Day 5 of the war: Israel internalizes the horrors, and knows its survival is at stake

As Biden’s speech underlined, what began on Saturday was not, in all its ‘unadulterated evil,’ a tactical Hamas attack, but the opening salvo in a strategic effort to destroy the Jewish state

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

An Israeli army soldier sits in a Merkava battle tank as a column of tanks is amassed in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon on October 11, 2023. (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
An Israeli army soldier sits in a Merkava battle tank as a column of tanks is amassed in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon on October 11, 2023. (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

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.

US President Joe Biden speaks on October 10, 2023, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, on the war between Israel and Hamas after the terror group launched its shock attack on Israel on Saturday. (AP/Evan Vucci)

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.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, second right, and a Hamas delegation, in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

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.”

File: Israeli soldiers seen on tanks at an IDF staging area near the Israeli border with Gaza, on July 31, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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.

Palestinians take a kidnapped Israeli civilian, center, from the Kfar Aza kibbutz into the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (Hatem Ali/AP)

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.

Palestinian terrorists kidnap an Israeli civilian, center, later identified as 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, into the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023 (AP Photo/ Hatem Ali)

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with US President Joe Biden about Hamas’s assault on Israel, October 10, 2023 (Video screenshot/GPO)

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.

Israelis pack up donations of food and other necessities for Israeli soldiers and civilians in the south, in Tel Aviv, on October 9, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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.”

Soldiers prepare medical kits for distribution to reserve soldiers, October 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Most Popular
read more: