Israel has been caught unawares and now faces a perilous challenge

By Isaac M October 9, 2023

“Where have you been? Where was everybody?” The questions were being screamed at soldiers on a highway by a man stricken with grief. 

His brother had only a week left to go in the army, but was killed on Sunday in a shootout with Hamas on Israeli soil.

The entire country wants those questions answered. Where was the army when Israelis needed them most as Hamas swept into their cities and homes and wreaked such murderous havoc?

Read more: ‘At least 260 bodies’ recovered from music festival – latest updates

There is a sense of powerlessness, bewilderment and fear among Israelis and it is astonishing to witness. Something seems to have shifted, fundamentally.

For Israelis living in one of the world’s most dangerous neighbourhoods there were two things they could rely on. Their military and their intelligence agencies.

Israelis have always believed their generals and spymasters would keep them safe and most of all manage the Hamas menace.

That was, it turns out, delusional and complacent and the country is paying the price for such hubris.

Israeli soldiers look at the remains of a police station which was the site of a battle following a mass infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot, southern Israel October 8, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
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Israeli soldiers look on at the remains of a police station in Sderot, southern Israel

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Hamas has always improved its capability aided by outside help. It was only a matter of time before it would reach a step change in capability.

It’s not yet clear quite how Hamas was able to raise its game so spectacularly though.

Israel-Hamas War: Watch special programme on Sky News tonight at 9pm

In a moral sense they have plumbed new depths, seizing as hostages the elderly, the infirm, women and children and parading them in harrowing videos. In what may be the worst outrage of the last day or so, there are also reports of at least 260 bodies at the site of a music festival.

Young people from around the world were dancing celebrating music and peace when Hamas fighters appeared in jeeps, on motorbikes and in the air in paragliders and began the slaughter. Some have been dragged back to Gaza joining scores of other hostages.

Explosions in Gaza City
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Explosions in Gaza City

Israel has been caught unawares and found wanting. It will want to reassert the power of its deterrence. It cannot afford not to but it faces a perilous challenge.

Taking on Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip has never been straightforward.

But this time there is an added complication. Hamas has taken scores of Israelis hostage. They will be spread across Gaza used as human shields. That is a new challenge Israel has not had to face on this scale before.

What else has the metamorphosed Hamas in store for its enemy both in Gaza and in Israel? How many more cells of Hamas fighters remain on the loose on Israeli soil like the ones that killed the young man’s brother?

Hamas seems more resourceful, better trained, better armed and far better at strategy. When the Israeli tanks and newly mobilised troops go into Gaza can they expect more surprises?

The balance in military power feels like it has shifted dramatically in little over 24 hours. Israel will need to address that. Does it have what it takes?

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