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The Gazan Gordian Knot

Following a litany of failures, Israel must now contemplate a menu of bad options.

· 14 min read
The Gazan Gordian Knot
Palestinian protesters in the West Bank burn tires during a demonstration in support of Gaza, 13th Oct, 2023. Alamy 

On October 7th, more than 1,500 Hamas terrorists launched an attack on Israel by land (breaking down the border fence with tractors and entering Israel in vehicles), by air (with gliders), and by sea. They attacked eight military observation posts, massacring the (mostly women) soldiers stationed there, and succeeded in occupying the headquarters of the Gaza division in charge of the border. They then attacked a music festival, at which they murdered 250 young Israelis, and entered 15 border villages, most of which are small Kibbutzim, and penetrated as far as the city of Sderot. As this bloody mayhem was unfolding, Hamas operatives in Gaza fired over a thousand rockets into Israel, some of which reached as far north as Tel Aviv.

At the time of writing, the number of Israelis killed has risen to 1,300 and the dead are still being counted; more than 400 people are still missing and more than 3,500 have been injured, 200 of them seriously. The number of dead Israelis carried into Gaza by the terrorists is unknown, as is the fate of about 200 hostages, many of whom are probably wounded. Israel has succeeded in eliminating most of the terrorists and re-capturing the villages in Operation Iron Swords. The IDF has counted at least 1,500 dead Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists and a further 1,000 have been killed in the bombing of Gaza to date.

The attack galvanized the Israeli public. Civil society and individuals voluntarily assumed the duties of the government and the IDF. Retired officers (including generals) drove their private cars down to the south to engage the terrorists and liberate civilians from embattled villages. The Israeli movements that arose in January to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform agenda swiftly transformed their apparatuses into support groups to search for the missing, collecting food and necessities and finding temporary housing for the displaced.

Under public pressure, after five days of fighting, Netanyahu agreed to form an emergency war cabinet with two former IDF Chiefs of Staff (Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot of the National Unity Party) for the duration of the war. This cabinet is supposed to replace the statutory defense and security cabinet, which includes the extreme right-wing ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotritch.

Israel’s defense doctrine has always rested on the following three provisions:

  • Early warning through a superior intelligence capability.
  • Maintaining a sufficient defensive force on its borders to block any incursion by an enemy if the early warning fails.
  • Carrying the war into the enemy’s territory as early as possible to prevent fighting inside Israel itself.

In this case, all three failed. Each failure derives from separate factors which will have to be investigated if they are not to be repeated.

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