This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.
1. A battle for survival: The full extent of the horrors that unfolded on Shabbat for huge numbers of Israelis living near and not so near to the border with Gaza are only now becoming fully clear.
Or maybe we are only now allowing ourselves to fully acknowledge that they actually happened.
And maybe it took US President Biden, watching from afar, to put into words — for Americans, for the world, but, yes, most importantly for us — the scale of the catastrophe and the inhumanity of our enemy.
Horrified but resolute in cataloging what has befallen our nation and its people, he made the awful truth unavoidable:
“More than 1,000 civilians slaughtered… Parents butchered using their bodies to try to protect their children. Stomach-turning reports of being — babies being killed. Entire families slain. Young people massacred while attending a musical festival to celebrate peace… Women raped, assaulted, paraded as trophies… Infants in their mothers’ arms, grandparents in wheelchairs, Holocaust survivors, abducted and held hostage…”
He left no room for any who identify with Hamas, its partners and backers, to claim any pretense of morality. “Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination. Its stated purpose is the annihilation of the State of Israel and the murder of Jewish people. They use Palestinian civilians as human shields. Hamas offers nothing but terror and bloodshed with no regard to who pays the price.”
But he also brought home, for any of us still grappling with the dimensions of the challenge, that what began on Saturday morning was not, in all its “unadulterated evil,” a tactical Hamas attack that fooled a complacent leadership and burst through a farcically inadequate border. It was, rather, the opening salvo in a thoroughly planned strategic effort to destroy the country.
Most every word of his address — a combination of straight talk, wisdom, solidarity (with us) and indictment (of our murderers and anybody who supports them) — was well-chosen. But his speech crucially underlined that this is a battle for survival that has only just begun.
2. The ‘octopus’: On that tactical level, Hamas and its Gaza terrorist allies continue to disorient Israel with ongoing rocket attacks, and its gunmen have continued to pop up in southern Israel.
But at the strategic level, Iran — “the octopus,” as former prime minister Naftali Bennett termed it — is orchestrating what it aims to turn into a multifront, multidimensional victory.
Intermittent attacks across the northern border are requiring the IDF to allocate resources to that front, where Hezbollah has military assets — including rockets and precision-guided missiles that can reach everywhere in Israel — ready and waiting for the signal from Tehran.
In the West Bank, where Hamas has long been more popular than the Palestinian Authority, warnings about terror attacks were already at a high in the days and weeks before Saturday’s massacres. And West Bank terror, for Israel’s enemies, carries the added “bonus” of potentially triggering extremist settler violence against Palestinians, undermining Israel’s cause, further straining the army, and deepening intra-Jewish bitterness.
With the ostensible focus on defending Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque against us Jewish infidels, Iran, Hamas et al are also constantly attempting to stir violence in East Jerusalem and inside Israel, and can be expected to escalate those efforts, including by disseminating incendiary material, the falser the better, via every social media outlet.
Iran is also constantly hard at work fighting Israel in the cybersphere, mustering technology to compromise communications at all levels — in an era when the defenders must maneuver relentlessly to keep the aggressors at bay.
3. Clearheadedness: There has been much expert debate in the last two or three days about all these dangers, including arguments about whether Israel would be wise to initiate, rather than again rush frantically to defend against, hostilities across the northern border.
The more credible assessments are that the regime in Iran, avowedly bent on Israel’s elimination, did not work for years to arm, train and inspire Hezbollah without intending to activate it, come the day.
It is also recognized that what plays out in the north may depend on how effectively Israel can reassert a deterrent capability against Gaza, and on the extent of US support. In that latter regard, other passages of the US president’s speech were highly consequential, including this: “Let me say again — to any country, any organization, anyone thinking of taking advantage of this situation, I have one word: Don’t. Don’t.”
As the Air Force has begun seeking to defang terrorist capabilities in Gaza from the air, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that Israel, as it must, will render Hamas incapable of mounting any future military threat.
It is hard to imagine that this can be achieved without a ground operation. But if so, Israel has to know that Hamas is confident it can survive any air onslaught and be ready and waiting for Israeli ground forces. It wants to believe it is luring Israel into a trap.
There is an urgent imperative to deeply weaken Hamas, demonstrate military prowess in order to deter Iran and its proxies on other fronts, and begin to restore the Israeli public’s shattered confidence in the capacity of the military and political leadership to ensure our most basic protection. But an inadequately planned, ill-defined ground offensive, of course, would bring the risk of achieving precisely the opposite.
4. Psychological warfare: Duped by Hamas in the years-long run-up to this war, and unfathomably slow — especially in the Air Force — to respond when it began, the IDF feels it has now begun to recover its efficiency, and its top brass insist it can and will win back the public’s confidence. The rank-and-file “people” who make up our people’s army — rushing to their units in far greater numbers than the many that the IDF has called up — are determined to prevail, with, for instance, the Brothers in Arms anti-overhaul protesters side by side with their bitter detractors.
Here, too, though, Hamas and its Iranian orchestrators will be working insidiously to harm the national psyche and national morale.
Along with the unbearable toll of the dead, the beautiful lives so despicably ended, there are thought to be some 150 Israeli hostages held in Gaza — 150 people whose lives are still at stake. Our enemies will wrench every ounce of leverage and pain from those “assets,” torturing their loved ones and the nation, doing everything to splinter our unity and weaken our resilience.
5. Nazis. In their phone call prior to his speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister told the president: “We’ve never seen such savagery in the history of the state” nor “since the Holocaust.”
“They took dozens of children, bound them up, burned them and executed them. They beheaded soldiers, they mowed down these youngsters who came to a nature festival, you know, put five jeeps around this depression in the soil and like Babyn Yar, they mowed them down, making sure that they killed everybody.”
That’s what we’re up against.
As Biden put it, “For 75 years, Israel has stood as the ultimate guarantor of security of Jewish people around the world so that the atrocities of the past could never happen again.”
Well, the atrocities have again begun to happen.
The leader of the free world is pledging to help ensure “Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself, and respond to this attack.”
He also defined the challenge in American and global terms — knowing that for Iran’s ayatollahs, Israel is only the little Satan, and America the great Satan and ultimate target of its rapacious ideology. “This is not about party or politics,” said Biden. “This is about the security of our world, the security of the United States of America.”
Our leadership knows the scale of the challenge, though Netanyahu is proving unconscionably slow to assemble an emergency unity government. Unity at the top would bring more wisdom and experience to decision-making, and, so importantly, signal that the leadership has pulled together in the same way that the public has done so determinedly in every conceivable field of mutual assistance.
Saturday’s horrors were only the beginning. We can and will come through this — provided we do not underestimate the danger, and provided we put our many internal differences aside.
This country is an astounding feat of will and skill and initiative and resilience. We have defeated all odds and thrived amid endless hostility for our entire modern lifespan. We have peerless human sources. And we have unassailable military capabilities when marshaled effectively.
As Biden — for the umpteenth and most resonant time — recalled Golda Meir telling him on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, “We have no place else to go.”
Are you relying on The Times of Israel for accurate and timely coverage right now? If so, please join The Times of Israel Community. For as little as $6/month, you will:
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel eleven years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel