Fifty years and one day after the Yom Kippur War, Hamas launched a completely unprecedented surprise attack against the Jewish state on Saturday at 6:30 a.m., which it called ”Al Aqsa Flood”.
An attack unprecedented in its results and methods
“This is the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history,” said Eyal Hulata, former director of the National Security Council. Twelve hours after its outbreak, the toll, still provisional, is very heavy for the Hebrew State: more than 3,000 rockets launched, at least 150 dead (the majority civilians), more than 1,000 injured and several dozen civilian hostages and military.
Hamas, which has held power in Gaza since 2007, launched a coordinated attack on three fronts: air, sea and land. Hamas fighters, who used microlights, managed to cross the border which separates the Gaza Strip from the Jewish State and then to infiltrate around ten communities close to the Gaza Strip. “This is a completely new situation. This time, the terrorists are under our windows, they are walking in the street,” Tali Lévy, a resident of Sderot, confided in the afternoon, stammering in terror. Nothing to do with the rocket attacks which, over the last 16 years, have regularly fallen on the south of Israel and forced the populations to remain cloistered in shelters for hours without causing any casualties.
Comparison with the Yom Kippur War
Many soldiers and military experts compare this situation to the Yom Kippur War, because of the day chosen, the element of surprise and the obvious failure of military intelligence to anticipate this attack. This Saturday was therefore a Shabbat, but also the feast of the “Joy of the Torah”, which celebrates the end and the resumption of the reading of the Bible with dances and songs in all the streets of the country. But, this joy gave way to fear and death. And the words, chanted all day by experts or ordinary citizens, were “failure” and “failure” of the army and the government, as in 1973. “The difference is that today the victims are largely civilians and not soldiers,” said Jonathan Conricus, IDF spokesperson.
The response and the risk of a regional war
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Israeli response will be violent and lasting. “We are at war (…) It is not a simple operation or a cycle of violence, but a war” declared the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who also promised “a prolonged and powerful operation. The IDF began its response, dubbed the “Iron Sword.” On Saturday evening, the Palestinians already deplored 200 deaths following attacks by Israeli aircraft.
Will the army carry out a land operation, something it has avoided at all costs since 2014? This seems inevitable, especially to recover the hostages. But, urban warfare is a trap. “We will not have victory if Hamas is not completely wiped out,” said Raphael Jerusalmi, a former military intelligence officer. And the challenge is also that the situation does not spread to the West Bank, to the northern border facing Hezbollah or even to Arab Israeli towns.
Hamas’ desire to regain control in the region
However, he remained on the sidelines of the last two episodes of violence in August 2022 and May 2023. Hamas’ objective is to show that it holds power in the Gaza Strip and even in the West Bank where the movement has regained a foothold in recent months. It is also a matter of making Arab countries which have normalized or would like to normalize their relations with Israel understand that this normalization is impossible without resolution of the Palestinian question.
But Hamas also, despite itself, restored national unity in Israel. Opposition leader Yaïr Lapid called for a government of national unity while he has been fighting Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for months. For Benny Gantz, former chief of staff and head of the National Unity party, “I want to say it clearly, in a way that resonates from Gaza to Tehran to Beirut: all the people of Israel is united. There is no longer a coalition, nor an opposition. There is only one fist left to strike the enemy.”