We are in the 6th day of Israel's war with Hamas - that was launched by Hamas on Saturday October 7, 2023. Israel military and political spokespeople are talking about a "lengthy war" that it is still in its very early stages. Israel has been talking about completely limiting the military capabilities of Hamas as a war aim - in other words, the destruction of the organization. The key to Hamas' military and communication capabilities is its massive network of deep, hidden, tunnels under Gaza. Israel would need to destroy most of this network including the munitions being stored there and the leadership hiding there.
One question is whether Israel can actually accomplish this objective and if so, what the cost would be - in terms of lives of our soldiers, civilian casualties on both sides and other costs. We would like to think that between the U.S. and Israel - there would be remote weaponry that we could send - drones, robots, whatever, to do much of this work. But I am concerned that sending large numbers of our young soldiers to booby trapped tunnels will cost us a very heavy price in young lives. I hope that our military leaders have appropriate plans, using the newest technologies available that make sense.
Extent of Saturday's Disaster
When I first wrote an update on Sunday, the extent of the atrocities that had been perpetrated by Hamas was not yet clear. We are still finding bodies, gathering information and learning about what took place.
I am not going to get into great detail here as the information is now available in many different places including extensive articles in the New York times, the Jerusalem Post, The Israel Times, and many other news outlets. But I want to mention a few things.
As you probably know by now, Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel by breaking through security fences in twenty different places. There are estimates that more than 2,000 terrorists crossed into Israel and this number may be closer to 4,000. (As of yesterday, Israeli authorities report that they have more than 1,500 bodies of dead Hamas terrorists in Israel)
Some of the people who hid themselves managed to survive and others managed to escape in vehicles. But when the army was later able to get control of the area - the scenes of carnage were horrific. Bodies everywhere, burnt out cars, many with people who had been shot. Unspeakable horrors. Many young people were taken prisoner, some injured, loaded on to vehicles and taken to Gaza.
Other groups of terrorists went directly to the 22 towns, settlements and Kibbutzim that are nearest to Gaza. Many of these places have some defence forces in place but they were overwhelmed. With standing forces of 12-15 soldiers, they could not hold off arriving groups of 100-200 armed terrorists at each location. The terrorists began going from house to house murdering the occupants, setting fire to the homes, and looting property. In some cases they took hostages. In most cases, they murdered all of the occupants including young children, elderly, men and women. In some cases, people were hiding in their bomb shelters, which are supposed to have impenetrable doors. Where the terrorists could not get in, they tried to use explosives to break down the doors or they set fire to the whole house. Some people died of smoke asphyxiation. Some opened the doors to get air and then were attacked. Most of these communities had Whatsapp groups and people were sending messages to each other warning them. But nothing could be done to save them.From what we now know, it took the army eight hours, if not more, to take control of these towns and kibbutzim. But by then, it was far too late. The damage had been done. The people had been massacred. The towns and kibbutzim were completely destroyed. It was nothing less than a slaughter and an unmitigated disaster for all of those communities, for the army, for all of Israel, for Jewish people everywhere - and indeed, for all people of goodwill who oppose violence and terrorism.
We now know that more than 1,200 Israelis have been killed since Saturday by Hamas and more than 3,000 have been injured. The civilians who were killed range from infants to seniors in their nineties. More than 150 have been taken captive of all ages. We do not know exactly how many captives there are and we do not know how many are still alive.
Included in that number are 222 Israeli soldiers as of this morning and more than 50 police officers. Most of the soldiers are young people between 18 and 21 who were serving as conscripted soldiers. Some were killed in a training base near Gaza while they were still in their beds.
Today there are reports that aside from murdering and massacring civilians, the terrorists also looted homes and stole credit cards and bank cards which they have now been using to make purchases. Israeli banks are taking immediate action to stop this after receiving numerous complaints.
At the time it launched these attacks, Hamas "declared war" on Israel. Hamas is the governing authority of Gaza and controls all aspects of life in the Gaza strip. This is really the equivalent of one neighbouring country declaring war on another and Israel has little alternative but to fight this war.
Israel has stated its objectives as eliminating the military capabilities of Hamas, tracking down and eliminating those responsible for these attacks and atrocities and taking steps to ensure that there will be no more attacks on Israel from Gaza. Israel has called up more than 330,000 reserve soldiers to add to its standing forces of more than 170,000. These forces are not all destined for Gaza. Israel has used some of these forces to strengthen its northern border (with Lebanon/Hezbollah) and some to strengthen its Northeastern border (with Syria). Other forces have been sent to Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"). Israel's initial response has been a massive air force campaign to attack military and strategic Hamas targets from the air.
