newsIsrael at War

From Yom Kippur to Simchat Torah: What led to the attack, and what will happen next?

There are a number of conceptual failings that have led to the current ever-escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinians.

Gazans wave flags and take photos next to a burning IDF tank on the Israeli side of the border fence with Khan Yunis, Oct. 7, 2023. Photo by Yousef Mohammed/Flash90.
Gazans wave flags and take photos next to a burning IDF tank on the Israeli side of the border fence with Khan Yunis, Oct. 7, 2023. Photo by Yousef Mohammed/Flash90.

Many questions and few answers abound as Israel has suffered its worst homefront attack, and perhaps its worst security and intelligence failing in the past fifty years. 

Instead of peacefully celebrating the completion of the yearly Torah-reading cycle, Israelis awoke to sirens and explosions on one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

At least 250 Israelis, though likely many more, are reported killed and well over 1,000 have been injured from a massive, coordinated infiltration into Israel from the Gaza Strip.  Several dozen Israelis were taken hostage, some held within their hometowns and others taken into the Gaza Strip.  In addition, more than 5,000 rockets have been fired in one of the most punishing single-day barrages since Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Unimaginable blow

Graphic pictures and videos are circulating on social media channels of Israelis, including young women and children, as well as soldiers being held hostage, tortured, or killed and then continuously battered by barbarians who glorify the murder of Jews in their ancestral homeland.

Less than a day into what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defined as a full-fledged war, Hamas has handed Israel an unimaginable blow. The length and intensity of fighting that will unfold is presently unknown on either side, as is what price Israelis and Gazans will ultimately pay.

Meanwhile, the scope of any Israeli counterattack has yet to be announced, let alone felt in the Gaza Strip.

50 years after the Yom Kippur War

The attack comes almost 50 years to the day after Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack (on Oct. 6, 1973) on Israel during the infamous Yom Kippur War. Israel absorbed thousands of casualties due to immense intelligence breakdowns and failure to internalize the imminent and large-scale nature of impending threats.

According to Israeli media reports, Hamas is boasting that it had planned the Simchat Torah attack on Oct. 7, 2023 for as long as six months in advance. How Israel’s advanced intelligence and surveillance capabilities failed to catch chatter of the impending attack, or whether intelligence warnings were summarily ignored, has yet to be analyzed. 

Reports are circulating that a potential Iranian cyberattack may have neutralized IDF communications in the moments leading up to the attack. While such reports remain unconfirmed, they give at least one possible explanation for how so many terrorists were able to penetrate such a highly surveilled and guarded border, and then cross back into the Strip with hostages without being confronted.

Bibi’s Golda moment?

The security failings raise the question of whether the Simchat Torah attack will be Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “Golda moment.”  Golda Meir was the prime minister who was ultimately held responsible for failing to pre-empt the surprise Yom Kippur attack in 1973, as Israel did so successfully during the 1967 Six-Day War years earlier.

At the same time, until the results of this conflict are finalized, it is too early to judge the entirety of Netanyahu’s conduct or that of Israel’s security apparatus in this Simchat Torah attack. 

30 years after Oslo

That said, regardless of the outcome, there are a number of conceptual failings that have led to the current ever-escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinians—whether they live in Gaza, under Hamas rule; in Judea and Samaria, under the rule of the Palestinian Authority; or as Arabs with full Israeli citizenship.

The current hostilities take place just weeks after the 30-year anniversary of the Oslo Accords. The failure of the accords has never been more apparent. Re-importing arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat to lead the Palestinian people, and slicing Judea and Samaria into non-contiguous pieces has proved to be a recipe for perpetuating, and not ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arafat’s lead henchman Mahmoud Abbas currently incites and incentivizes attacks on Jews with an unconscionable “pay-for-slay” terror financing scheme.

Instead of leading towards the creation of a peaceful and independent Palestinian state, many within Israeli and Palestinian societies are now calling for a complete end to the two-state Oslo Accords paradigm.

18 years after Gaza withdrawal

The current incursion also comes 18 years after Israel’s ill-fated disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. In an attempt to demonstrate the viability of an independent Palestinian entity, Israel uprooted 21 thriving Jewish communities, with more than 8,500 residents, and all of its military apparatus from Gaza.

Within a short period, the Strip was taken over by Hamas. Since then, Israel has absorbed attack after attack while Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad jockey to prove which pseudo-political entity can inflict more damage on the Jewish state.

Broken security establishment mindset

It has been the upper echelons of the Israeli security establishment that ignored the warnings ahead of the Yom Kippur War. The same establishment promoted the highly controversial and outright dangerous Oslo Accords and the Gaza Disengagement. It is the same security establishment that has permitted Hezbollah to stockpile over 150,000 rockets and missiles along Israel’s northern border; promotes restraint each time thousands of rockets are fired from Gaza to the south; and has allowed Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to stockpile automatic weapons, which to no surprise are being frequently turned on Israelis.

