Iran has stated many times, for years, that it would like to destroy Israel and plans to so. To that end, it has armed Hamas, Hezbollah and other forces, and worked on developing nuclear weapons, with the primary intention of carrying out attacks against Israel. If Iran views this war as the opportunity it has been waiting for, it may join the war directly. That would almost certainly mean fighting directly against the U.S. On the optimistic side, it is far from clear at this point that Iran is ready for or interested in that entanglement.
With that opening, I would like to cover a few different areas in the limited scope of this blog. Call it news or items that jump out at me since I could not possibly write this as a comprehensive blog. Even in non-war times, the task would be Herculean. In times of war it would be impossible.
Fall Out from October 7 - Simchat Torah Massacre
As of now, the Israeli government reports that Hamas and its allies are holding 212 hostages in Gaza - the majority of whom are civilians including young children, senior citizens, men and women of all ages. Some soldiers are also being held captive. More than 1,300 Israelis were killed in the attacks on October 7, the vast majority of whom were civilians. More than 3,000 were injured. More than 300 are still in the hospital and at least 50 of those are in serious or critical condition.
Since October 7, extensive information has emerged about what took place, about Hamas' preparations, plans, weaponry and goals. The details are often too gruesome to recount. Victims were burned alive, often tied together with wires before being set on fire. Some of the bodies have not yet been identified. Infants were murdered and in many cases decapitated. Whole families were tortured and then murdered. Civilians of all different ages were murdered in horrendous fashion.
Investigators found Hamas instruction booklets carried by many of the terrorists with detailed plans. The plans specifically noted where the schools, nurseries and synagogues were with instructions for murdering everyone in those places. These Hamas terrorists also brought with them extra blood supplies, food provisions, medicines and sufficient provisions to last for one to two months. They also brought large quantities of captogen (fenethylline), a psychostimulant, which is mainly produced in Syria, a drug that was also used by members of ISIS. The plans that Hamas terrorists were carrying included instructions for massacring civilians in Ashqelon and Kiryat Gat.
This mass terrorist attack has devasted most of the Israeli communities that were situated near the Gaza strip. Whole neighbourhoods were destroyed, the homes were burned down, everything nearby was set aflame or destroyed. The survivors have been placed in hotels in different places in Israel - or with other communities or Israelis in different places. Israelis across the country have organized groups to help with supplies, fundraising, food and every other possible type of help.
Israel's Reaction So Far
How is a country to react to this type of attack? Since Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, Gaza has been controlled and run by Hamas, a terrorist organization, which acts as the Gaza government. Hamas has dedicated itself to building up weaponry, tunnels, military forces and it has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction. It has fostered hatred of Jews in its schools, training camps and throughout the Gaza strip. This is our neighbour.
Israel has fought several wars with Gaza during which Gaza has launched rocket attacks at civilian targets across Israel and targeted Israeli civilians in every way possible. On each occasion, world leaders have called for "restraint" and "proportionality" while Israel has tried to get to the source of these attacks by going after Hamas and Islamic Jihad forces - while trying to minimize civilian casualties. That is a challenging task since Hamas sets up its headquarters and its munitions depots in densely populated centres including schools, mosques, hospitals and underground beneath residential areas.
But the scope of this 2023 attack is on an entirely different scale. More than 1,400 people killed in an attack in Israel is an unimaginable number. On a per-capita basis, this would be the equivalent of an attack on the U.S. from a neighbouring country that killed more than 40,000 people (in gruesome ways) in several different cities - and injured more than 90,000.
It is also worth noting that at the time Hamas carried out these attacks on Israeli communities, it announced that it was "declaring war" on Israel. Contrary to some reports you may have read, Israel did not just go ahead and launch a war on Hamas. Rather, it responded to Hamas.
When a country is faced with a murderous, terrorist regime next door, that carries out these types of attacks, it should be fairly evident that there are few alternatives. Israel has no alternative now but to fight to destroy and overthrow the Hamas regime, much in the same way the Allies had to rid the world of the murderous Nazi regime or the Japanese leadership during World War II. Israel will target the entire Hamas leadership, its military infrastructure, its tunnel systems and its military arsenals. I think it is unlikely that this war will end until the vast majority of this has all been destroyed. Anything short will leave Israel fighting these wars over and over and over, every two or three years.
What are the alternatives? Around the world, some Hamas allies, supporters and other apologists are calling for an immediate "cease fire." What would that mean? It would pretty much be a surrender for Israel and would allow Hamas to rebuild its arsenal and prepare for the next attack. This is not happening. Israel cannot function with this type of regime continuing to threaten and carry out attacks repeatedly.
Political Solution? There isn't really one at this time. Although many Israelis are hoping that it will be possible to reach a political deal with the Palestinians, especially those currently living in Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"), there is no possibility of reaching a deal with a terrorist group like Hamas, dedicated to destroying Israel. Ultimately, the regime will need to be replaced with some other form of government, with careful controls to keep the area demilitarized - and a build up of economic infrastructure and opportunity, rather than military infrastructure. Alternatives might include another Palestinian leadership, some type of international coalition or some other arrangements. If the Palestinian people in Gaza are able to install a government that is focused on economic, health care, infrastructure and other initiatives, rather then on destroying Israel, there may be a chance for future, peaceful co-existence.
