Israel is preparing to initiate a “significant ground operation” to strike Hamas in Gaza “from air, sea and land” following last week’s terror attacks.
- Latest figures suggest that at least 1,400 Israelis were killed in the Hamas terror attacks and rocket fire from Gaza, with 4,121 injured and around 200 abducted. At least 264 Israeli soldiers are known to have been killed.
- Seventeen British nationals, including children, are dead or missing following the Hamas attacks, of whom four – Nathanel Young, Bernard Cowan, Jack Marlowe and 13-year-old Yahel – have been named. The UK government has said that six British nationals were killed in the attacks, with another 10 missing, who are feared dead or held hostage by Hamas, including 16-year-old Noiya, the sister of Yahel.
- Around 200 Israelis, including civilians, have been taken hostage by Hamas terrorists, with reports of entire families, including children, being taken to Gaza. Footage on social media showed living bloodied Israelis and the bodies of Israeli soldiers being paraded in Gaza itself. At least one of these hostages, an elderly woman, is believed to be a Holocaust survivor.
- President Biden will visit Israel on Wednesday, becoming the first head of state to visit Israel since the war began. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Biden will use the trip to reaffirm US “solidarity with Israel” along with Washington’s commitment to the Jewish state’s security. The president will reiterate his condemnation of the Hamas assault.
- Blinken has also announced that the US and Israel “have agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor notions and multilateral organisations to reach civilians in Gaza, including the possibility of creating areas to help keep civilians out of harm’s way”.
- The rocket attacks, which have impacted southern and central Israel, have seen at least 5,000 rockets indiscriminately fired from Gaza into Israel, including the major population centres around greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as Ben Gurion Airport.
- Israel has evacuated some 60,000 civilians from communities along its borders with Gaza and Lebanon in response to rocket fire from Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups. Sporadic rocket fire from Hezbollah in Lebanon continued over the weekend, including 15 rockets fired into Israel on Sunday, killing one civilian and one soldier.
- Since Friday, the IDF has issued a warning to civilians in northern Gaza warning them to move into the south of the 41km-long Strip, including providing information about the safest routes. Some 600,000 Gazans are thought to have already done so. The IDF has “categorically” denied responsibility for an explosion that hit a convoy of vehicles carrying civilians on the route Israel is encouraging them to move through.
- A “national emergency government” has been formed in Israel, with centrist former defence minister and leading opposition figure Benny Gantz entering into a coalition with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The coalition agreement has seen Netanyahu’s hard right coalition partners – Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich – sidelined and excluded from the war cabinet, of which Gantz will be part.
- The UK has seen a huge jump in antisemitic incidents since Hamas’s initial attacks, with 320 incidents since the Saturday 7 October, many involving “symbols and language of pro-Palestinian politics as rhetorical weapons”, the Community Security Trust reports. This is a 580% increase in the same period last year.
- Last Friday Hamas called for a “day of rage” targeting Israelis and Jews worldwide. A teacher in France was stabbed to death by an Islamist former pupil on Friday.
- In the morning of Saturday 7 October, the Iranian-backed Palestinian terror group Hamas launched a barrage of rockets against central and southern Israel, alongside an unprecedented invasion of southern Israel itself, including the city of Sderot and nearby communities.
- Hamas fighters penetrated as deep as 15 miles into Israel from the border. Some 1,500 Hamas terrorists were killed in the process of re-establishing Israel control of the communities around the Gaza border, with the IDF warning that some could still be at large.
- Latest figures suggest that at least 1,400 Israelis were killed in the Hamas attacks and rocket fire from Gaza, with several thousands more injured. Relative to population, this attack ranks worse even than 9/11, while Saturday 7 October represents the bloodiest day for Jews in history since the Holocaust.
- Footage from the attacks appeared to show terrorists from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad breaching the border between Gaza and Israel and entering Israeli towns nearby, including Sderot and several kibbutzim, where they attacked Israeli civilians and captured hostages, in some cases going from door to door to kill civilians.
- Several kibbutzim near the Gaza border – including Be’eri, Nir Oz and Kfar Aza – were seized by Hamas for more than 48 hours, and have reportedly been the sites of massacres, including harrowing reports of the mass slaughter of babies.
- On Thursday night, Israel took th extraordinary step of releasing gruesome images of murdered babies “so that the world will see just a fraction of the horrors that Hamas carried out”, following online speculation about the veracity of such claims.
- The bodies of at least 260 Israelis were found near Kibbutz Re’im on Sunday, the site of a music festival, in what appears to be a Hamas massacre. One eyewitness account describes the rape of young women beside their dead friends.
- The multi-pronged attack, coming as Israel marked the 50th anniversary of the surprise invasion in the Yom Kippur War, caught Israeli military and security forces completely by surprise.
Hamas: a reminder
- Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamist organisation that engages in terrorism against Israel.
- Hamas and its military wing are considered to be terrorist organisations by many countries, including the UK.
- Its founding charter commits it to the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state across all of pre-1948 Palestine.
- Indeed, Hamas has encouraged Palestinians around the world to “attack every Jew on planet Earth” and frequently promotes “martyrdom”.
- Hamas employs rocket attacks and suicide bombings against both the Israeli military and civilians.
- Hamas receives support from Syria, Qatar and Turkey, as well as being a key proxy for Iran’s aggressive expansionist agenda.
- As well as attacks on Israel, Hamas has been accused of gross human rights abuses against Palestinians during its rule of Gaza.
- The coastal Gaza Strip is home to more than 2 million people and has been ruled by Hamas since 2007.
- Israel, which withdrew its forces and settlements from Gaza in 2005, has alongside Egypt imposed tight restrictions on Gaza since Hamas seized power sixteen years ago.
- Egypt initially refused to establish corridors out of Gaza for fleeing civilians, though on Saturday the US negotiated a temporary opening for fleeing US citizens. Hamas has repeatedly encouraged Gazan civilians not to leave, including making appeals to martyrdom and even blocking major roads to stop civilians from leaving.
- Amid concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza as a result of Hamas’s attacks, Biden has announced that the U.S. was “working with the governments of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the UN to surge support to ease the humanitarian consequences of Hamas’s attack, create conditions needed to resume the flow of assistance, and advocate for upholding the law of war”.
- Since last weekend, Israel’s air force has struck thousands of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, including rocket systems, command centres, strategic infrastructure sites, and underground targets. Gaza’s health ministry, which is run by Hamas, has claimed that some 2,670 Gazans have died since Saturday – a significant proportion of whom were Hamas terrorists according to the IDF – with around 9,600 injured.
The coming days
- The Israel Defence Forces has launched “Operation Iron Swords” in response to the attack and has announced a call up of some 360,000 reservists. After the attacks, Israel formally declared a state of war in response to the scale and severity of the attacks.
- Israeli troops have conducted localised raids into Gaza since Friday, to clear the area of potential terrorists and locate missing Israelis. In the process, the IDF retrieved an unknown number of bodies and recovered belongings of known hostages. Detailed plans have also been recovered for Hamas’s attacks on Israeli border communities.
- The IDF has confirmed that it is preparing for a “significant ground operation” that would strike Hamas in Gaza “from air, sea and land” in what will likely be the most significant offensive since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
- The head of Israel’s national security council, Tzachi Hanegbi, said on Saturday that Israel’s goal is to remove Hamas from military and political control over Gaza. Israel’s “top priority” would be the rescue of the up to 200 hostages, who are thought to be being held by Hamas underground in an “elaborate network of tunnels”.
The regional picture
- Since the attacks, the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah – another Iranian proxy group committed to Israel’s destruction – has been firing rockets and mortars into northern Israel “in solidarity” with the ongoing attacks by Hamas.
- Monday 9 October saw minor clashes between Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists and the IDF on the Lebanese border, killing two soldiers. Sporadic rocket fire from Hezbollah in Lebanon continued over the weekend, including 15 rockets fired into Israel on Sunday, killing one civilian and one soldier. On Saturday morning, four terrorists were killed attempting to enter Israel from Lebanon.
- The West Bank has seen an increase in tensions in the past week, with the IDF arresting 220 wanted Palestinians, including 130 affiliated with Hamas. There have been several clashes between the IDF and West Bank Palestinians, as some rallied in support of Hamas and several attempted terror attacks. There has also been an increase in clashes between Israeli settlers and West Bank Palestinians.
- On Sunday, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas appeared to finally condemn the Hamas attacks, stressing that “Hamas’ policies and actions do not represent the Palestinian people” in a report that was later deleted from the PA’s website.
- Saudi Arabia has reportedly put “on ice” recent US-brokered negotiations with Israel that would have seen the Saudis normalise relations with Israel for the first time. The talks, which are opposed by Iran and which Hamas was likely attempting to derail through its attacks, had made significant progress in recent months.
Iran: the power behind the rockets
- Both Hamas and Hezbollah are key terrorist proxies in Iran’s efforts to destroy Israel and to ferment instability in the region.
- Iran is the primary supplier of Hamas with funding, weaponry and hardware, including the rockets used to attack Israeli civilians.
- In a tweet, the day of Hamas’s initial attacks, Ayatollah Khamenei shared footage of Israelis fleeing attackers, saying “God willing, the cancer of the usurper Zionist regime will be eradicated at the hands of the Palestinian people and the Resistance forces throughout the region”.
- An Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said: “The resistance has so far achieved brilliant victories during this operation, and this is a bright spot in the history of the Palestinian people’s struggle against the Zionists.”
- On 16 October, Iranian president Ibrahim Raisi reportedly threatened the “possibility of expanding the scope of war and conflict to other fronts”.
As Parliament returned from its conference recess yesterday, the prime minister made a statement on the situation in Israel and Gaza to the House of Commons. At the start of their respective sessions, both the Commons and Lords marked a minute’s silence out of respect for civilian victims of Hamas’s terror attacks.
Responding to the prime minister’s statement, Labour leader Keir Starmer condemned the “senseless murder of men, women, children and even babies; the horrors of hostage taking; music festivals turned to killing fields; innocent Jews slaughtered within their own kibbutz”, declaring that “Labour stands with Israel” just as “Britain stands with Israel”. Starmer also reiterated that “Israel has the right to bring her people home, to defend herself and to keep her people safe.” You can read Starmer’s full comments, and the entire debate both in the Commons and Lords, here.
Israel’s 24-hour warning to leave the north of the Strip has already extended to several days as hundreds of thousands of Gazans have ignored Hamas’s entreaties to keep themselves in danger. Amid American-led efforts to improve humanitarian assistance and allow for Gazans to enter Egypt via the Rafah crossing, Israel’s ground operation is likely to begin in the coming days.