Dear Times of Israel Community,
With all the attendant terrible dangers, the war against Hamas is finally being fought deep in enemy territory.
Following three weeks of airstrikes targeting Hamas after its horrific slaughter of 1,400 people across southwest Israel on October 7, the IDF has gradually stepped up its ground offensive, with the declared goal of destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities.
The task is extraordinarily complex. Hamas, an Islamic death cult terrorist-army, was allowed for years to indoctrinate, train and arm tens of thousands of savage murderers. It has built a vast underworld operations network, much of which has proved impervious to the IAF strikes and from where its gunmen are now seeking to repel the widening IDF incursion. After the unbearable losses of October 7, and amid the ongoing wrenching nightmare of 240 hostages, from babies and toddlers to the elderly and infirm, Israel is now adding the losses of soldiers killed in the Gaza death trap.
Israeli soldiers gather near the border with Gaza before entering the Hamas-run enclave on October 31, 2023. (Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
The offensive is immensely hamstrung by Hamas’s predictably cynical use of Gazans as human shields. How much support Hamas maintains among ordinary Gazans is broadly unknowable, but plainly many non-combatants are being prevented by the terror-government from leaving the northern Gaza combat areas. Thus the IDF, which has pleaded daily for non-combatants to evacuate, cannot be certain whether it is encountering terrorists or civilians as it pushes deeper into the urban warzone.
As the political and military leadership has stressed repeatedly, this will be a long, hard and painful war. But for all the public’s raw pain and lost faith in both those political and military hierarchies, and all the abiding divisions within Israel over how we reached this darkest hour in our modern history, the IDF has near-universal national support, its troops are highly motivated and dedicated, and its commanders and the emergency war coalition are resolute that the mission must be completed — that it must not end until Hamas is defanged.
Relatives and acquaintances hold pictures of hostages and missing persons during a meeting on behalf of hostages abducted from Israel by terrorists on October 7, 2023, at the French National Assembly, in Paris, on October 31, 2023. (Photo by Emmanuel Dunand / AFP)
Domestically riven, with an unprecedentedly hardline government seeking to neuter the judiciary, Israel was plunged into this conflict from a parlous position.
Internationally, too, the anti-Arab, pro-annexation, Jewish supremacist outlook of key ministers, setting the tone for the coalition, was hardly conducive to maximal support when Israel has most needed it.
Nonetheless, some allies have proven steadfast — and most importantly the US, with its Zionist president ready to leave aside the open derision that members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition had been expressing for him and his administration.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, and US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, left, talk with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres before a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. (AP/Seth Wenig)
Conscious, too, that this Israel-Hamas war is already a multi-front conflict and that it has the potential to explode into full-scale war in the region and beyond, President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are basically holding Israel’s hand in the fight — deploying ever-more military resources to the region, shuttling and phoning, even participating in the deliberations of Israel’s war cabinet.
“You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself,” Blinken said in Tel Aviv in the early days of the war, “but as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to. We will always be there by your side.”
Manifestly, it is a supreme Israeli interest to retain that military and diplomatic American partnership. It is ultimately the US, and the US alone, that can resist international pressure to halt the offensive against Hamas, and the US, alone, that can deter, and if necessary engage, should Iran elect to widen the war.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian (C-L) meets with Hamas’s political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh (C-R) and other Hamas leaders in Doha. (Photo by Iranian Foreign Ministry / AFP)
A little belatedly, Netanyahu seems to have realized that US calls to boost humanitarian aid for Gaza noncombatants are worth heeding: In what he has defined as a war between the civilized world and barbarians, the forces of civilization need to act and be seen to be acting humanely.
People take part in an event held under the theme of ‘unity’ at the Great Synagogue of Paris, on October 31, 2023. (Miguel MEDINA / AFP)
This war has, of course, already spread far beyond the region in terms of public opinion and action, with immense implications for Diaspora Jews — many of whom feel themselves in increased peril — and indeed for would-be enlightened countries with emboldened anti-Israel and pro-Hamas agitators.
Relatives attend the funeral of Albert Miles, 81, at the Kibbutz Revivim cemetery, south Israel, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. Albert Miles was killed by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, in Kibbutz Be’eri near the border with the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Fourteen hundred slaughtered in Israel is “so last month” for a mounting swath of the watching world — some motivated by ancient hatreds, some just too weak-willed to employ a modicum of intellectual rigor and honesty.
Endless ongoing rocket fire, launched indiscriminately across Israel, sending much of the population rushing for safety multiple times each day, making schooling near-impossible and tanking the economy, is deemed marginal.
Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters walk over Westminster Bridge, near the Houses of Parliament, during a ‘March For Palestine’ in London on October 28, 2023. (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)
The fact that Hamas operates from beneath and around Gaza’s hospitals and mosques and churches and schools is forgettable. That it uses Gaza’s civilians as cover and protection is old news.
But its false claims that Israel deliberately targets those civilians, and its immediate efforts to blame Israel for incidents with civilian casualties, are instantly treated as credible.
Palestinians inspect the damage of buildings destroyed after Israeli airstrikes on the Jabaliya refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City, October 31, 2023. The IDF said the airstrikes were part of ‘a wide-scale strike’ on Hamas operatives and infrastructure belonging to the terror group’s Central Jabaliya Battalion and that the buildings collapsed when Hamas tunnels were targeted. (Abdul Qader Sabbah/AP)
Israel has never managed effective public diplomacy. And this abidingly dysfunctional government is entirely incapable of doing so.
Just as ordinary Israelis have organized to help the hundreds of thousands of displaced Israelis, from south and north, with almost every aspect of their displaced lives, helped campaign for the hostages, tried to salvage Israeli agriculture and much more, so, too, it is ordinary Israelis who are fighting the public diplomacy battle, doing what they can on social media while utterly outnumbered and under-resourced.
People hold up posters of the missing as they gather outside the Qatari Embassy in London on October 29, 2023, to demand the release of the estimated 240 hostages held in Gaza by Hamas after the terrorist massacres inside Israel on October 7. (Photo by Justin TALLIS / AFP)
Even in the most straightforward areas of public diplomacy, such as the visits of supportive world leaders, the government is failing to utilize opportunity. As the former IDF operations chief and ex-national security council head Giora Eiland has stressed repeatedly these past weeks, solidarity visits and expressions of support from world leaders are insufficient.
Those leaders should be asked to issue demands on behalf of the Israel they are supporting — to demand that the Red Cross be given access to the hostages, to demand that Shifa Hospital be evacuated, to endorse Israel’s call for northern Gaza’s noncombatants to head south and be allowed to head south, to demand a halt to the indiscriminate rocket fire.
The way things stand, Eiland lamented in an Army Radio interview this morning, “Jews are killed and the world mourns.” As he said in another interview, last week, “Well, Jews have the right to live, too.”
Israel Story: Wartime Diaries
Everything in this corner of the world changed on Saturday, October 7. All around us, friends, family, colleagues, people have died. People are missing and kidnapped. Amidst the uncertainty, our podcast partners at Israel Story bring you some remarkable voices and testimonies that paint a picture of these devastating times. Click below to hear the special Israel Story series ‘Wartime Diaries,’ where new clips are added regularly:
** Israel Story is produced in partnership with The Times of Israel.
What Matters Now to Rabbi Rick Jacobs: Coalitions of faith and conscience
Here in Israel last week from New York to show his solidarity was Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, which represents some two million Jews in North America. He sat with The Times of Israel after touring the country and getting briefed on the situation here on the ground.
“This is a moment when we have to be leaning into the kind of response that the world doesn’t like to see from us — when we have a strong military response to protect our community, our families, our country. And at the same time, can we hold, in whatever portion of our moral stance in the world, that we do not look at the suffering of innocents, not the suffering of those who are bringing this assault? That’s part of us retaining our Jewish religious sensibilities, which we can’t lose ever,” said Jacobs. In this time of war, we asked Rabbi Jacobs, what matters now.
🔔 And be sure to subscribe to What Matters Now on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Replay: ToI Community webinar with David Horovitz, Lazar Berman
To answer your questions during this difficult time, The Times of Israel’s editor David Horovitz and diplomatic correspondent Lazar Berman came together last week for a live Behind the Headlines webinar, exclusive to ToI Community and moderated by deputy editor Amanda Borschel-Dan. If you weren’t able to catch it live, you can now watch it on-demand here.
We’ll host more exclusive ToI Community webinars with our journalists in the near future.
Did you watch either of the two ToI Community webinars on the war that we’ve produced since October 7th? If so, we would love to hear your impressions of them and any thoughts on content we might include in them going forward. Please write to us with your thoughts.
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Thank you for your continued support of our independent journalism.
~ The Times of Israel Team