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Five Observations About the War in Israel

Yesterday, Hamas launched a multifront attack that shocked Israel, infiltrating the Gaza border by land, sea, and air. The attack took place on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, nearly 50 years to the day after an Arab coalition’s surprise attack on Israel—the last assault of this scale—spurred the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

More than 600 Israelis have been killed, according to local reports. Thousands more are injured, and an unknown number of civilians and soldiers are being held hostage in Gaza. More than 300 Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,000 injured, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Last night, Israel’s security cabinet voted to officially put the country at war, and Israeli fighter jets have begun air strikes on targets inside Gaza.

Our writers are reporting on the stakes of this historic conflict, and exploring events as they continue to unfold. Below are five observations that help illuminate the latest.

Israel didn’t see this coming. Just one week ago, Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, that “the Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.” And “just a few days ago, the Gaza border seemed to have been stabilized after some unrest, and nearly 20,000 workers were able to travel across it again,” Atlantic contributing writer Juliette Kayyem wrote yesterday. Then, “thousands of rockets, which must have been obtained and hidden, were launched by Hamas. It did not end there. Hamas used drones to strike at Israeli targets. It sent its fighters on foot, by boat, and by air on motorized paragliders. Images have emerged of Hamas attackers on the streets of Israeli towns terrorizing citizens, and worse.”

“One aspect of this needs little analysis, but a lot of explanation,” Kayyem argues: “How did Israel’s extensive counterterrorism efforts fail to pick up an attack waged by land, sea, and air? How did its defenses fail so extensively?”

The role of Hamas’s backers in the Middle East is still unknown. “So far the geopolitics of this war are only starting to be understood,” the Atlantic staff writer Graeme Wood wrote yesterday. “Hamas has backers—Iran and Syria foremost among them—and unlike the flat-footed Israelis, they are likely to have had plenty of time to think through how the war will unfold.”

Negotiations with Saudi Arabia and Israel will most likely stall. “The most predictable consequence of the war will be a pause in the process of diplomatic recognition” between the two countries, Wood noted. “The countries have long had a working security partnership, and it is an open secret that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would, for the right price, expand that partnership to include full normalization. That is impossible while civilians on either side are dying in large numbers, and their mangled bodies are being exhibited on social media.”

The U.S. will need to start rationing its weaponry. “If war breaks out generally around Israel, and questions arise about Israel’s very survival, the United States will have to start counting its ammunition,” Wood writes. “How much is left for Israel, after Ukraine has taken its share? And what about Taiwan, now third in line?”

This could be a Pyrrhic victory for Hamas. “The trauma in Israel today should give pause to those thinking that Israel will simply acquiesce to a short tit for tat,” Natan Sachs, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote yesterday. “As bad as things have been in Gaza in the past two decades—and they have been terrible—the coming weeks could prove even worse.”

“Israel is in a genuine state of war—not merely one more round of Israel-Hamas fighting,” Sachs wrote. “The psychological impact of these attacks creates political cover, and political demand, for Israel to go much further than it has in the past, to be willing to pay and to exact prices it has previously stopped short of.”


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