The epic shock from this attack raises questions about Israel’s ability to confront other enemies.
How did an armed terrorist group succeed in overcoming the defenses of one of the most powerful militaries in the world? This is a question that will be asked for a long time. For now, much of Israel is traumatized. People are staying home; children are off school. Cities have come to a halt. Flights have stopped. The country is in mourning.
The epic shock from this attack raises questions about Israel’s ability to confront other enemies. For years we told ourselves Hamas was the easy enemy. It was contained and deterred. Reports say that the assessment was that it could never carry out an attack of this magnitude. It was supposed to be capable of only firing rockets. Israel had a “smart” fence along the border that was supposed to detect any activity. However, Hamas had used riots along the border since 2018 to test the fence. Israel got used to having some demonstrations near the fence. Nevertheless, Israelis went to bed on October 6 assuming that it would be a quiet Shabbat.
On the border on October 6, there was all the best technology. There were observation towers and soldiers observing Gaza. Israel also has drones and observation balloons. However, what no one knew was that Hamas had thousands of terrorists ready to step off the line at around six in the morning and attack more than 29 locations along the border fence. Videos show that Hamas used drones to attack various observation towers and observation points. They also attacked armored vehicles. This made it harder to contend with the attack.
Hamas terrorists were armed with rifles and RPGs. They also had maps of the places they were targeting. Hamas divided the teams into those that would strike at 20 Israeli settlements along the border, and those that would strike at Sderot and Ofakim. The goal in Sderot would be to target the police station. In other sectors, Hamas targeted various bases along the border. This included the headquarters of the Gaza Division and also a base near Nahal Oz and at Zikim along the sea.
The goal here was for Hamas to strike at the very units that might respond once it was clear the observation network had been impacted. In essence, this cut off any chance that there could be a response to the two dozen breaches in the fence. All the smart technology Israel has was rendered almost useless by the massive attack. Terrorists wandered inland, getting to the gates of various kibbutzim. In some they found the gate undefended, waited for a car to arrive for the gate to open, killed the driver and entered the community.
They were not successful everywhere. At Erez the local security team was able to keep the initial wave of attackers outside the fence. They called for help from Or Haner, another kibbutz. Soon the security team from Or Haner had come to their aid. Together the men fought off heavily armed terrorists for hours. They felt alone and abandoned. No IDF forces came to their aid. It was inexplicable. Where was the army? Where were the helicopters and drones and aircraft?
In Sderot up to 200 terrorists invaded the city. They headed for the police station, where 29 terrorists fought a dozen police. The police often had only their handguns. The terrorists had rifles and RPGs. They took over the police station. However, the police and counterterrorism units that rushed to Sderot as a quick reaction force were able to contain the terrorists and lay siege to them.
Worse was to come. Using hang gliders and motorcycles and other vehicles, the terrorists swarmed around a large music festival near Re’im. Here they cut the festivalgoers off from their cars and the road. When the 1,000 people there tried to flee, hearing gunfire, they found their cars riddled with bullets. They had to turn back. A few police here fought to the end against the terrorists. More than 260 of the festival attendees were massacred. Terrorists came in waves, more coming at 9 a.m. They looted the cars and began searching for people to take as hostages. They carted off women, dragging them by the hair back to Gaza, where crowds of people ran to spit on the women and cheer “God is great.”
After 9 a.m. the tide began to turn. Israeli units rushed to the border. Older men who had served in Israel’s past wars came to the fight. And eventually the terrorists were contained and they began to take losses. The IDF retook Kibbutz Be’eri, Re’im and Kfar Aza, and soon the 19,000 Israelis cut off along the border, surrounded by terrorists, were relieved to see IDF vehicles and some tanks. They were soon evacuated.
The questions left unanswered
HOW WERE Israel’s defenses hollowed out? Where was the air force, which is supposed to respond quickly? Why weren’t commandos sent to the border to stop the terrorists from bringing women, children, and the elderly back to Gaza? How were 200 soldiers killed by Hamas, an organization that was supposed to be inferior to our IDF? How come the high command and intelligence services didn’t know about the planned attack? Why wasn’t the Hannibal Directive ordered to stop the kidnappings of 100 citizens? Why weren’t tanks sent directly to the border? Why did it take a day or two just to secure the area?
These are all questions that need to be answered. The collapse Israel faced on October 7 was worse than 1973, worse than the surprise the US felt at the Tet Offensive, and worse than many other military blunders in history. It is worse because Israel wasn’t merely facing a military defeat, but, rather, the massacre of civilians. Hamas’s goals were not just to destroy military bases, but specifically to commit mass murder against civilians, going house to house to kill them all. When a terrorist group is on the border and it has goals to exterminate everyone, it would be good to have forces on the ground to prevent a massacre. However, Israel treated Hamas like a known quantity, one that receives backing from Qatar and Turkey, two US allies, and one that can be reasoned with.
Many voices warned over the years that Israel’s ground forces had become too invested in special forces and technology. They were also focusing on the West Bank and the North. Yet the threat to Israeli civilians from the West Bank is less. West Bank settlements are on alert for attacks, and many people have weapons.
The communities on the Gaza border were left defenseless. They expected the IDF to arrive within minutes, not within hours; they expected air force assets overhead immediately. They expected that no one would ever be kidnapped to Gaza. The shocked look on the Israelis being carted off to Gaza says it all. Israel promised them “never again,” and we were told that here we have a strong state; we are not like the people who were rounded up by Nazis. But the 60,000 Israelis who live near Gaza were left to be rounded up. Women were left to be carted off like a prize. They were failed by everyone.
The state owes the citizen protection, as the most basic promise. On October 7 that protection disappeared. While many forces fought heroically and many soldiers and police died, it was not enough to prevent disaster.