Israeli forces have sprung into action and have still been fighting pockets of terrorists in and around the Gaza strip - included suspected reinforcements from Gaza that may have been sent through tunnels or in other ways. Many soldiers have fought for their lives to fend off Hamas terrorists, protect and rescue civilians and take whatever action is needed to help defend their country. And sadly, many have been killed in action.
At some point, Israel will need to attack the Hamas underground. I am not a military strategist and I have no idea as to how and when they will move to this next phase but I am praying for the welfare of our young soldiers - who are - all of us. Our family, our extended family, our friends' children, fellow synagogue members, residents of our city - the army is made up of everyone in Israel - the people - and these brave young people are the ones supporting us, risking their lives and fighting for the future of this country.
We also know that Hamas is holding at least 150 hostages and the number may be as high as 200. We do not know how many are being held, how many are alive, what condition they are in or where they are. Israel has always made the rescue of hostages its highest priority and I believe they are looking at all possible options including negotiations, rescue attempts and other efforts. They also believe that Hamas believes that the hostages are "assets" and will want to keep them alive to trade for Hamas prisoners later. For obvious reasons, I think Israeli officials are saying little about their actual efforts, which, I assume, should not be taken to mean that they are ignoring this pressing challenge.
It is unclear what may develop in coming days or even coming hours or minutes. Yesterday, we were glued to the news for most of the day. At about 8 p.m. Israel time, there were reports that Hezbollah had unleashed a large number of unmanned drones that were headed to different targets across the country. It appeared that we were about to open a second massive front with Hezbollah. According to many commentators, this will mean thousands and thousands of missiles sent to Israeli residential areas, all at the same time in an effort to overwhelm missile defence systems. It turned out to be some type of false alarm.
Hezbollah has apparently floated some test balloons. Some Hezbollah fighters were sent over the border in the North on Tuesday. Israel killed five of them. In other incidents, Hezbollah has fired RPGs, artillery and other weaponry at Israel but in isolated incidents. Some commentators have speculated that they are doing the "bare minimum" to show that they are "supporting" Hamas but not enough to enter the war. We simply don't know if Hezbollah plans to enter this war or not. If it does, Israel will have no choice but to attack and destroy targets all over Lebanon - and that will be a very heavy price for the country. Hezbollah may not care - and Iran (which controls Hezbollah) may care even less about the fate of Lebanon but we must hope that Hezbollah does not see this as a worthwhile action. That being said, as of now, it seems to me that there is a fairly high probability that Hezbollah will be involved in the coming days or weeks - or any minute, really.
President Biden gave a speech on Tuesday in which he spoke about the horrible acts that Hamas had perpetrated. He tied these acts to the long history of anti-Semitic acts and massacres that the Jewish people have faced throughout history. He was empathetic and emotional. He pledged full U.S. support for Israel to defeat Hamas and he backed up his pledge by sending immediate assistance including the U.S.S. Gerald Ford to the area and a pledge of various military equipment and supplies. By most accounts, it is the strongest U.S. statement of support for Israel ever during war time. Israelis (including Israeli politicians) across the political spectrum have thanked President Biden for this show of support and in some cases, have stated that they were wrong about the way they viewed Biden. Secretary of State Blinken also delivered an outstanding address this morning, which was empathetic, emotional and unwaveringly supportive. I would recommend watching both of these statements, though I don't have the links handy.
By contrast, the Israeli media is showing clips of former President Trump, from an event yesterday, attacking Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israeli defence minister Gallant, the Israeli army, Israeli intelligence and ridiculing Israel's preparedness. Among other things, Trump claims that this "never would have happened if he was still President" but cannot point to anything specific he would have done (or not done) that would make this a true statement. I would also recommend that you watch these comments.
Sorry - it is not my intention, generally, in this blog to delve into U.S. politics - but I am writing about how these things are being reported from an Israeli perspective.
From Canada, we hear that one of Canada's largest unions - CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), which represents 700,000 public service employees - has been releasing statements that can only be viewed as justifying and supporting Hamas attacks. Quite appalling. The president of CUPE Ontario, Fred Hahn, has doubled down following the criticism, On Saturday, Hahn issued tweets about the Hamas massacres of civilians using "#resistance" in his Thanksgiving message. How anyone could imagine that support for the wanton massacre of civilians is legitimate or "resistance" is simply mind boggling - and frightening. Sickening.
We have heard very little from Prime Minister Trudeau, other than a handful of statements that sound like the statements he and his government issue after any events involving Hamas. On the other hand, it was heartwarming to see so many Canadians gather in Toronto for a pro-Israel rally and there were some very powerful speeches at that rally. There have also been pro-Israel rallies in cities all over the world.
