OpinionIsrael at War

Israel’s failure of imagination on Hamas

Just like the Bar Lev Line fighters were left to their own devices in 1973, so, too, were Israelis in southern communities because of a flawed understanding of the state of play.

Palestinian terrorists in a stolen Israel Defense Forces vehicle at the Erez border crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, Oct. 7, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Palestinian terrorists in a stolen Israel Defense Forces vehicle at the Erez border crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, Oct. 7, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

Exactly 50 years and a day after the Yom Kippur War, on Oct. 7, 2023, Israel again found itself at war. Just as in 1973, Israel is required to act quickly, and cannot allow this war to end without a clear and unequivocal victory.

Hamas planned this attack meticulously. Over many months, and perhaps years, they created the false impression that they were deterred, refraining from responding to the operations carried out by the Israel Defense Forces against Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel bought it, embracing the paradigm that Hamas would refrain from launching an all-out attack.

Meanwhile, the organization planned its Simchat Torah assault—a planned, integrated attack with ground, air, sea and subterranean elements. Infiltrators crossed the border simultaneously at multiple points, knowing exactly where to go. The cities, kibbutzim, moshavim and IDF bases that were attacked found themselves in the same situation as was faced by Israeli troops on Oct. 6, 1973, when Egyptian forces breached the Bar Lev Line by crossing the Suez Canal. Cries for help, just like those heard over the radios from the fortifications back then, were broadcast live on Israeli channels in 2023.

Hamas, of course, knew that it was a Jewish holiday, meaning that the IDF’s guard was relatively lowered and a significant portion of the forces were at home, with a complacent atmosphere in the settlements.

Such an operation requires long preparation and involves many collaborators. All of this escaped the view of Israeli intelligence, which knew nothing.

In this regard, Oct. 7 represents perhaps a failure even more serious than that of 1973. Israel today is much stronger, both operationally and in terms of intelligence, than it was in 1973. It should never have suffered such a tactical and strategic surprise, particularly not at the hands of a weak and constrained enemy like Hamas. A surprise that is likely to have been accompanied by the preparation of a comprehensive Hamas defensive strategy, that will surely be implemented now as the war unfolds and the IDF penetrates deeply into Gaza.

As I write these words, the full extent of the day’s events remains unknown. When the dust settles, Israel will have to grapple with the unbearable aftermath: a large number of casualties, and according to some reports, a not insignificant number of captives —soldiers and civilians, including women and children. This will require Israel to immediately rethink its approach.

This conflict needs to end with Hamas defeated and its leaders dead or captured. If this does not happen, Israel will be made to pay an unbearable price.

But Gaza is only part of Israel’s concern right now. This morning’s assault comes against the backdrop of a de facto war that has been raging in Judea and Samaria in recent weeks, with most of the regular army deployed to the territories. Now, the IDF must quickly mobilize tens of thousands of reservists and send them to the territories to free up regular units to fight in Gaza and to be prepared for the possibility of an escalation in the north.

In this respect, the northern front will now be the focus of Israeli concern. In recent months, there has been a worrying operational convergence among the various terrorist organizations, synchronized from Beirut under the joint leadership of Iran and Hezbollah.

Hamas has active forces in Lebanon under the authority of Saleh al-Arouri, and it is likely that they will try to fire rockets into and possibly infiltrate Israeli territory.

The question is how Israel will respond to such a move, and especially how Hezbollah will behave if Israel strikes Lebanon. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has warned more than once that his organization would respond to such a move, which could lead to a particularly grim and devastating war. Therefore, Israel must now use all its levers— diplomatic and security—to deter Hezbollah and dissuade it from action.

Another concern will be Israel’s Arab population. The ethnic clashes seen during the IDF’s “Operation Guardians of the Walls” in 2021 are still fresh in memory, and the internal situation in Israel has only exacerbated since then.

The police and community leaders—Jewish and Arab alike—now face an exceptional challenge. Maintaining calm will be an especially difficult task against the backdrop of the feeling that Israel is much more fragile than before; Gaza (and possibly Lebanon) facing an Israeli campaign that is likely to cause many casualties; and Hamas justifying its terrorist onslaught under the false title of “saving Al-Aqsa.”

Behind all this is Iran, which is attempting to torpedo the advanced contacts between Israel and Saudi Arabia toward a normalization agreement. Israel will now seek to rally moderate Arab states, led by Egypt—a not-so-simple task given the scope of the fighting and the expected casualties that will develop now in the region.

This war is expected to be anything but easy. In recent years, Israel has become a society less willing to pay prices, unlike the small country it was 50 years ago when its enemies in the south and north launched a surprise attack.

The equilibrium was disrupted Saturday morning, and Israel must restore it quickly. This is a leadership challenge of the highest order, during a period when Israeli society is torn from within. All of this must be put aside now and we must be laser-focused on the ultimate mission: Victory and restoring calm. After that, the time will come for drawing lessons and conclusions—and there will be many of those.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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