New security trauma will strongly determine Israel’s policy towards Palestinians

Israeli youth who are surprised and shot down by Hamas militants during a music festival in the desert. Civilians and soldiers who are taken as hostages to the Gaza Strip with brutal violence. A long list of dead, on the Israeli side it rose to eight hundred on Sunday evening, plus two thousand injured.

The surprise attack by Hamas that started on Saturday morning, images of which quickly spread via social media, has been causing deep shock and bewilderment in Israel for days. The threat of rockets and suicide bombings has always been there, but an attack on this scale, on Israeli territory, was hardly thought possible by anyone. Images of paragliders, a captured tank and a taken over checkpoint on the border with Gaza made a huge impression.

It feels like a repeat of the Yom Kippur War, just because of the date: that war against Israel started on October 6, 1973, exactly fifty years ago. Saturday, when Hamas invaded by land, sea and air, was October 7. And as in 1973, Israel appears to have been poorly informed of the attack plans, even though Israeli intelligence services are considered among the best in the world.

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The result is a new security trauma that will largely determine Israel’s position in the conflict with the Palestinians in the coming years. Or, as Israeli Minister Yoav Gallant (Defense, Likud) put it this weekend: “We will change the reality in Gaza for the next fifty years.”

Air raids

Israel’s response will be harsh, that much is already clear. During attacks on Gaza on the night from Saturday to Sunday, it is estimated that more than three hundred people were killed on the Palestinian side, including at least twenty children. Entire buildings were razed or collapsed as a result of the air raids. According to Israel, these are buildings used by Hamas. Nearly two thousand people were injured in these attacks.

On Sunday afternoon, the Israeli army continued to fight in places in southern Israel besieged by Hamas militants. The militants were still in a number of kibbutzim and in the villages of Sufa, Holit and Yated on Sunday evening, the Israeli army also confirmed. Hamas’ military spokesman said the group has “replenished its forces” on Israeli territory, supplying infiltrators already present.

Israel wants to hit back hard, but is faced with a major dilemma: Hamas militants took a “significant number” of Israelis back to Gaza as hostages during their surprise attack, an Israeli army spokesman said. The exact number of hostages is unknown, but media in Israel speculate that there could be as many as a hundred. Women, the elderly and children are also said to have been taken hostage. Hamas wants to use them in a prisoner exchange. In October 2011, 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were released in exchange for one Israeli soldier, reserve corporal Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Hamas.

We will change the reality in Gaza for the next fifty years

Yoav Gallant Israeli Defense Minister

During any reprisals, Israel will have to take the hostages into account. The government consists partly of hardliners who regularly call for tough action against Palestinians. For example, in June of this year, Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir (National Security, Jewish Power) urged a large-scale military action in which “thousands” of Palestinians should be killed after disturbances in the West Bank.

With regard to Gaza, politicians also talk euphemistically about ‘mowing the grass’ – limiting the functioning of Hamas with military force. But with the large number of Israeli hostages in the strip, Israel will have to act more cautiously so as not to endanger their lives.

Mortar fire

Another reason for Israel to operate cautiously is that this war has the potential to spread beyond its borders. Israel is already dealing with mortar fire from Hezbollah on its northern border. Should Iran also come to the aid of the two militant groups, Israel runs the risk of a multi-dimensional battle that is much more complicated than ‘just’ an attack on Gaza.

Lux et Libertas

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It has been a long-standing doctrine in Israel to respond to militant violence with even greater force to silence them. With the threat from Hezbollah and Iran in mind, Israeli military strategists will have to consider whether this is still the best tactic to prevent escalation to other fronts.

Israel has won one battle for the time being: government leaders of Western countries unanimously support the state that was so rudely awakened on Saturday morning. The Brandenburg Gate lights up in blue and white and the Israeli flag is also hoisted in the Binnenhof.

It is true that Palestinians have also been spotted celebrating, including in London and Berlin. But there was an angry response to this. Western tolerance for these types of atrocities against Israeli civilians appears to be limited.