Israel says it is ‘at war’ after Hamas surprise attack

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Firefighters work to put out a fire in an open field, following a mass-infiltration by Hamas gunmen from Gaza, near a hospital in Ashkelon, southern Israel, on October 7, 2023. Amir Cohen/Reuters

The gunmen came from air, sea and land. They shot at civilians, took hostages and forced families to barricade themselves indoors, fearing for their lives.

A day that began with air raid sirens blaring out in the early morning had by lunchtime turned into one of the most terrifying attacks Israel has known in the 75 years of its existence. Assailants from Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the impoverished and densely populated Gaza Strip, had by nightfall killed hundreds of people and wounded hundreds more.

An attack with no warning: Though Israel is no stranger to terrorist attacks, Saturday’s assault was unprecedented – not least because of the lack of warning. Israel’s military on Saturday found itself caught off-guard, despite decades in which the country became a technology powerhouse that boasts one of the world’s most impressive armed forces and a premier intelligence agency.

The questions for Israeli authorities are legion. It has been more than 17 years since an Israeli soldier was taken as a prisoner of war in an assault on Israeli territory. And Israel has not seen this kind of infiltration of military bases, towns and kibbutzim since town-by-town fighting in the 1948 war of independence. How could a terror group from one of the world’s poorest enclaves manage to launch such a devastating attack?

A system failure: “The entire system failed. It’s not just one component. It’s the entire defense architecture that evidently failed to provide the necessary defense for Israeli civilians,” said Jonathan Conricus, a former international spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces.

“This is a Pearl Harbor type of moment for Israel, where there was reality up until today, and then there will be reality after today.”

Heavy investment in defense: Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it has spent billions of dollars securing the border from attacks. That has included striking at any weapons fired from Gaza into Israel, and stopping terrorists from trying to cross the border by air or underground using tunnels. To stop rocket attacks, Israel has used the Iron Dome, an effective rocket defense system developed with help from the United States.

Israel also spent hundreds of millions of dollars building a smart border system with sensors and subterranean walls that was, according to Reuters, completed at the end of 2021.

So far, officials have said little: Israeli authorities will almost certainly look at where its systems failed on Saturday, but the country has not yet released figures on how many of the more than 2,000 rockets fired by Hamas militants were intercepted. Nor have officials commented on if the border fence did its job. And the Israeli military has repeatedly dodged questions about whether Saturday’s events constitute an intelligence failure.

Military spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht told CNN that Israel was focused on the current fight and protecting civilian lives.

“We’ll talk about what happened intelligence-wise after,” Hecht said.

Read more about Israel’s security measures here.


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