Not long after Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) gunmen attacked southern Israel, military analysts and others were quick to compare the surprise assault to the 1973 Yom Kippur War in which the armies of Egypt and Syria invaded the country.
But besides the scope of each conflict, there’s a difference Israelis might prefer to forget. In 1973, the Israeli government knew an invasion was likely but chose to ignore the warnings.
The current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no inkling that Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip, was preparing – and able – to invade on its own?
The blunder will likely have big consequences for Middle East stability in the months and perhaps years ahead. Hamas has cemented its place among many Palestinians and Arab populations at large as the avenging angel of anti-Israel resistance.
It has far outstripped the moribund Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which governs the West Bank but has stood by idly as blockades, isolation and chaos engulfed Israel’s south.
This is not to say that an eventual Hamas military victory is likely. Israel plans to restore its mythic regional power by crushing Hamas. It is amassing thousands of troops for a ground offensive to do so.
In preparation, it is bombarding the crowded Gaza enclave with hundreds of missiles a day, taking down skyscrapers and small buildings alike.
And the government announced on Monday (October 9) afternoon that it would cut off supplies of food, electricity, fuel and water to the entire Gaza Strip to pressure the Palestinians to quit their defense.
Despite the futility of waging this war, it is likely that Hamas will have killed the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be put on a global back-shelf while the world focused on the war in Ukraine and intensifying USA-China rivalry.
The Hamas assault required scores of gunmen, meticulous planning and secrecy – virtues sometimes missing from Palestinian warfare. The planning was kept secret from even government officials, except for a few closest to Hamas’s top leadership.
To allay suspicions that it might be preparing for war, Hamas employed meticulous deception. The organization reached an agreement with Israel to let thousands of Palestinian laborers go to work in Israel.
Israel took that as a sign that Hamas was focused on fixing deep economic problems, not on armed resistance, an Israeli official was quoted as saying.
Besides deception, a well-planned invasion choreography surprised Israeli intelligence officials. In an interview with Israeli television, one official described the tactical sequence as.
- The initial firing of rockets into Israel in order to create distraction and panic;
- Blasting holes in metal link fencing along the Gaza prison fense to permit guerrillas on motorcycles to enter Israeli territory and fire on area residents and security personnel, and also grab hostages;
- Use of bulldozers to widen gaps that permitted the entry of pickup troop trucks to travel roads among designed Israeli border towns and farming settlements; and, finally,
- Dispatch of gunmen to roam farms and towns to take hostages. (Israel is still hunting some of them down.)
The Israelis, perhaps due to hubris, also ignored a visible tip-off that suggested something might be afoot: use, inside Gaza but in plain sight, of a full-scale model of an Israeli settlement where Palestinian guerrillas trained.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified senior Hamas and Hezbollah officials, reported that Iran played a key role. It said Iranian officials had helped train the assailants and, last Monday, met with Hamas officials in Beirut to give the go-ahead for the attack.
The report also claimed members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of Iran’s army, helped design the step-by-step assault. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration had not yet found evidence of direct Iranian involvement.
One feature of the Hamas invasion did follow a well-worn pattern of Iran-Hezbollah combat action: terrorism. Both Iran and Hezbollah have long practiced hostage-taking.
Hamas seemed determined to outdo competitors by rounding up more than 100 civilians from an outdoor music festival and forcing them into Gaza. If they survive, they will probably be used for prisoner exchanges.
Killing civilians, on the other hand, was a solidly-established practice of Palestinian resistance groups – still, the shooting deaths by Hamas of at least 260 Israeli spectators at the music festival and around 600 more elsewhere where was the worst such atrocity in the long years of Palestinian conflict with Israel. Around 160 Israeli soldiers have died.
Netanyahu has pledged to wipe out Hamas, and there will be no objection from a traumatized and angry Israeli public. So far, aerial bombing pf the Gaza Strip has killed over 700 Palestinians.
The Israeli government reported that 1,600 Hamas raiders were killed inside Israel.
Some observers think that Israel might try to install the PLO. One fanciful idea is that Israel would invite Arab countries, perhaps even the Saudis, to serve as caretakers.
Israel is unlikely to restore its own occupation; it left Gaza because of constant shelling by makeshift mortars. Ambushes made its hold on Gaza costly.
Hamas-Israel conflicts have been frequent ever since. Sometimes fighting fades quickly, sometimes it continues until Israel’s main ally, the United States, calls for an end.
So far, the USA is supporting Israel’s effort to punish Hamas and accepting the damage it will do to Gaza residents and the enclave’s infrastructure. They even send an aircraft carrier strike group to support the event in the making.
Israel may nonetheless be worried that Washington’s tolerance for destructive revenge could have its limits, even as Hamas is being destroyed.
The Israeli government media stopped comparing Hamas’s invasion to the Yom Kippur War and instead started talking about it as Israel’s 9/11, trying to compare the horrific attack to al-Qaeda’s 2001 passenger airplane assaults on New York and Washington.
Reminding Americans of that event – and the anger it generated – may extend US patience with what will be an ugly finale in Gaza and the entire Middle Eastern neighborhood.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2023.