By Girish Linganna
One of the saddest days in contemporary Israeli history happened during the Simchat Torah festival on October 7, 2023. Hamas militants launched an air, land and sea attack on the territory of the Jewish state exactly 50 years to the day after the Yom Kippur War, which had caused severe psychological agony among Israelis.
Hordes of armed Palestinians crossed the Israel-Gaza Strip border, infiltrating border towns and assaulting multiple military installations as rocket attacks began around 6.00 am. According to the most recent reports, they also managed to kill over 1,400 Israelis and take hostage over 150, including civilians and soldiers.
Israel’s military and political officials were caught off guard by Hamas’s ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’, and were caught completely off-guard, unable to repel it immediately. It was only several days after the incursion had begun that the Israeli forces reached the captured ‘Ground Zero’, Be’eri Kibbutz. West Bank, which has been the focus of countless Israeli counter-terrorism operations and the scene of ongoing terrorist attacks since 2022, also posed concerns. The political leadership was also preoccupied with internal and foreign policy issues, which were perceived as more important.
In retaliation, Israel initiated an operation known as ‘Iron Swords’. The Israeli response was more severe than usual in many respects due to the huge number of casualties that they sustained. Besides the extensive airstrikes that the Israeli Air Force executed against Gaza, all fuel, water, electricity and food supplies were cut off from reaching the territory. This exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation in that region. Over 2,000 Palestinians have perished and hundreds of thousands have been compelled to flee their homes.
Actively under discussion by the Israeli leadership is the execution of a ground operation. Preparatory measures have begun in earnest and will almost certainly result in a substantial increase in casualties for both parties. But, according to some assessments, intelligence was not able to foresee all of the risks involved in the strike.
Current Israeli leadership rhetoric and intentions are predominately motivated by the need to at least partially neutralize the perception of the country’s weakness since many estimates place the Jewish state’s deterrence capabilities and authority as one of the leading military powers in the Middle East based on a decisive display of force. To prevent grave domestic political ramifications, the leadership must convince its Israeli people of the government’s capacity to ensure their safety after the tragedy that befell the nation and shattered the comparatively comfortable sense of security.
Although almost any result is improbable to save Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career, the success of ‘Operation Iron Swords’ is of the utmost importance to him. Everything that transpired on October 7 inflicted a severe blow to his image. The incumbent Prime Minister, who has governed for over 16 years, the longest among all leaders in Israeli history, built his reputation on his unparalleled capacity to safeguard the security of the state of Israel. What transpired during Simchat Torah obliterated it. This is a setback for the ruling Cabinet, the most Right-wing in Israeli history, which failed in its responsibility to defend the state’s national interests with greater rigour than others. Moreover, the coalition’s judicial reforms initiative exacerbated societal divisions and disrupted Israel’s domestic political climate.
Some critics compared the October 7 attack to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when Israel was caught off-guard by a coordinated assault from Egypt and Syria. Prime Minister Netanyahu was accused of being responsible for the security and intelligence failure that allowed Hamas to launch a surprise attack on Israel on Simchat Torah.
Simchat Torah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the completion and the beginning of the annual cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. It is observed on the last day of Sukkot, which is a festival of booths that lasts seven days.
On Simchat Torah, Jews rejoice with the Torah scrolls in the synagogue, dancing and singing with them in seven circuits, called ‘hakafot’. They also read the last portion of Deuteronomy and the first portion of Genesis, to show that the Torah is never-ending and always new. Simchat Torah is a time of joy, gratitude and renewal for the Jewish people and their sacred text.
However, despite the ongoing Israeli internal political crisis, military intervention will inevitably result in a temporary unification of Israeli society and the political elite. Benny Gantz—the former Minister for Defence and leader of one of the Opposition parties, the Blue and White—was included in the national emergency government unity and the war cabinet.
One option is to conduct a ground operation, but this may not be the best way to address the existing problems and may even cause new ones to arise. Because of the attack on October 7, Israel will have to drastically change how it deals with Gaza groups and the Gaza Strip, itself. As a result, the present conflict may have unexpectedly large ramifications on the future course of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the coming years.
It is unlikely that the fighting in Gaza will end this long conflict. However, it has already proven to be one of the most troubling for the Israeli government, reviving Holocaust concerns among Jews and shaking up the feeling of security in the country. Israel’s prior strategy towards Hamas in Gaza—which was a mixture of military containment and maintaining the movement as the civilian authority of the strip—was re-evaluated in the light of the suddenness of the attack and the massive toll it took on life. The attack created the impression that Israel was helpless, prompting a more robust response than normal and the serious consideration of a high-risk ground operation.
The Israeli leadership will inevitably have to respond to the questions that arose from the Hamas operation, regardless of the course of action taken after the hostilities end. The catastrophe has profoundly affected the security situation, further undermining confidence in the ruling coalition. Despite the current challenging circumstances, the long-term viability of the Israeli people and its state remains unquestioned, as Israeli society has historically exhibited unity amid intensifying external challenges. (IPA Service)
The author is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru.