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On October 7, Israel came under an unprecedented attack by militants from the Palestinian movement Hamas. More than 1,300 civilians killed and tortured to death and a huge number of captured hostages have prompted an equally unprecedented response: the Hamas-backed Gaza Strip has been cut off from water, fuel, and electricity supplies, air strikes have been almost non-stop, and the ground army is preparing for a land operation. The Insider presents the briefest possible summary to explain how Hamas managed to punch such a gaping hole in Israel's defenses and how the conflict may evolve.

Content
  • What happened?

  • Why were Israeli security forces caught off guard?

  • How did the Hamas forces do?

  • What's happening now?

  • How many losses have the sides sustained?

  • What next?

  • What reactions are we seeing in Russia?

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What happened?

At 6 a.m. on October 7, several thousand fighters of the Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, managed to breach the protective wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip in dozens of places under the cover of heavy rocket fire and infiltrated into the territory of the Jewish State.

In the earliest phase of the operation, the assailants succeeded in disrupting border surveillance, including by dropping ammunition from drones, and disrupting the controllability of Israeli security forces by seizing several border military bases and assassinating high-ranking IDF officers.

IDF

The Israel Defense Forces, alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal, is the national military of the State of Israel.

Hamas, officially the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Sunni Islamist political and militant organization currently governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.

The initial phase of Hamas’ anti-Israel operation
The initial phase of Hamas’ anti-Israel operation
Black Bird Group

Further on, mobile militant groups in pickup trucks and motorcycles dispersed across areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip, attacking security forces, rescue workers, and civilians. Among other things, they captured entire settlements (kibbutzim), held them for a while, and massacred the guests of the Supernova music festival (also referred to in the media as Nature Party).

Following the militants, a flood of unarmed Palestinian civilians poured into the breaches in the security wall. They appear in numerous videos of looting, violence against Israelis, and desecration of their bodies. We know of absolutely egregious cases of killing civilians, including children (Russian media are trying to challenge the credibility of such reports). In some kibbutzim, the locals managed to fight back on their own, while in others defenseless people were ruthlessly shot in their own homes.

Why were Israeli security forces caught off guard?

The numerous videos posted by Palestinian militants (e.g. 1, 2, 3 – warning for extreme violence) suggest that Israeli troops were unprepared for the attack. Many did not have the time to fetch their personal weapons, let alone organize a resistance. Some experts compare the achieved surprise effect to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

For the same reason, most of the heavy equipment in the publicly available videos is not used in combat and stands idle because the crews couldn’t get to their vehicles or failed to occupy them. In the already famous photo of the captured and torched Merkava tank, the cover was not even removed from its gun.

IDF

The Israel Defense Forces, alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal, is the national military of the State of Israel.

Hamas, officially the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Sunni Islamist political and militant organization currently governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.

Israeli Merkava tank seized by Hamas fighters
Israeli Merkava tank seized by Hamas fighters
AFP

Several videos show that tanks caught in Palestinian fire failed to activate their active protection systems – high-tech systems designed to destroy anti-tank missiles. In all likelihood, they were simply not battle-ready.

Such a devastating failure occurred due to a combination of factors. According to The New York Times, the Israelis relied too heavily on technical border controls and fell into the trap set by the Hamas leadership, who had given Israeli intelligence the impression that the main threats came from Lebanon and the West Bank, not the Gaza Strip.

Apparently, the movement maintained a high level of secrecy and managed to prepare the operation in a way that didn't arouse suspicion. The disinformation was so successful that some Israeli security forces were moved from the Gaza perimeter to the West Bank shortly before the attack to support local settlers.

The Israeli authorities' disregard for the threat emanating from Gaza seems even more bizarre if we were to believe the source in the Egyptian intelligence, who claimed that Israel had been warned of the impending attack. Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly denied this, but the information was later confirmed by the U.S. Congress. However, according to Financial Times sources, the warnings were general in nature and were not supported by intelligence of an impending attack.

How did the Hamas forces do?

To the surprise of many observers, Palestinian militants showed an unexpectedly high level of combat training, equipment, and coordination:

  • Used drones to drop ammunition (including on heavy equipment) and for aerial reconnaissance and live recording.
  • Demonstrated a high level of coherence and control in hostile (Israeli) territory.
  • Employed means of electronic warfare to disrupt Israeli surveillance systems.
  • Demonstrated excellent training in assault operations and seizure of secure facilities.
  • Had an effective strategy for overcoming equipped defense lines.
  • Rotated the units involved in the operation and followed a general plan.

Strictly speaking, Hamas conducted a true multi-domain offensive operation almost on par with full-fledged national armed forces (with some adjustment for the level of technical support) and achieved almost complete tactical surprise. Multidomain means that the fighting unfolded in several “domains” (spheres) at once: simultaneously on land, air, and water. Not only did the militants breach defenses and attack settlements and military bases in pickup trucks and on motorcycles, but they also made landings from the sea (using speedboats) and by air (using paragliders).

IDF

The Israel Defense Forces, alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal, is the national military of the State of Israel.

Hamas, officially the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Sunni Islamist political and militant organization currently governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.

A map found in the possession of a killed Hamas operative
A map found in the possession of a killed Hamas operative
South First Responders

The belongings of the killed Hamas fighters contained detailed maps with routes and boundaries of operational zones allocated to different groups, as well as a semblance of combat manuals – memos describing Israeli military equipment and instructions on the most effective methods of its destruction. The assault was preceded by a rocket attack and a targeted effort to suppress remote surveillance and monitoring equipment and communications towers. All of this speaks to the careful and highly imaginative elaboration of the operation plan.

What's happening now?

Nearly two days elapsed after the attack when the IDF officially announced regaining control of the border and all of the attacked settlements, but the mop-up operations and fighting continue to this day. In the meantime, the country's Air Force launched a campaign of air strikes on the Gaza Strip, hitting over 2,000 targets in four days.

Nevertheless, rockets continue to be fired from Hamas-controlled areas. This is possible because militants store and manufacture missiles deep underground, and destroying such facilities requires precise intelligence and specialized penetrating munitions.

IDF

The Israel Defense Forces, alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal, is the national military of the State of Israel.

Hamas, officially the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Sunni Islamist political and militant organization currently governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.

A neighborhood in the Gaza Strip after an airstrike
A neighborhood in the Gaza Strip after an airstrike
Maxar

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant announced the beginning of a complete blockade of the Gaza Strip, cutting it off from food, fuel, and electricity supplies. Israel’s Energy Minister Israel Katz announced a complete shutdown of the water supply to the Strip. He predicts that in a week, when the region runs out of fuel for generators, its sewage system will collapse, likely causing a sanitary crisis.

How many losses have the sides sustained?

Israel's Health Ministry reported 3,268 injured, of whom 443 remain in hospitals (105 in critical condition). The Israeli authorities reported 1,300 dead, of which more than 260 were found at the site of the Supernova music festival. About 150 people are missing. Hamas claimed to have taken more than 100 hostages, including high-ranking army officers. Israel has reliably determined that 81 people are being held hostage.

Official IDF losses currently stand at 220 killed. By Verstka estimates, at least 13 Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking members of the Israeli security and rescue services were killed in the fighting.

IDF

The Israel Defense Forces, alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal, is the national military of the State of Israel.

Hamas, officially the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Sunni Islamist political and militant organization currently governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.

Israeli soldiers carrying a body in the Kfar Aza Kibbutz
Israeli soldiers carrying a body in the Kfar Aza Kibbutz
Jack Guez / AFP

These are the heaviest civilian and military losses Israel has ever suffered in a conflict in such a short period. As President Isaac Herzog stated, never since the Holocaust have so many Jews been murdered in one day.

The Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip reports 5,763 wounded and 1,203 dead. There are casualties among the staff of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA): 11 dead. Israel reported finding 1,500 bodies of slain militants on its territory.

What next?