At the same time, Israel is in a very difficult situation. While faced with the imperative of clearing out and defeating Hamas terrorists, the terrorists have significant support in the Gaza strip which is densely packed with civilians. This is expected to be a fight against guerilla warfare - and the effect on civilians in Gaza will also be devastating. There are bound to be large number of civilian casualties and at some point, that will shift world opinion against Israel. Israel needs to find a way to destroy the underground tunnels and Hamas storage and command facilities as quickly as possible while minimizing the civilian casualties - and that is a major challenge. Even if Israel is successful, there will be a vacuum in Gaza and it is unclear what would happen next. But this is all for a later conversation.
Israelis across the country have sprung into action - donating blood, putting together packages of supplies for soldiers, helping others in all different ways and, in general, answering calls to help in whatever ways might be needed. We also see that people around the world are offering financial and other forms of assistance. Magen David Adom, the UJA, the Association for the Welfare of the Soldiers of Israel and so many organizations are seeing a swell of financial support. As well there are private initiatives to raise money directly to help groups of soldiers and supply them with more modern and update equipment, food deliveries and other necessities. All of this is heart warming.
Political - Israeli
After four days of negotiations, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a deal last night with Benny Gantz to form a limited duration war-time cabinet. This meant bringing in some experienced military leaders to Netanyahu's coalition and that should add some much needed input to the decision-making process and operational capabilities. I am not aware of all of the details of what has been agreed upon. So far, Yair Lapid and his party have not joined this coalition, nor have other opposition parties. The war cabinet may well expand in coming days. For now, this first war time cabinet arrangement does seem like it will offer a significant increase in competence and reason to the current government.
Needless to say, this is all very difficult, on everyone here. The macabre nature of these attacks is sickening and devastating. So many lives were lost - so many people massacred - while at a music festival - or in their beds or in shelters in their homes. The reports are gruesome and hard to process. The psychological effect on all of us is overwhelming and difficult to process. Many of us are looking for ways to deal with this mixture of feelings of loss, anxiety, frustration, anger, guilt and apprehension. Some people are sending around suggestions.
We are extremely concerned about all of our brave soldiers and the dangers they are now facing. They are our family, our friends, our neighbours. They are defending our homes. We hope and pray for their safety.
And of course there is the stress of not knowing if and how this war may escalate. If Hezbollah gets involved, we will be in a full blown two front war that will unquestionably cause major damage in Israel, even if the damage in Lebanon is much worse. There is also concern about Iranian threats, which seems more remote - though Iran has repeatedly threatened to "wipe out" Israel over the years. The U.S. aircraft carriers in the region may help deter this type of escalation - or they might provoke it.
Air Canada has suspended flights to Israel until at least October 18, 2023 and most other world airlines have done the same. El Al is still flying, though they cancelled all of their direct Canadian flights some time ago (well before all of this began). Emirates, Fly Dubai, Bluebird Airways (Greek) are still flying out of Tel-Aviv and today's departure list shows Austrian Airways and Lufthansa operating flights as scheduled.
Of course I am also trying to get some work done. My Canadian clients do not know where I am (some do but most don't) - and a Zoom or Teams call can be interrupted by a sudden missile alarm, requiring me to move to a safe room. These are small problems, of course, next to what so many people in this country are facing. I appreciate that. But I am simply mentioning that all of this affects people in so many different ways.
How to Survive - Logic of a grandmother
A woman and her husband managed to survive after being held hostage all day by five Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Ophakim. The terrorists entered the house and started yelling "Allahu Akhbar" ("God is great") and told her and her husband to go upstairs. She decided to try to talk to her captives. She offered them coffee or tea. She asked them about their families. She says that she figured if they were hungry, her chances would be worse - so she asked if she could make them some food and offered to cook them whatever they wanted. At one point, they pointed guns at her and her husband. She started saying "Shema Yisrael" and told them they would be better off keeping her and her husband as hostages. She asked them their names, ages, what they do. She then offered to teach them a song by Lior Narkis, an Israeli singer. She continued to distract them in all different ways until, almost 8 hours later, her son, (a commando officer) arrived with a group of other commandos, entered the house, by surprise, from the roof and the back door - and managed to kill all of the terrorists. Rachel and her husband were taken to the hospital but survived unscathed. Obviously, most stories in Israel from Saturday did not end as well as this one. Rachel, her husband and her son have been interviewed a few times on different channels explaining how this lucky and quick-thinking grandmother was able to survive and save the lives of herself and her husband. I guess it helps to have a commando son with friends but they had to remain alive for quite a long time until they could be rescued.
I want to say that we appreciate all of the messages of support - calls, emails, Whatsapp messages from friends and family near and far. These are stressful and dangerous times but we are hoping for the best. I am still hoping to attend a family Bat-Mitzvah on Saturday Oct 21, 2023, though the prospects are not looking great. For now, I am here with my family, friends and the people of Israel, hoping that we can win and end this war as quickly as possible - while realizing that we may be in for a long-haul fight.