Palestinian militants on Saturday morning launched an “unprecedented” attack on Israel, the biggest in years, sending fighters over the border from Gaza and firing thousands of rockets. In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a call-up of reservists and said “We are at war.” At least 23 people have been killed so far.
“We are in a war and we will win it.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israel “at war” after Gaza Strip militants fired over 2,000 missiles and infiltrated southern parts of the country in a surprise attack on Saturday https://t.co/SWTOsHjySu pic.twitter.com/PQRSfL20jY
— Bloomberg (@business) October 7, 2023
Here are the latest highlights from the rapidly changing situation:
- Militant group Hamas launched a sustained barrage of more than 5,000 rockets in a coordinated attack by land, sea and air. According to the NYT, the Hamas assault on southern Israel has had few precedents in its complexity and scale, invading several Israeli towns and firing thousands of rockets toward cities as far away as Jerusalem.
- The Israeli military said that at least 2,200 rockets had been fired into Israel by 11 a.m. on Saturday and that armed gunmen had crossed the border fence in several locations along Israel’s perimeter with Gaza, a poor coastal enclave that has been under blockade by Israel and neighboring Egypt for 16 years.
- In addition to land, the militants also crossed into Israel by sea and air, according to the Israeli military. By late morning, at least 22 Israelis had been killed in the surprise attacks from Gaza and hundred more injured according to Israel’s main ambulance service, and Israel had retaliated with massive strikes on Gazan cities, killing at least one Palestinian, according to local reports.
- Palestinian militants infiltrated at least seven Israeli communities and army bases this morning, according to the Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht. He said militants had reached the city of Sderot; the small towns of Kfar Azza, Nahal Oz, Magen, Beeri; the military bases of Reim and Zikim, which are close to towns of the same name; and the militarized border checkpoint at Erez. Fighting was ongoing at or near the at least three of those places, he said.
- Israel’s emergency services said 22 people have been killed in the surprise attacks from Gaza and hundred more injured.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was now “at war” and that he had convened the heads of the security forces and instructed them to first clear all Israeli villages of Palestinian militants who had entered from Gaza.
- Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said that there was a military operation “in defense of the Aqsa mosque,” the hotly contested holy site in Jerusalem that thousands of Jews have visited in recent weeks, and against the Israeli blockade.
- Israeli hospitals said they had received hundreds of wounded. Soroka Medical Center in the southern city of Beersheba had admitted more than 80 people, with some “in very difficult condition,” a hospital spokeswoman said. The ambulance service, Magen David Adom, issued an urgent call for blood.
- Israel Defense Forces said they were carrying out strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza in response to the attacks on Israel.
- Gunmen crossed from Gaza into Israel’s south, the Israeli military said.
- Air-raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem, while explosions were heard in Tel Aviv
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country is “at war” following the surprise attack from Hamas early Saturday morning.
— CNN (@CNN) October 7, 2023
The ruling Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday, firing thousands of rockets as dozens of fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations by air, land and sea, catching the country off guard on a major holiday.
Several hours after the invasion began, Hamas militants were still fighting gunbattles inside several Israeli communities in a surprising show of strength that shook the country. Israel’s national rescue service said at least 22 people have been killed and hundreds wounded, making it the deadliest attack in Israel in years.
At least 561 wounded people were being treated in Israeli hospitals, including at least 77 who were in critical condition, according to an Associated Press count based on public statements and calls to hospitals.
There was no official comment on casualties in Gaza, but Associated Press reporters witnessed the funerals of 15 people who were killed and saw another eight bodies arrive at a local hospital. It was not immediately clear if they were fighters or civilians.
As the AP reports, social media was replete with videos of Hamas fighters parading what appeared to be stolen Israeli military vehicles through the streets and at least one dead Israeli soldier within Gaza being dragged and trampled by an angry crowd of Palestinians shouting “God is Greatest.”
Videos released by Hamas appeared to show at least three Israelis captured alive. The military declined to give details about casualties or kidnappings as it continued to battle the infiltrators.
“We are at war,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address, declaring a mass army mobilization. “Not an ‘operation,’ not a ‘round,’ but at war.”
“The enemy will pay an unprecedented price,” he added, promising that Israel would “return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known.”
Apocalyptic scenes right now in southern Israel. pic.twitter.com/uuseUdcytV
— Trey Yingst (@TreyYingst) October 7, 2023
At a meeting of top security officials later on Saturday, Netanyahu said the first priority was to “cleanse the area” of enemy infiltrators, then to “exact a huge price from the enemy,” and to fortify other areas so that no other militant groups join the war.
The serious invasion on Simchat Torah, a normally joyous day when Jews complete the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll, revived painful memories of the 1973 Mideast war practically 50 years to the day, in which Israel’s enemies launched a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
Comparisons to one of the most traumatic moments in Israeli history sharpened criticism of Netanyahu and his far-right allies, who had campaigned on more aggressive action against threats from Gaza. Political commentators lambasted the government over its failure to anticipate what appeared to be a Hamas attack unseen in its level of planning and coordination.
The Israeli military struck targets in Gaza in response for some 2,500 rockets that sent air raid sirens wailing constantly as far north as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. It said its forces were engaged in gunfights with Hamas militants who had infiltrated Israel in at least seven locations. The fighters had sneaked across the separation fence and even invaded Israel through the air with paragliders, the army said.
Israeli TV broadcast footage of explosions tearing through the Gaza-Israel border fence, followed by what appeared to be Palestinian gunmen riding into Israel on motorcycles. Gunmen also reportedly entered on pickup trucks.
