Israel is facing a fierce war with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, after a surprise attack on Saturday that killed hundreds of Israelis and took many captives. The Israeli government has declared war and authorized “significant military steps” to retaliate against Hamas, while the military is still battling with militants in several locations in southern Israel. The death toll on both sides has surpassed 1,100, and the situation remains tense and volatile.
How Hamas launched its unprecedented incursion
Hamas launched its surprise attack on Saturday morning, when about 1,000 fighters, backed by a barrage of thousands of rockets, broke through Israel’s security barrier and infiltrated into nearby communities. The militants rampaged for hours, gunning down civilians and snatching people in towns, along highways and at a techno music festival attended by thousands in the desert. The militants also took captives back into the coastal Gaza enclave, including women, children and the elderly, whom they will likely try to trade for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The high death toll, multiple captives and slow response to the onslaught pointed to a major intelligence failure and undermined the long-held perception that Israel has eyes and ears everywhere in the small, densely populated territory it has controlled for decades. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country was at war and would exact a heavy price from its enemies. His Security Cabinet officially declared the country at war in an announcement on Sunday, saying the decision formally authorizes “the taking of significant military steps.” The implications of the announcement were not immediately clear. Israel has carried out major military campaigns over the past four decades in Lebanon and Gaza that it portrayed as wars, but without a formal declaration.
How Israel is fighting back against Hamas
Israel has launched a massive retaliation campaign against Hamas, both on the ground and in the air. Israeli forces have been engaged in fierce gun battles with Hamas fighters in several locations in southern Israel, trying to dislodge them from four sites they occupied, including two kibbutzim. Footage released by Israeli police from one area showed forces kneeling in tall grass as they exchanged fire with Hamas militants across an open field. The Israeli military said it brought in special forces to try to wrest control of the sites from Hamas fighters.
Meanwhile, Israel has intensified its bombardment of the Gaza Strip, leveling buildings and targeting Hamas infrastructure and leaders. The Israeli military said it struck more than 300 targets in Gaza since Saturday, including rocket launchers, tunnels, command centers and weapons depots. It also said it killed several senior Hamas commanders and operatives in targeted strikes. The Israeli air force also shot down several drones launched by Hamas from Gaza into Israeli airspace.
The Israeli military estimated that more than 700 people have been killed in Israel since Saturday, including 44 soldiers, while officials in Gaza said 313 people have died in the territory. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers continue to search for survivors and bodies under the rubble.
How the international community is reacting to the conflict
The international community has expressed alarm and concern over the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, and called for an immediate end to hostilities. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the U.S. is working to verify reports that “several” Americans were killed or are missing. He also said the U.S. is urging both sides to de-escalate and restore calm, and is ready to help facilitate a ceasefire if requested by either party.
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the crisis, but failed to agree on a joint statement due to objections from the U.S., which said it was not conducive to diplomacy. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned “in the strongest terms” the attack by Hamas and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. He also expressed deep concern over the high number of civilian casualties and urged both sides to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians.
Several countries have also issued statements condemning the violence and calling for restraint. Some have also offered humanitarian aid or evacuation assistance to their nationals or others affected by the conflict. However, some countries have also expressed support for either side or blamed the other for provoking the confrontation. For example, Iran praised Hamas for its “brave resistance” and vowed to support its “just struggle,” while Egypt accused Israel of “excessive use of force” and urged it to stop its attacks on Gaza.
What are the possible scenarios for the future
The current conflict between Israel and Hamas is one of the most serious and deadly in their long history of animosity and violence. It poses a grave threat to regional stability and security, as well as to the prospects of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It also raises several questions about the motives, goals and strategies of both sides, as well as their ability and willingness to end the bloodshed.
One possible scenario is that both sides will eventually agree to a ceasefire, either through direct or indirect negotiations, or through the mediation of a third party, such as Egypt, Qatar or the U.S. This would require both sides to make some concessions and accept some conditions, such as the release of captives, the cessation of rocket fire and airstrikes, and the opening of border crossings. However, this scenario also faces many challenges and obstacles, such as the lack of trust and communication between the parties, the internal divisions and pressures within each side, and the influence of external actors and interests.
Another possible scenario is that the conflict will continue to escalate and expand, either because one or both sides will seek to inflict more damage and pain on the other, or because of unintended incidents or miscalculations. This could lead to more casualties and destruction, as well as the involvement of other actors or fronts, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Gaza, or Iran and its proxies in the region. This scenario could also trigger a wider regional war or a humanitarian catastrophe, with dire consequences for millions of people.