We are again in the fog of (mis)information phase of reporting on a conflict that has the potential to escalate in a serious way. But we’ll pick through various accounts and speculation about Hamas striking from Gaza into Israel and its potential to set off a wider Middle East conflagration.
Let’s first dismiss the idea that somehow Israel ginned up the attack (as opposed to triggered a reaction to a provocation) or that Mossad was aware but chose to let it proceed so as to provide a better excuse for a ferocious retaliation. Israel’sresponse has been way too flat-footed for that to be credible. And Hamas’ massive rocket attack, which has overwhelmed the vaunted Iron Dome and continued last night, punctures one of the hallmarks of Israel’s prowess. Readers have argued that the resulting damage to the sense of day-to-day safety has the potential to weaken Israel’s economy, since recent immigrants and expat workers in its tech industries could decamp.
Let us also remember the elephants in the room. Israel, even more so as it has become more right wing and ultra-Orthodox continue to increase as a percentage of its citizenry, has no end game for the Palestinians other than continued oppression and the hope that the current resident population leaves and/or otherwise shrinks. They have relied on policing and when the Palestinians have attacked Israel, the use of the IDF to contain the eruptions.
On the other side, there are militant forces in the Middle East that want Israelis expelled from Muslim holy areas, and potentially all of Israel. These desires have not gotten much of anywhere due to Israel having nukes and being perceived to be too formidable, particularly with US backing, for a hot conflict to have had good odds of success. However, Israel’s opponents have noted that Israel did not fare very well when it attacked Lebanon in 2006 to try to root out Hezbollah and instead failed abjectly. However, an offensive operation is also much more demanding and risky than defense.
In other words, the Israeli government has maximalist aims but has been implementing them slowly, and a meaningful contingent in the neighborhood also has maximalist aims.
Also keep in mind, given the need for Israel to project that it is undefeatable, both to deter attack and to maintain confidence at home, that just as in the Yom Kippur War, a battlefield win can still be a strategic loss. As reader Lex pointed out yesterday:
Hamas doesn’t need to win. It only needs to drag Israel into a protracted and bloody struggle. Nor does it have anything to lose. Israel’s internal contradictions were boiling over before this, a conflict may plaster over them in the short term but not the medium. That’s especially true if the IDF does not produce a quick and overwhelming victory.
The talk of IDF responding “overwhelmingly” is meaningless because they have effectively run up to the top of escalation ladder. What more can they do now? Kill all the Gazans? If they escalate beyond what they already have in the past, the diplomatic consequences will be intolerably high for no gain beyond satiating crazies’ bloodthirst.
Netanyahu has promised a ferocious response yet has also warned of a long war.
Netanyahu is following through on his threat by bombing homes, mosques and schools in Gaza. With the enthusiastic support of the most powerful countries in the world he has murdered hundreds of Palestinians who are trapped in a concentration camp. Disgusting criminal behavior on… https://t.co/6JsNyYafxH
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) October 9, 2023
And the scale of the deaths so far also mean Netanyahu will feel, given his generally sanguinary inclinations, that he has to crush Hamas and to a large degree, Gaza, whatever he considers “crush” to mean in practice:
The October 2023 #Israeli killed goes beyond the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The initial number of Israelis killed in October 2023 is beyond 700, and the wounded 2200. More bodies are discovered in illegal settlements around #Gaza. So the number is increasing by the hour.
— Elijah J. Magnier 🇪🇺 (@ejmalrai) October 8, 2023
However, Netanyahu’s “long war” warning suggests he is not confident he will be able to contain Hamas quickly. Even though Israel has been shelling Gaza (some internet sources claim in including the use of white phosphorus), and troops are also reported to be massing, there does not yet seem to be a ground operation in Gaza.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) October 9, 2023
Recall that Hezabollah warned through Egypt that it would saddle up if the Israel retaliation were de trop. One can only guess what that threshold might be, but pounding Gaza into Bakhumt-style rubble would probably lead Hezbollah to enter the fray.
Hamas was shelling targets in Israel last night and appears to have started again, and at first blush, the scale looks similar:
⚡️Massive rocket barrage flying out of Gaza now pic.twitter.com/8XVWLQKTLN
— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) October 9, 2023
There are also claims Hamas has taken ground and is moving towards the West Bank. This is clearly not confirmed but would amount to a plan:
Hamas is moving to link West Bank with Gaza.
That would be not only a psychological and symbolic victory but also a strategic from the military point of view.
West Bank has a population of 3 million, meaning a lot of new recruits. pic.twitter.com/2bc5HFPynk
— S.L. Kanthan (@Kanthan2030) October 8, 2023
Note also that the Twitterverse claims that Hamas has considerable support in the West Bank and the PLO would be voted out of Abbas were to elections.