It was not immediately clear what prompted Hamas to launch the attacks, which would have likely required months of planning. But over the past year Israel’s far-right government has ramped up settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, Israeli settler violence has displaced hundreds of Palestinians there, and tensions have flared around a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.
The shadowy leader of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, announced the start of what he called “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm.” The Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam, and is located on the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.
“Enough is enough,” Deif, who does not appear in public, said in the recorded message, as he called on Palestinians from east Jerusalem to northern Israel to join the fight. “Today the people are regaining their revolution.”
In a televised address, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned that Hamas had made “a grave mistake” and promised that “the state of Israel will win this war.”
The infiltration of fighters into southern Israel marked a major escalation by Hamas that forced millions of Israelis to hunker down in safe rooms. Cities and towns emptied as the military closed roads near Gaza. Israel’s rescue service and the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza appealed to the public to donate blood.
“We understand that this is something big,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli army spokesman, told reporters. He said the Israeli military had called up the army reserves.
Hecht declined to comment on how Hamas had managed to catch the army off guard. “That’s a good question,” he said.
Ismail Haniyeh, the exiled leader of Hamas, said that Palestinian fighters were “engaged in these historic moments in a heroic operation” to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Israel has built a massive fence along the Gaza border meant to prevent infiltrations. It goes deep underground and is equipped with cameras, high-tech sensors and sensitive listening technology. Israel has maintained a blockade over Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. The bitter enemies have fought four wars since then. There have also been numerous rounds of smaller fighting between Israel and Hamas and other smaller militant groups based in Gaza.
The blockade, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, has devastated the territory’s economy. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep militant groups from building up their arsenals. The Palestinians say the closure amounts to collective punishment.
The escalation comes after weeks of heightened tensions along Israel’s volatile border with Gaza, and heavy fighting in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Saturday’s wide-ranging assault threatened to undermine Netanyahu’s reputation as a security expert who would do anything to protect Israel. It also raised questions about the cohesion of a security apparatus crucial to the stability of a country locked in low-intensity conflicts on multiple fronts and facing threats from Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah congratulated Hamas on Friday, praising the attack as a response to “Israeli crimes” and saying the militants had “divine backing.” The group said its command in Lebanon was in contact with Hamas about the operation.
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The timing of the assault was striking, hitting Israel at one of the lowest moments in its history. It followed months of profound anxiety about the cohesion of Israeli society and the readiness of its military, a crisis set off by the government’s efforts to reduce the power of the judiciary. And the violence came 50 years and a day after the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when Israel was also surprised by a complex Arab attack, leading to huge Israeli losses and soul-searching about the state of the country.
Muhammad Deif, the leader of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic militant organization that controls Gaza, said in a recorded message that the group had decided to launch an “operation” so that “the enemy will understand that the time of their rampaging without accountability has ended.”
In response to the Hamas attack, the Israeli military said it launched strikes against 17 military compounds and locations connected to Hamas’s leadership in Gaza. The army released videos of strikes on cars, Palestinian militants and other targets. Dozens of air force jet fighters launched the attacks, the Israeli military said.
The Israel Defense Force has 169,000 active-duty troops and 465,000 reservists and remains the Middle East’s most formidable force, supplied with some of the most advanced drones and other weapons from Israel’s technology sector and from the U.S., which provides Israel with $3.8 billion in annual military assistance.
The Israeli military has conducted frequent raids in Palestinian cities and refugee camps, with bloody confrontations ensuing with well-armed militants. The army also flooded southern Israel with ground troops to manage the incursion, it said.
The IDF said it had named the counter offensive against Hamas operation swords of iron.
Meanwhile, as the WSJ details, the declaration of war by Israel against Hamas comes at a time of turmoil in Israeli politics.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced a backlash against legislation introduced to limit the power of the Supreme Court. His coalition passed the first part of the law in July, prompting mass protests and raising fears about Israel’s national security.
Thousands of military reservists said at the time they would quit as a result of the change to the law, and union leaders and medical professionals threatened mass work stoppages. Military officials have warned that the legislation was undermining unity within the military.
The law takes away the Supreme Court’s ability to nullify government decisions it finds “unreasonable in the extreme”—a concept that lawmakers in Netanyahu’s coalition said was nebulous and allowed liberal judges to overturn the will of an increasingly right-wing electorate.
The effort to overhaul the judiciary has been the governing coalition’s priority since Netanyahu was re-elected last year. Coalition members have said the government plans to move ahead with the next part of the overhaul, which would aim to change the way judges are appointed, after the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, reconvenes in mid-October. The law is being challenged in Israel’s Supreme Court.
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Western nations condemned the incursion and reiterated their support for Israel, while others called for restraint on both sides.
“The U.S. unequivocally condemns the unprovoked attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians,” said Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council. “We stand firmly with the government and people of Israel and extend our condolences for the Israeli lives lost in these attacks.”
Watson said Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, has spoken with his Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi.
Saudi Arabia, which has been in talks with the U.S. about normalizing relations with Israel, released a statement calling on both sides to exercise restraint. The kingdom said it had repeatedly warned about “ the dangers of the situation exploding as a result of the continued occupation (and) the Palestinian people being deprived of their legitimate rights.”
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Finally, there is some speculation that Iran may get dragged into what is rapidly emerging as the worst Middle-Eastern crisis in years, with various pro-Israeli hawks claiming that the Hamas attack would have only occurred with explicit Iranian backing. If Israel does indeed attack Iran, as it has hinted it would do for years, may we suggest you fill up your gas tank.