The Hamas Surprise Attack
As you have probably heard, Hamas, the terrorist group that runs the Gaza trip, launched a major surprise attack against Israel yesterday morning. It was Simchat Torah in Israel - the day of "Rejoicing of the Torah" - one of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar, when observant Jews are in synagogue - singing, dancing and marking the end of the fall Holy Day period (which runs from Rosh Hashanah until the end of Sukkot).
From available information, the Hamas attack was carried out in several different ways. One part of the attack was to launch thousands of missiles directed at civilian areas across the country. Secondly, waves of Hamas fighters broke down border fences and crossed into Israel and drove towards 22 different Israeli towns and small cities surrounding or nearby Gaza. Other Hamas groups used paragliders and landed in different locations from the air. Still others arrived from the sea.
The goal of these attacks was to target civilians primarily and to kill or take hostage as many people as possible.
Some groups of these Hamas terrorists arrived at a "Nature Party" where hundreds of young Israelis were our partying. Mostly teenagers and others in their early 20s. The terrorists opened fire on these unarmed kids and killed many of them. Several were injured, many severely. Some were taken captive by Hamas and apparently brought back to Gaza. There is video footage of some of the murders, some of the hostage taking - posted by Hamas personnel. We don't yet know exactly how many people were killed at this gathering, how many were taken hostage and how many are still in the hospital. Many are missing - and their parents, family members and friends are doing everything possible to try and find them. (Since the time I started writing this, a group of these people was found hiding - more than 30 - who were thought to have been killed or taken hostage - they seem to be fine, physically. Most of them are apparently foreign workers from Thailand).
Other Hamas groups went to most of the 22 different towns and cities and began going from door to door, breaking in to homes and killing civilians. In some of these towns, police and reserve soldiers grabbed their weapons fought back. In one case, a father grabbed his weapon (he was a reserve duty soldier) and killed two terrorists in his living room). Many police officers were killed in these exchanges. Some people went and locked themselves in their bomb shelters - which have extremely thick, inside-locking doors. Many civilians were killed as well as some soldiers and police officers. A large number were also taken hostage, again, apparently brought to Gaza.
Some Hamas groups attacked certain military bases - including, in particular, one training base, where several military personnel were killed including at least one new recruit.
Other terrorists may have hidden themselves somewhere. We still don't know exactly how many entered Israel, how many are still here, or what else they have planned. Israeli official reports indicate that more than 250 terrorists have been killed and many more captured.
As of now, Israeli reports indicate that between 400 and 450 Israelis have been killed, the vast majority civilians. More than 2000 people have been injured, many of whom are still in serious or critical condition. At least 100 Israelis have been taken hostage and brought back to Gaza.
There were three different hostage situations within Israel that took all day to resolve - including one where more then 50 people were being held in a Kibbutz dining hall. In another situation, terrorists had occupied and were holding the Sderot police station. According to reports this morning, all three of those situations were resolved and the hostages were released.
For Israel, this was one of the harshest days Israel has had to deal with in its history. Some 50 years ago, Israel faced a surprise attack on Yom Kippur. It was devastating and it was an existential fight for the country. At the time, Israelis were genuinely worried about being overrun completely. The fighting, however, in that war, primarily involved Israeli soldiers fighting against Syrian and Egyptian soldiers. Ultimately, in that war, the army prevented large scale attacks against civilians.
In 1948, Israeli also grappled with an extremely harsh and difficult situation, which was also genuinely existential - and included attacks on and massacres of civilians.
Yesterday's attack was quite different from those situations. For one thing, so far, the primary target, initially, has been civilians. The attack was intended to show Israelis that the army cannot protect them from Hamas terrorists. Although Hamas "declared war" on Israel yesterday in an "official statement" - it has no illusions that it can pose an existential threat to Israel. However, it can and did cause severe damage to civilians, to morale and to Israel's military "deterrence."
Hamas leaders, over the past few months, apparently met with Hezbollah and Iranian leaders. It may be that Hamas is hoping that this war will be expanded and that Hezbollah and Lebanon from the north will get involved - and perhaps even Iran. So far that is not the case, but Hezbollah has a vast array of sophisticated missiles waiting in Lebanon and if Hezbollah becomes involved, with the backing of Iran, Israel will face an unprecedented type of war.
How Did this Happen?
Hamas carried out a well planned surprise attack. However, it would seem that Israeli forces are generally geared up to prevent exactly this type of attack. There are drone and satellite patrols along the border fence with Gaza. There are constant marine patrols in the water aided by satellite and drones. And there is constant monitoring of the airspace.
Moreover, there are countless military bases nearby with soldiers ready to spring into action.
One rumour making the rounds alleges that Iran launched a cyber attack and shut down our military intelligence systems at the time of the attack yesterday morning. I have seen nothing to corroborate these claims. In any case, cell phones and other communication systems were apparently still working.
I still do not understand how the army was not able to deploy large numbers of troops, immediately, to the cities and towns that were being attacked. For hours, residents of many of these cities were making calls on their phones, trying to get military help while hiding and trying to protect themselves from the terrorists. It took several hours for help to arrive. I am sure that this will be the subject of examination and inquiry in coming weeks, months and years.
