This was all accompanied by a "declaration of war" on Israel from Hamas, which runs and controls the Gaza strip.
What would any country do in response? Ask for a cease fire? I don't think so.
As of now, Israel reports that more than 1,400 Israelis have been killed and more than 240 have been kidnapped and are being held in Gaza. More than 4,600 Israelis have been injured.
Israel has responded in force to this declaration of war. It has called up more than 300,000 reserve soldiers, mobilized its army on its northern, eastern and southern borders and moved ahead with a military plan to defeat Hamas. Initially, Israel used its air force to attack a range of targets. It is now moving ahead with ground invasion of some sort.
I cannot dispute that this is a disaster for Gaza and its civilians. And it is not the first such disaster. Since Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, the Hamas regime has initiated 5 rounds of fighting prior to 2023. These battles have seen Gaza fire rockets and missiles at Israeli civilians, inviting Israel to respond with air attacks and other military manoeuvres. Nothing has been gained by Hamas in any of these attacks other than Hamas being able to terrorize its population into allowing Hamas to continue to maintain power in Gaza. And of course growing the massive personal wealth of several Hamas leaders.
Meanwhile, the world has poured money into Gaza. With all of that money, one might have thought that Gaza would build infrastructure, industry and other necessities and improve the standards of living for Gazans. Instead, the vast majority of the money was used to stockpile rockets, to build a vast underground network of tunnels and to amass other weapons, all while maintaining the poverty and squalid conditions for the residents of Gaza. At the same time, the Hamas leaders including Khaled Meshal, Dr. Musa Abu Marzook, Ismail Haniyeh and others have attained great personal wealth.
This Hamas leadership is dedicated to nothing less than the destruction of Israeli. It is not interested in a "two-state solution" or some other arrangement that results in peaceful coexistence. It runs Gaza with an iron fist and routinely executes suspected collaborators, political opponents, homosexuals and others.
That is the regime that has declared war on Israel. At this point, I would say that there seems to be near unanimity, even on the left, in Israel that this war must be fought until Hamas is destroyed or unconditionally surrenders.
Contrary to the suggestions from many columnists in the New York Times, such as the column by Megan Stack on October 31, 2023, this is not about Israeli "revenge" or the random murder of civilians. There is no way that Israel would agree to any kind of cease fire now without changing the current reality. Not only would a cease fire mean more attacks from Hamas in weeks, months or some other time period, it would leave Israel in a state of constant and ongoing danger, in which civilians can be attacked at any time.
At this point, I think Israel's war aims will include a number of key points. For one thing, and near the top of the list, Israel must insist on the return of all of the hostages held by Hamas - whether through military operations or negotiations. Although there are apparently some ongoing discussions, to this point, only 2 hostages have been released and one was freed by Israeli forces yesterday, in a daring but successful operation. Her photo is included in this blog, above.
Secondly, Israel intends to destroy the vast majority of the underground tunnels - including the stockpiles of weaponry in these tunnels, the communication systems, the command centres and other facilities. This will not be an easy task, especially since many of these tunnels are under mosques, hospitals and other civilian buildings. For example, the largest Hamas command centres are located at or under the Shifa hospital, where more than 30,000 Hamas guerillas are apparently hiding. One way or another, I don't see how this war will end until those command centres are completely destroyed.
Israel also intends to capture, kill or otherwise neutralize most of the key Hamas leadership. Some are living outside of Israel. Their time will come later. But for now, Israel will need to hunt down those terrorist leaders who are situated in Gaza.
So short of a lengthy war, is any type of cease fire possible? Well, if Hamas were to surrender unconditionally, the war would end. This was the goal sought (and obtained) by the allies in WWII. Although the scale is much smaller, and I don't buy the propaganda lines that "Hamas are Nazis" - Hamas is nevertheless a terrorist organization, (like ISIS) intent on committing the worst type of atrocities. Hamas must be destroyed and removed from the region. Israel cannot end the war and continue to have a militarized Hamas on its doorstep.
I hope that the army has a proper plan that it can implement to attain these objectives. I don't think Israel has too many other alternatives. So this might be a lengthy war.
As you know, the worldwide reaction has been astonishing. All kinds of people coming out of the woodwork arguing that the massacres and crimes perpetrated by Hamas were legitimate forms of resistance. It is a sick world indeed if that is your definition of legitimate resistance.
We are reminded that there are only about 15.3 million Jews in the world and more than 2 billion Muslims. There are 50 Muslim majority countries and one Jewish country. Just from sheer numbers alone, it is no surprise that we are not very popular.
But in many places, we have also seen the massive hypocrisy of some "progressives." On campuses across the U.S. and Canada - and in many other places around the world, so called "progressives" are chanting slogans like "Free Palestine" which is essentially a call for the destruction of Israel. We have seen signed letters supporting Hamas actions. We are seeing professors (even in disciplines totally unrelated to Mideastern studies) attacking Israel. By openly supporting terrorist groups and rationalizing terrorist atrocities, these groups are, effectively, openly endorsing the same type of violence against Jews everywhere. It is simply shocking. And it is resulting in security incidents and concerns for Jews all over the world.