A friend said she could have financed the Hamas operation from her checkbook. That may not be an exaggeration:
Many rockets fired at Israel by the Palestinian factions were repurposed from the many US-made Israeli missiles dropped on neighborhoods across Gaza which failed to explode during past assaults on the besieged enclave. Something to think about. pic.twitter.com/4q0dtAL4nH
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) October 8, 2023
But we don’t have the rumors that Hamas also bought weapons shipped to Ukraine on the black market confirmed or not. Recall also that Hamas captured the Israeli base next to Gaza. What sort of goodies did it seize beside tanks?
There are also claims that Israel is getting the ground situation back in hand outside Gaza proper:
⚡️Israeli military Spokesman says we are still fighting at 7-8 points near Gaza
— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) October 9, 2023
Aljazeera reports that Israel says it has reclaimed all towns outside the Gaza fence, as of roughly 5:45 AM EDT.
“The accusations linked to an Iranian role… are based on political reasons,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani told reporters.
Palestinians had “the necessary capacity and will to defend their nation and recover their rights” without any help from Tehran, Kanani added.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that Israel will quickly contain this uprising and the rest of the Arab world will sit on its hands. Given that the Hamas attack has been far more successful than past uprisings and shelling from Gaza continues, it’s not clear that past performance is a predictor of future results. China has brokered a deal between Iran and the Saudis that was on the way to normalizing relations; the US effort to get the Saudis to recognize Israel was to reassert US relevance in the region and specifically to pry the Saudis and Iran back apart. The Saudis have already said Israel has only itself to blame for the Hamas invasion, which will not go down well in Tel Aviv.
There are reasons to harbor doubts about how effective the IDF will be in a ground operation in the heavily urbanized Gaza, as opposed to retaking the surrounding territory. Regularly militaries and insurgent operations are not a happy mix. We’ve seen reports of reservists in Israel refusing orders to be called up, on the assumption that they’d be asked to serve in a clearing operation and that would be a suicide mission. Again this amounts to rumors. However, even if true on only a small scale, it would not be a good sign.
Jacob Dreizin is a forceful voice for the contrarian position. From a recent post:
…Israeli army (“IDF”) is **NOT COMBAT-CAPABLE**, cannot handle enemy tactical drones & obviously has not learned new threats/tactics from Ukraine war. (Probably, U.S. Army in same shape.) Having facilitated Azerbaijan’s success against Armenians… Israel finds itself as potentially another Karabakh 2020, unprepared for modernity. Any “conventional” showdown with a “real” opponent such as Hezbollah (with its extensive Syrian experience), at the same time as Gaza, will lead to the IDF getting UTTERLY WASTED & WRECKED BEYOND COMPREHENSION. This is why tactical nuclear weapons would almost certainly be used in a war with Hezbollah, which may content itself with “merely” sending over a stream of cheap (perhaps even unarmed) drones to wear out Israel’s Patriot missile stores (Israel’s short-range “native” [Raytheon/Boeing-assisted] anti-rocket defenses can sometimes but are not intended to target & hit straight-line trajectory craft)
So in one sense, Dreizin confirms the idea that the Gazans will be largely abandoned, not due to the strength of the IDF in conventional war, but due to the fact that it’s actually so fragile that Hezbollah could make great inroads in an attack, leading to a Israel to deploy nukes. Dreizin contends Hezbollah is too aware of that risk to take the chance.
USAF flies (a short flight!) Syrian Civil War-era prepositioned small arms munitions (or certainly nothing heavier than mortar shells) by C-17A Globemaster III from Amman, Jordan to Ben Gurion Airport, Israel, on Sunday. Another Globemaster III took off from Amman at about the same time, and flew to Rammstein Air Base, Germany (we’ll see if it comes to Israel on Monday.) If they have to fly this petty junk to Israel, you know it’s BAD
Indirect confirmation comes from the fact that Hamas was able to seize the Israeli base next to Gaza. That speaks to poor discipline and motivation.
Now having said all that, this is clearly an overly dynamic situation. For instance, despite the past record of inaction when Israel punished Gaza for uprisings, it’s not clear that would happen in the event Israel is as brutal as Netanyahu promised to be, particularly in an era of intense social media coverage.
One take, from Black Mountain Analysis, is that the elite Iran Revolutionary Guards forces, known as the Quds Forces, dedicated to the liberation of Palestinians, looks to have been activated. The author then admits that take is speculative (and IMHO he draws his yarn diagram too tight) but the warning at the end of the post rings true:
Israel will mobilize everything and destroy Gaza. It remains to be seen whether it will be occupied or simply leveled with other means, but it will be destroyed….
The destruction and/or occupation of Gaza is unacceptable for the Arab neighbors. My friends… We can expect the region to be blown up pretty soon.
Mind you, I really hope to be wrong, but the odds of this sort of outcome are uncomfortably high.