Israel is officially at war, with 300,000 reservists called up for military service. Heavy military equipment is being relocated closer to the Gaza Strip, while other forces and weapons are being moved to the border with Lebanon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated unequivocally that Hamas will be destroyed in the same way as ISIS, which means an inevitable ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

Since the military capabilities of Hamas, coupled with all of its Islamist allies, are still incomparable to those of the IDF, the question remains: what purpose was served by such a bloody and defiant attack? It is unlikely that the militant leadership seriously expected to defeat the Israeli army.

The list of objectives may have included provoking a harsh Israeli response and causing the deaths of Palestinian civilians, which should increase support for Palestine in the Arab world and help Hamas stay in power. In addition, according to an Al-Monitor source, the militants were taken aback by their own progress as they’d originally planned to inflict a localized defeat on the Israelis and take a handful of hostages, which wouldn’t have led to such a large-scale response.

The extent of Iran’s involvement in the preparation and execution of the Hamas operation remains unclear. Some sources suggest Iranian intelligence agencies were directly involved in plotting the attack. According to other assessments, Tehran's involvement has yet to be investigated and established.

Preliminary U.S. intelligence findings suggest that many senior Iranian officials, who should have knowledge of operations abroad, were indeed surprised by the Hamas attack. That said, the long-standing financial and technical support of Hamas by the Iranian regime is beyond doubt, especially since the militants themselves have been open about it for a long time.

IDF

The Israel Defense Forces, alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal, is the national military of the State of Israel.

Hamas, officially the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Sunni Islamist political and militant organization currently governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.

Deployment of IDF reservists
Deployment of IDF reservists
AFP

Be that as it may, Iran's allies – Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shiite groups in Syria and Iraq – may start a war against Israel, propelling the conflict to the regional level. So the U.S. preemptively sent an aircraft carrier strike group, led by the newest aircraft carrier, the Gerald Ford, to the eastern Mediterranean to prevent Iranian interference, and began sending military aid to Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel and Lebanon are already exchanging strikes across the border. Also, the Israeli military reported having launched artillery strikes on Syria in response to mortar fire across the demarcation line (southwestern Syria features a pro-Iranian Shiite presence). Lebanon and Syria have received warnings through informal channels about the inevitable and disproportionate response from Israel if they attempt to intervene in its confrontation with Hamas.

In any case, the ground operation in the Gaza Strip will hardly be a walk in the park for the IDF, especially after the monumental failure in the first phase of the war and amid reports of problems in equipping and supplying reservists.

What reactions are we seeing in Russia?

Pro-war media mostly argue that neither side deserves support because, for all the obvious atrocities committed by Hamas militants, Israel has sided with Ukraine in the war against Russia. In general, a big war in the Middle East is beneficial to the Kremlin, as it diverts the attention and resources of Kyiv's Western allies

Some pro-war channels are using the Gaza bombing as a precedent, calling for “a tactical review of the special military operation” and taking a hard line against “Ukrainian fascists” by intensifying Russian strikes on Ukrainian residential areas. They make a special emphasis on Hamas using Ukrainian weapons, despite the lack of any hard evidence.

Russian public officials have called for restraint on both sides. The head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov pledged his support for the Palestinians and suggested sending “Chechen peacekeepers” to the Middle East. Vladimir Putin, following Dmitry Medvedev, called the escalation of the conflict “a failure of U.S. policy,” which pays no regard to “the fundamental interests of the Palestinian people” and “the decision of the UN Security Council to establish an independent, sovereign Palestinian state” (by the way, the U.S. supports Palestinian independence within the 1967 borders).

IDF

The Israel Defense Forces, alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal, is the national military of the State of Israel.

Hamas, officially the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Sunni Islamist political and militant organization currently governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.

An improvised memorial in Kaliningrad, Russia, to honor the victims of the Hamas attack
An improvised memorial in Kaliningrad, Russia, to honor the victims of the Hamas attack
SOTAvision

A notable incident took place in Kaliningrad, Russia, where the police demanded that the Israeli flag be removed from a spontaneous memorial on the pretext that “the flag of Israel is like the flag of Ukraine” and “NATO is helping them.”

IDF

The Israel Defense Forces, alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal, is the national military of the State of Israel.

Hamas, officially the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Sunni Islamist political and militant organization currently governing the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.

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