Maureen Clare Murphy & Ali Abunimah
The Electronic Intifada / October 7, 2023
Hamas launched a surprise operation on an unprecedented scale against Israel early Saturday, which the resistance group’s military chief Muhammad Deif said was codenamed “Al-Aqsa Flood.”
The day marks a tremendous strategic failure and defeat for Israel, even as it bombs Gaza in retaliation.
After hours of public silence, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas would pay an “unprecedented price” as fighting continued in several locations near Gaza between Palestinian resistance fighters and Israeli forces.
Palestinian fighters infiltrated Israel from Gaza as thousands of rockets were launched from the territory over multiple hours.
Hamas claims to have captured dozens of Israelis.
Palestinian civilians entered Israel from Gaza as well. The vast majority of Gaza’s population of more than two million people are refugees from lands around the periphery of the coastal enclave, which has been under a punishing Israeli siege for 16 years and military occupation for more than a half-century.
Video shows Palestinians bulldozing the militarized border fence along the periphery of Gaza, which is commonly described as an open-air prison due to Israel’s siege:
Videos recorded from Israeli communities near the Gaza boundary showed unprecedented scenes of armed fighters spread out through the streets.
Other videos appeared to show an injured or killed Israeli soldier being pulled out of a vehicle in Gaza. Another graphic video was said to show the body of an Israeli on the back of a truck in Gaza.
Numerous videos show Israeli soldiers and possibly civilians detained by Palestinians.
Additional videos showed Palestinian fighters with what appears to be a captured Israeli military vehicle in Gaza after returning from the surprise attack as an ecstatic crowd gathers around them:
At least one Israeli tank was destroyed and at least one Israeli soldier was shown on video being pulled out of a tank and taken into Gaza.
A man seen in a video standing near the burning weapon claimed that its entire crew was captured by Palestinian fighters:
Palestinian resistance fighters completely took over an Israeli military base. Videos filmed by resistance fighters and broadcast on Al Jazeera and circulated online show dead soldiers, abandoned positions, Israeli armored vehicles and tanks.
Video disseminated by the military wing of Hamas shows the bodies of a dozen Israeli soldiers.
Any surviving Israeli soldiers appear to have fled the base, a substantial installation fortified with concrete walls.
Carrying only light weapons, Palestinian forces riding mopeds appear to have executed an astonishing tactical success against what is described as one of the world’s strongest militaries.
The military wing of Hamas also published a video of its elite “Saqr” squadron deploying using paramotors, a type of light aircraft. The unit is said to have taken part in today’s assault although the video may show a training operation filmed earlier:
Another video shows a captured man, seemingly not seriously harmed, in a vehicle in Gaza.
Palestinian fighters reportedly infiltrated a police station in Israel, where a shootout was underway at around 9 am local time.
Four people were reported killed in rocket strikes in Bedouin villages in southern Israel and one Israeli woman was killed as a result of rocket fire.
The Bedouin villages where people were killed most likely did not have shelters.
Resistance decided to act
Muhammad Deif, the Hamas military chief, said that “we have decided to put an end to all of the occupation’s crimes,” including attacks on worshippers and provocations at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ politburo, said that provocations at Al-Aqsa in recent days were the principal reason for the surprise attack.
Deif also said that calls for a prisoner exchange “were met with refusal, and daily violations continue in the West Bank.”
Deif also announced that “starting from today, security coordination ends,” referring to the Palestinian Authority functioning as a policing arm of the Israeli occupation by cracking down on resistance activists in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority has engaged with Saudi Arabia to leverage a normalization deal between the Gulf kingdom and Israel pushed by the US, a process rejected by Hamas and the rest of the resistance axis.
Deif urged Palestinians in Jerusalem and in Israel to join the fight and for “Islamic resistance in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen” to march towards Palestine.
Some mosques in East Jerusalem reportedly urged Palestinians to mobilize.
Hamas refrained from engaging in direct battle with Israel after it assassinated three Islamic Jihad leaders in surprise airstrikes on Gaza earlier this year.
Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said on Saturday that Israel “will win this war.”
He added that Israeli “soldiers are fighting the enemy at all the infiltration sites,” but residents of Israeli communities infiltrated by Palestinians told media that they had been abandoned by the authorities.
Kobi Shabtai, Israel’s chief of police, said on Saturday morning that “we’re in a state of war. We are under a massive attack from the Gaza Strip” with more than 21 scenes of confrontation in the south of the country.
As Israel’s security cabinet convened on Saturday, Palestinians in Gaza stocked up on provisions in anticipation of yet another major military operation in the territory:
Hundreds of Palestinians living along Gaza’s boundary with Israel fled their homes, fearing Israeli strikes:
Images of Palestinians taking the vaunted Israeli military totally by surprise will be seen in Israel and around the world as a massive strategic failure no matter what Israel does next.
It comes almost 50 years to the day after Egypt inflicted an historic strategic surprise. On 6 October 1973, Egyptian forces executed a massive amphibious assault across the Suez Canal, aiming to liberate the Sinai Peninsula which Israel had occupied along with the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights in 1967.
Defying expectations, Egypt breached the so-called Bar-Lev Line, military fortifications Israel considered impregnable, but which were overrun by Egyptian forces in a matter of hours.
Although Israel managed – with the help of a huge American military airlift – to turn the tide of the war and re-occupy most of the liberated Egyptian territory, the recriminations and sense of failure ultimately led to the end of Prime Minister Golda Meir’s tenure and political career.
The events of Saturday are already being described as a “colossal failure” by Israeli analysts.
On Saturday morning, Eli Maron, a former Israeli navy chief, said during a television interview: “All of Israel is asking itself: Where is the [Israeli military], where is the police, where is the security?”
“It’s a colossal failure; the hierarchies have simply failed, with vast consequences,” Maron added.
The Palestinian resistance has blown away all expectations of its capabilities, despite being at a massive resource disadvantage compared to Israel.
Even as the military situation unfolds, it is already clear that 7 October 2023 will have profound political implications across the region, especially as Israel and Saudi Arabia appear closer than ever to formalizing their longstanding secret ties.
Netanyahu has been fond of saying that normalization with Riyadh would be a “quantum leap” that would transform the region in Israel’s favor.
Last month, he asserted that a deal with the Saudis would “change the Middle East forever.” It would, he said, bring down “walls of enmity” and create “a corridor of energy pipelines, rail lines, fiber optic cables, between Asia through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.”
The shocking and unprecedented scenes unfolding now have dashed that fantasy.
One unmistakable message that Hamas is sending is that whether or not Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia normalize their relations with Israel, the question of Palestine cannot be brushed under the carpet.
The Palestinian people refuse to be buried under Israeli tyranny, out of sight and out of mind forever, while the region’s regimes throw a party.
Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)