Since 2005, Israel and Egypt have both controlled different parts of the border to Gaza. Palestinian advocates are constantly arguing that Israel should "open its borders" and let Gazans into Israel to work, travel etc., But look at what happened now. For one thing, Hamas has spent years building up weaponry, rockets, all kinds of military equipment, while planning its attacks. Nothing about what Hamas has done since 2005, and especially in these attacks, provides any reason for Israel to open or ease its border with Gaza.
There were many workers from Gaza with permits to work in Israel, who were crossing into Israel to work regularly. We now know that many of these workers were cooperating with Hamas - taking pictures, providing information about military bases, security arrangements in communities and detailed drawings and plans of places in Israel. Much of this information was used by Hamas in its attacks. I do not see a situation in the near future where Gaza residents will be crossing into Israel, for any reason after this war ends. If one of the supposed "reasons" for this Hamas massacre was to "open the gates," this type of terrorism will certainly set back any discussion of looser borders.
Other Conflict Areas
As I mentioned above, it is quite clear that much of the current anti-Israeli activity is being controlled by the Iranian regime, which is the primary sponsor of Hamas. Iran also sponsors, equips, trains and controls the Hezbollah regime, which is the largest non-state military actor in the region and which controls Lebanon.
Since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, Hezbollah has been making all kinds of threats against Israel. As well, Hezbollah has been launching increasingly severe attacks against Israel from the north. They have launched rockets, drones, anti-tank missiles and artillery fire at Israel, killing several Israelis and wounding many others. Israel has responded with attacks that have killed several Hezbollah fighters and that have corresponded to the intensity of the Hezbollah attacks.
There is a growing sense that Israel will soon be embroiled in a full scale war with Lebanon. Israel has ordered the evacuation of many of its northern cities, including Metullah. The U.S. has moved two aircraft carriers to the region. Canada has announced an evacuation of its citizens from Lebanon. Israel has called up a massive number of reserve soldiers and has an enormous number of troops ready to fight on its northern border. It is all up to the leaders in Iran - to give the signal to Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah - to launch a full scale war. The U.S. has, thus far, indicated that it will not put "boots on the ground" in Lebanon - but it may well be that aircraft from the U.S.S. Gerald Ford or the U.S.S. Eisenhower would become involved if Israel were to be attacked by Lebanon.
It seems unlikely that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike on Hezbollah, even though some Israeli military leaders now believe that would be better for Israel than waiting to be attacked. But President Biden seems to be urging Israel to refrain, with the hope that Hezbollah may ultimately choose to stay out of the conflict. It is really hard to predict at this point. But if Hezbollah goes all in for a full military conflict with Israel, that may well spread to include Iran and the U.S.
Iran also has armed forces in north eastern Syria that have been arriving from Iraq. Israel has already launched some defensive actions against some of these forces as they progress towards Israel.
On Thursday night - the Iranian backed Houthis, a Yemenite group, loyal to Iran, launched several drones at Israel, destined for Eilat. These attacks were reportedly thwarted by the U.S. navy - but we now have an indication that another Iranian proxy, the Yemenite Houthis, want to become involved as well. I don't think they were really on Israel's radar - and the Houthis have had enough problems fighting their own civil war in Yemen. But here we are, adding in another possible party to the conflict. As a breaking news addition to this update, just before I complete it, the Houthis have just announced that if Israel begins a ground incursion into Gaza, the Houthis will launch an all out attack on all Israeli ships in the Red Sea. I would imagine that Israel and/or the U.S. would strike the Houthis very hard if they carry out these threats.
Overall, it is quite evident that Israel is now fighting a broad, regional war, sponsored by Iran and its proxies, which has become more of an existential threat than what I might have previously described as a more localized but large-scale Hamas terrorist attack. The war is still simmering in some places but it may boil over soon and the scale of this war may be unfathomable.
This past week, leaders from around the world visited Israel, including President Biden, French President Macron, British Prime Minister Sunak, German Chancellor Scholz. For the most part, these leaders were sympathetic to Israel, aware of the situation - and at the same time, trying to do whatever they can to limit the spread of the war and to minimize civilian casualties. Israelis were particularly comforted impressed by President Biden who showed extraordinary leadership. He sent two aircraft carriers to the region immediately. He visited Israel during war time, in dangerous conditions. He met with families of hostages and with Israelis who acted heroically to save others. Further, President Biden delivered three speeches, two of which were exceptional (the two speeches he gave in Israel).