Israel is facing many severe challenges. There are more than 100 captured Israelis who have been brought to Gaza - and it must be at the highest order of priorities to rescue as many of these people as possible. They are likely to be dispersed in different places in Gaza and this will be no easy task.
Israel is still working to ensure that all of the 22 cities that were attacked are cleared of terrorists. From reports this morning, there are still some terrorists hiding in these cities - and some who have travelled elsewhere. Finding and neutralizing all of these terrorists is another one of the highest priorities.
A third priority is securing the land, water and air borders with Gaza to ensure that more terrorists cannot continue to enter Israel. The security fence is being rebuilt and large numbers of troops are bolstering the border.
Beyond these immediate steps, Israel is dealing with a "declaration of war" from Hamas and will need to launch a full scale offensive to defeat Hamas. This may take some time to plan and execute, but we would have to anticipate one of the largest scale operations that Israel has ever seen - likely to be launched in the coming days or weeks, if not in the coming hours.
Loss and Tragedy
TV, radio and social media are filled with footage, photos, videos and stories of loved ones who were murdered, injured and taken prisoner. More than 350 people have been killed - including at least one high ranking military commander, a mayor, more than 25 police officers and many sons, daughters, spouses, parents, grandparents, and children. The grief is incalculable - as is the anger, frustration, upset and disappointment from so many Israelis. The hospitals are working around the clock to deal with overwhelming numbers of injured. People are frantically trying to find out what has happened to loved ones who are missing - and to figure out if they have been hospitalized, taken hostage, or murdered - or maybe they are still hiding somewhere and their phone batteries have died.
I would like to say that we have heard or seen reassuring messages from the current Israeli leadership but generally, members of the government have gone AWOL. There was a brief statement from Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday - but otherwise nothing. The government will need to pull itself together and show resolve and determination very quickly. Opposition leaders, including Ganz and Lapid, have offered to join a temporary "War Cabinet" with Netanyahu - however, so far nothing has come of it. There is quite a bit of concern that Netanyahu is running a government with a range of inexperienced and incapable ministers - from his own Likud party (from which many of the most experienced and capable leaders have left over the past few years) as well as from two ultra-religious parties (with no military experience) and one ultra-nationalist party (with limited military experience).
Benny Gantz's party (sitting in opposition) includes several experienced military personnel as well as other experienced former Likud members. Lapid's party (also sitting in opposition) also includes several experienced personnel. For the sake of the country, it seems that it would make quite a bit of sense for Netanyahu to try and work with these experienced personnel rather put the country at the mercy of his current incompetent and extremist team, who do not seem to have the capacity or capability to manage this properly.
We were planning to go to shul yesterday for Simchat Torah. At 6:30 a.m., we were woken up by sirens and had to go to the bomb shelter. We don't usually open the TV on Shabbat or Holy Days but decided to do so and see what was going on. We soon began to see the scale of the attack. The government asked people to refrain from gathering in large groups. The mayor of Ra'anana went from shul to shul, early in the morning, letting people know about the situation. I think it is one of the only times that I have missed going to synagogue on Simchat Torah other than due to the Covid outbreak.
A missile landed on the street where one of our family members lives. She was in a shelter and is fine but others were seriously injured and a building was destroyed. Another missile hit and destroyed an apartment where a cousin of ours used to live. The current tenant was in a shelter and is fine - but the place has been destroyed. Another family member updated us - to let us know that one of her good friends - just married last year - was killed in battle yesterday.
Unfortunately, we are likely to hear many of these stories in the coming days.
Many airlines have announced suspension of flights to and from Israel, including Air Canada. So my status at this time is a bit up in the air. I was supposed to fly to Toronto this week but I will have to see how things develop and what if any flights are available - and whether it makes sense to go. I have some specific occasions that I am hoping to attend as well as some work that would best be done in person. But in the circumstances, my plans may have to change.
I have to add that I saw a completely obscene message from the current Mayor of Toronto, who above all referenced "Palestinian Pain and severe loss of life" in her statement about the attack yesterday. This is the type of statement she puts out on a day on which hundreds of civilians were massacred, many at point blank range, by terrorists? By way of contrast, President Biden offered his complete support for Israel to take whatever measures necessary to deal with the situation. Prime Minister Trudeau offered a much more "lukewarm" statement condemning the attacks. Israel received more helpful messages of support from France, Germany and several other countries.
Despite Biden's reassuring words, there is quite a bit of concern that the ongoing arrangements between the U.S. and Iran, including the recent release of large amounts of money, have emboldened Iran to ramp up its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. We may hear more about this down the road but a policy of isolating Iran and boycotting it would be much better for the worldwide fight against terrorism than a policy which in any way bolsters and emboldens this extremist Iranian regime.
I'm not going to add comments about other events and stories at this time as it just wouldn't be fitting. Instead I am simply going to add that we are hoping and praying for the safety of our soldiers, our security forces - and everyone else - as we head into a very uncertain and challenging period that we have now entered.