And it is the same establishment that has ultimately permitted Iran to march towards the brink of being a full-fledged nuclear power without taking decisive action.

Will an establishment that allowed Israel to get into the current protracted security mess, now have the willpower and wherewithal to change the paradigm once and for all between one of the world’s most advanced militaries and an amalgam of rogue terror entities, inside and outside its borders?

A multifront war?

Questions abound as to what Hamas is hoping to achieve by opening a new round of conflict. An Israeli counterattack could completely decimate Hamas. In recent years, Hamas—a Sunni Muslim entity—has moved closer and closer into the orbit of the Shi’ite-controlled Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran’s other key proxy Hezbollah has threatened to enter into the fighting if Israel launches a retaliatory ground invasion into the Gaza Strip. Will Israel cower to Hezbollah’s threats? Would Israel be willing to fight a multi-front war? And would a successful multifront battle change the balance of regional power once and for all in Israel’s favor? 

Would Israel use the uncertain moment to launch a long-discussed military strike on Iranian nuclear infrastructure? Or will Israel allow Iran to claim a tactical victory with a successful Hamas-orchestrated Simchat Torah attack?

$6 billion gift to Iran

Just weeks ago, the Biden administration essentially gifted $6 billion to Iran in exchange for five hostages. Now, its terror proxy Hamas has taken dozens of Israeli hostages in their place. The attack is yet another severe blow to America’s policies vis-à-vis Iran and further harms American credibility in the region.

The conflict erupts amid reports that Israel is nearing a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia. While the details of an agreement have yet to be finalized, the driving impetus behind normalization is the Israeli and Saudi’s mutual fear of a nuclear-armed Iran, and a lack of faith in the United States to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Saudi normalization and concessions

The United States is openly pushing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority as part of any “U.S.-brokered” normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia. Contrary to its intentions, the current attack on Israel may only make concessions less likely. The attack demonstrates that concessions should never be granted to terrorists, but only to those who are willing to make their own concessions in pursuit of a peace likely to withstand the tests of time.

Anti-reform backlash

The conflict also erupts amid a bitter internal Israeli divide over judicial reforms. Left-wing anti-reform protesters, led by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and head of the opposition Yair Lapid have stated over and over that the political strife could lead to civil war. Such foolish rhetoric is beyond dangerous and has clearly communicated weakness to Israelis and their enemies. Worse, elitist Israeli Air Force pilots and reservists have turned the military into a political football with threats not to show up for duty if judicial reforms are advanced. The threats represent a low moment in Israel’s history.

Less than two weeks ago, the moment got even lower, when anti-reform and anti-religious protestors disturbed public prayer gatherings on Yom Kippur—arguably Judaism’s holiest day. Could it be that internal strife on Yom Kippur led to external strife on Simchat Torah?

Unity government?

Now, amid the current conflict, there are talks of a possible unity government, with Lapid and former Defense Minister and Netanyahu challenger Benny Gantz reportedly considering whether to join forces with Netanyahu. The next 24 to 48 hours will determine whether the political opponents can come together and whether Netanyahu may be willing to jettison some of his right-wing coalition partners to facilitate a unity alignment. Ousting his natural right-wing allies in favor of his progressive political opponents could pose significant political risks for Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Israel is quickly mobilizing its entire reserve corps in the largest military call-up in decades. Whether Israel will launch a ground invasion remains to be seen. If Israel does launch an invasion, what will be its strategic goals? Will it seek to push the genie of conflict back into the bottle, until a not-too-distant future round of fighting? Or will Israel establish itself firmly as the region’s strongest superpower?

Yom Kippur or Entebbe?

Will Israel rescue its hostages and turn a Yom Kippur moment into an Entebbe moment—when Israel’s military rescued over 100 hostages taken by Palestinian terrorists on July 4, 1976, in Uganda? That operation was led by Netanyahu’s older brother Yoni, who was the only Israeli to die in battle. If Netanyahu does not lead a successful operation, this may well lead to the end of his storied political career.

Yet a successful operation coupled with a Saudi normalization agreement could further cement Netanyahu’s legacy as Israel’s longest-serving and most successful prime minister.

Much of the international community has pledged its support for Israel amid the horrific terror onslaught on one of Judaism’s holiest days. Will that support continue if Israel launches a ground invasion, and if such an invasion becomes protracted?

Questions abound. Answers will without a doubt be coming shortly.

Alex Traiman is the CEO and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of Jewish News Syndicate.

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