As a side note, President Biden's second speech in Israel included a mini "dvar-Torah" - a Bible-related discussion - during which he spoke about the holiday that the Jewish people were celebrating the day of the Hamas massacre. He mentioned the tremendous loss that the Jewish people faced when Moses died at the end of the last book of the Torah. The President spoke about how the holiday marks a point in the year where the Jewish people conclude the annual reading of the Torah, by reading the final chapter, with all of its sadness, and then somehow move on to a new beginning, by starting the reading of the Torah over again, right away. I thought was very well done, whether it was written by the President himself, one of his speech writers or hired rabbi somewhere.
All of this support and empathy stands in enormous contrast to the U.S. stance 50 years ago, during the Yom Kippur War, in which President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger were reluctant to support Israel in any way at the war's outset. The U.S. initially turned down Israel's requests even though the U.S.S.R. was providing airlifts of military equipment to Egypt and Syria, the countries that had launched the 1973 war. President Biden still has to deal with some in his party who would prefer a less "pro-Israel" stance but for now, in my view, just as he has done in the case of the Ukraine, President Biden has shown some real leadership.
The war is just over two weeks old but we have already seen some examples of outrageous reporting. The New York Times reported on an alleged Israeli attack on a Palestinian hospital just minutes after it occurred, promptly blaming the Israelis and claiming that Israel had killed more than 500 civilians. As we now know, the attack was from an Islamic Jihad missile, aimed at Israel, that misfired. This has been verified by U.S., French, British, Israeli and even Canadian intelligence (the Canadians took the longest time to confirm). The rocket landed in the hospital parking lot and killed less than 50 people. So it wasn't Israel targeting a hospital, it wasn't an airstrike and the rocket, sent by the Islamic Jihad, killed less than 50 people and not 500. How does the New York Times get something like this so wrong? And how do they repair the damage they caused? The NYT headlines and those of media outlets around the world led to Arab demonstrations around the world, in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and other countries. We should expect more from the New York Times and other media outlets. Is it too much to ask for the truth?
The CBC in Canada continues to avoid calling Hamas members terrorists. Instead we get "fighters," "gunmen" or "militants." Surely those are the right labels for these types of attacks including burning people alive, rapes, hostage taking, beheadings, torture and other atrocities. Even though the UK lists Hamas, officially, as a "terrorist organization," the BBC has, to date, refused to call Hamas members "terrorists," preferring "Hamas Fighters" and other labels. Needless to say, all of this is shameful.
There are a great many other points to cover over worldwide media issues, but I will leave this for another blog. I would just say, for one, I have seen and read some outstanding speeches and articles over the past few weeks that have made the case for Israel very well, including some talks by Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Rabbi Cosgrove of the Park Avenue Synagogue and many others.
I have also read about the backfire against the Harvard students who are upset that they have been "doxxed" and "outed" for making statements supportive of Hamas after its brutal attacks. They claim "freedom of speech." But I really don't think that freedom of speech means anonymously supporting terrorist attacks and remaining free of any accountability or consequences. If these people were lauding other terrorist attacks (like 9/11) or promoting attacks against blacks, women, other minorities, etc., they would almost certainly be sanctioned, in some cases, dismissed from their jobs or they would face other consequences. Anyone who has any justification to offer for these obscene and outrageous crimes against civilians obviously has other motives.
Most international airlines have suspended their service to Israel, though El Al and a handful of other airlines continue to fly. I was scheduled to fly to Canada this week but all Air Canada flights have been suspended at least until October 31, 2023. Looks like I will have to fly El Al to leave the country in early November (and change somewhere in Europe or the U.S.) to attend to different matters that require me to be in Canada. Will have to see what things look like at that point in time.
We supplied about 160 soldiers (one of whom was a family member) with Jachnun for Shabbat along with the usual accompaniments - hard boiled eggs, grated tomato sauce, hot sauce etc., The soldiers were thrilled. They have food and are not short of supplies. But they are always happy to get something special, especially for Shabbat. Israel is a small country and the distances are manageable, so many parents make food deliveries to bases where there children are stationed - when that is possible. I won't give a detailed description of "Jachnun" other than to say that it is originally a Yemenite Jewish food, eaten on Shabbat, that has become a Shabbat morning delicacy for Israelis everywhere over the years.
Our drive to meet up with the soldiers was a bit nail-biting, even though it was uneventful, thankfully.
For now, Ra'anana has been relatively quiet. We have had several sirens go off, which require us to go to the "secured room" - a form of bomb shelter. But I'm not aware of anything landing in Ra'anana so far. If Hezbollah joins the war, things may be very different.
Many businesses are still open around Israel but this war is very different from anything I have seen here since my first time coming to Israel in 1982. There is a real concern that this has been, and will be, one of the most difficult wars that Israel has fought. We are mourning for the more than 1400 victims of this Hamas massacre. Some of the bodies have not yet been identified and many funerals have not yet taken place. We are hoping and praying for the safety and well being of our soldiers and civilians, for the return of all of the hostages and for the full recovery of all those of who have been injured. We also hope for a speedy victory over Hamas with the lowest possible number of civilian casualties among Israelis and innocent Palestinians and a real opportunity to change the reality in this region when this is all over. I cannot say that I am too optimistic at this point but we have no alternative but to hope for the best.