the capture of hostages during an unexpected breakout from Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned of an imminent “protracted and demanding conflict,” but his military forces continued to engage with militants while simultaneously executing retaliatory strikes in the densely inhabited coastal enclave.
The audacious operation by the Palestinian militant group, involving land, air, and sea incursions, left Israel in disarray and portended the most severe escalation in the region in decades.
Mounting Casualties in Israel and Gaza Reports indicated that over 200 individuals perished in Israel as Hamas unleashed thousands of missiles and infiltrated gunmen across the security perimeter into the southern territories. Israeli authorities disclosed that they were still grappling to regain control of eight regions within their territory, seized by Hamas militants early on Sunday.
Retaliatory airstrikes, including those by Israeli fighter jets, resulted in at least 313 casualties in Gaza, as reported by the Palestinian health ministry. Among the victims were nearly 20 children, with close to 2,000 individuals sustaining injuries.
Anticipated fatalities are poised to rise significantly as Israel, reeling from a violent incursion into its territory not witnessed since its inception, assesses the situation and pledges to exact “tremendous retribution.”
Netanyahu asserted that “the adversary will confront an unparalleled reckoning,” cautioning the population of Gaza to evacuate promptly.
The minuscule coastal enclave, home to 2.3 million residents, has long been ensnared by a blockade and sealed off by a security barrier. Israel has now initiated the cessation of energy supplies and the inflow of goods into this densely inhabited strip of land.
The Israeli response will be further complicated by the capture of numerous Israeli hostages, including civilians and military personnel, by Hamas. This resulted in the apprehension of women and children, who were forcibly transported to Gaza, causing great distress to their family members. Concerns loom that these hostages may be employed as bargaining chips for the release of Palestinian detainees or as a deterrent to an Israeli ground offensive.
These attacks constitute the most perilous escalation of hostilities in the region in many decades, occurring almost precisely 50 years after the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 when Israel faced a similar surprise attack by neighboring Egypt and Syria.
Apprehensions of an Expanded Conflict The situation was further exacerbated on Sunday by flare-ups in the north. Israel engaged in hostilities across its border with Lebanon against the Hezbollah militant group. Additionally, in Egypt, two Israelis and their guide fell victim to an Egyptian national who opened fire on a group of tourists in Alexandria, as confirmed by Israel’s foreign ministry.
Israel appeared to be caught off guard once more by these coordinated attacks, raising questions about the effectiveness of its highly-regarded intelligence agencies, both domestically and in the United States, in failing to anticipate the threat.
Bracha Yarkoni, aged 75, witnessed her residence in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon sustain a direct missile strike. Awakened on her birthday by the sounds of explosions and the cries of her grandchildren, she watched in disbelief as the missile struck. She lamented, “May divine intervention be upon us.”
President Joe Biden joined global leaders in condemning the attack, reaffirming that his administration’s “commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering and steadfast.”
The escalation of intense conflict in the Middle East will serve as a litmus test for his foreign policy as he seeks re-election in 2024.
The situation is further complicated by Israel’s nationalist government, grappling with the trauma of overseeing such a national crisis, and the despair of Palestinians enduring years of Gaza’s blockade and Israeli occupation in the West Bank.
Saleh al-Arouri, a prominent Hamas leader, declared on Saturday, “This is not an operation but a comprehensive battle with one objective: the liberation of our people and their holy sites.”
Hamas contended that their actions were driven by vengeance for a series of recent events at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the West Bank, where residents have reported escalating settler attacks, which Palestinians attribute to Israel’s right-wing administration.
This assault follows a period of intense clashes in the West Bank, where nearly 200 Palestinians have lost their lives in Israeli military operations this year, according to U.N. Mideast Envoy Tor Wennesland. While Israel maintains that these operations target militants, casualties have included protesters and civilians not involved in the violence.
Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets have resulted in over 30 fatalities in 2023, as reported by Wennesland in an August briefing to the U.N. Security Council.
Analysts caution that the outbreak of hostilities over the weekend is unlikely to be short-lived.
“This will not be a minor tit-for-tat exchange; the unprecedented nature of the assault precludes it,” noted Jonathan Panikoff, an expert at the Atlantic Council think tank and former deputy U.S. national intelligence officer. “For years, there have been warnings about the potential for a multi-front war. If this marks the beginning of one, the potential for loss of life and destruction may surpass anything witnessed in decades.”
Tensions have been simmering for months, with longstanding grievances in the backdrop. However, Netanyahu has been pursuing ambitious domestic and international agendas, largely overshadowing the Palestinian issue. These endeavors include judicial reforms that ignited domestic unrest on a massive scale and a diplomatic agreement to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.
Former U.S. intelligence and military officials suggested on Saturday that the timing of the attacks might have been influenced, at least in part, by a desire to disrupt a potential U.S.-brokered Israeli-Saudi accord—a historic development viewed by analysts as a shared response to the threat posed by Iran.