To his credit, U.S. President has withstood this "progressive" pressure so far and has stood with Israel. By sending two aircraft carriers to the Middle East, the U.S. has maintained a strong deterrent against the prospect of Hezbollah or Iran widening the war and turning it into a full-blown regional conflict. The U.S. has also fought off U.N. attempts to enact anti-Israel security council resolutions at the U.N. I am not sure that President Biden will maintain the resolve to continue supporting Israel until Israel has defeated Hamas but I certainly hope he will. To do otherwise would render all of his efforts to date meaningless.
Even as the war progresses, the political situation in Israel is tenuous. Prime Minister Netanyahu spent years portraying himself as the only leader who could maintain security and deterrence in Israel. In one series of election ads, he argued that he was uniquely able to stay on top of intelligence and "sniff out" any potential security threats even before they could occur. Just a few election cycles ago, Bibi used giant billboards of himself standing alongside Putin and Trump - his "friends."
Even as Russia attacked Ukraine and many Israelis urged the government to take a more pro-Ukraine stance, Bibi's policy was to placate Russia and stay as neutral as possible. At this point, however, Putin has completely turned against Israel and Russia is working closely with the Iranians, who fund and support Hamas. Bibi's relationship with Turkish leader Erdogan has fared even worse. Erdogan has been spouting some of the most anti-Israel venom of any leader in the world. He even rivals the Iranian leadership in that category.
Oddly enough, Bibi's closest friend has been President Biden. This after all of Bibi's efforts to turn Israel into a partisan issue in the U.S., by attacking Obama, supporting Trump and other Republicans - and interfering outright in U.S. elections. All of those efforts by Bibi have been exposed as a failed policy. Some of Bibi's current cabinet ministers launched vicious attacks on President Biden and his government prior to the war. A few have since apologized. But long term, it is a disastrous policy to disregard the Democrats and cultivate only the Republican party for pro-Israel support - especially looking at long term U.S. demographics.
Aside from foreign policy issues, Prime Minister Netanyahu is embroiled in all kinds of political issues at home. He put together a coalition of far right ultra religious parties and idealogues who had limited practical experience and even less expertise. As a result, when this war started, Bibi's government was exposed as one with few, if any, capable ministers. For most Israelis, the government seems to have gone AWOL. There are few ministers appearing on TV or taking visible action in the circumstances. Despite all of the pressing needs, the government just does not seem to be responding to the situation.
The army is responding, for sure. But that seems to be the only competent organization currently functioning.
In one of his first press conferences since the war started - in which Bibi agreed to take questions, he refused to take any direct responsibility for the current war. Later that night, at about 1 a.m., he doubled down and sent out a tweet attacking the heads of the army, intelligence, and other organizations - as being the ones responsible for this whole debacle. The reaction was unprecedented. Even ministers in his own government called for him to retract his venomous tweet and apologize. The next morning, Bibi deleted the tweet and apologized. There were statements made that "should not have been said," he proclaimed. Although he apologized, the damage was done and it will be very hard, if not impossible, for Bibi to fix this situation.
Obviously, it is hard to predict how and when the war will end. Perhaps a very successful outcome will somehow save Bibi's political future and legacy though given the damage that Israel has suffered, it is hard to imagine that any outcome will be viewed as a great victory. I would think that if there were an election today, Bibi would suffer a massive defeat.
Women in the Military
Under the current far right government that Bibi assembled, there were calls from some of his coalition partners to limit the number of women in combat roles in the Israeli military and to prevent women from being accepted into certain units.
But various articles in the Israeli media have been written about so many heroic efforts by women in combat roles fighting off Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 and at other times throughout the war. As one commentator noted in Yediot Ahronot, the events of this war will almost certainly put an end to any discussions suggesting that women are unsuited for combat at the highest levels.
Judea and Samaria - the "West Bank"
Part of the Hamas plan, apparently, was to trigger the involvement of Palestinians from Judea and Samaria to jump into the war and open up a new front. Although there have been fights with Palestinians, particularly in Jenin, this type of full Palestinian involvement has not materialized.
At the same time, there have been reports, in Israeli media of Jewish residents of these areas attacking Arab Palestinians. Obviously, in my view, this is totally unacceptable. It must be condemned in the strongest language and the Israeli police and military forces must take all required steps to stop these attacks and arrest any perpetrators.
This is a major challenge with far right activists like Ben-Gvir and Smotrich in the government but hopefully Israel will wind up with a more balanced and sane government once this war ends.
On a personal note, we have been lucky so far that there have been very few sirens in Ra'anana and few if any missiles have actually landed in our city. Many other cities have had to grapple with much more difficult situations.
But the overall situation in Israeli is very challenging and stressful right now. When asked how they are doing, a common response from Israelis these days is "the same as everyone else, I guess..."
We are worried about the safety of more than 240 hostages, about our soldiers, and about civilians everywhere. We have a great deal of uncertainty as to whether Hezbollah and Lebanon will enter the war and maybe even Iran. And we have no clear anticipated resolution that will lead to peace and security for Israel and for the region.
I am planning to fly to Toronto for a short period later this week. El Al is now almost the only airline flying regularly out of Tel-Aviv, so I will have to fly to Europe or the U.S. on El Al and then transfer to Toronto.
This is very difficult with family members in the army, ongoing missile attacks, and so much uncertainty. But maybe things will change dramatically soon and we will see an end to this war sooner than anticipated. I am not particularly hopeful but it can't hurt to try and be optimistic.