October 8, 2023 | Policy Brief

Israel at War as Death Toll Exceeds 600

October 8, 2023 | Policy Brief

Israel at War as Death Toll Exceeds 600

A day after suffering the worst terrorist assault in its history, Israel was still struggling on October 8 to recapture all of its Gaza border communities from Hamas terrorists while taking the battle to the Iranian-backed Palestinian faction. The Jewish state has formally declared a state of war.

Israeli media said at least 600 people had been killed and 2,000 wounded, mostly in house-to-house massacres by gunmen who breached the Gaza fence under cover of a surprise rocket barrage. More than 100 others — including women and children, Israeli and foreign nationals, and even Nepali farm workers — were dragged into Palestinian territory as hostages. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations said that the hostages include dozens of American citizens.

The death toll looks likely to rise precipitously as security forces regained control of Israeli border villages and towns, uncovering new sites of carnage in homes, streets, or cars that Hamas had commandeered. Even though Israeli hostages were successfully released in some locations, authorities instructed residents to shelter in place and placed road blocks to prevent public access.

Among those killed were at least 34 Israeli Police officers and 44 Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel, including Col. Jonathan Steinberg, the head of the Nahal infantry brigade, and other commanders, attesting to the all-hands-on-deck fighting. Hamas is calling its attack “Operation Al Aqsa Storm,” referring to the mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where Jewish visitation is used by Iran, Hamas, and others to incite the Palestinian street.

In Gaza, meanwhile, Israeli forces shelled buildings, including residential high-rises, tied to the Hamas leadership and its allied Islamic Jihad terrorists. Media reports spoke of several hundred fatalities. Israel also cut off electricity and other supplies to Gaza as the IDF called up tens of thousands of military reservists for a possible ground invasion.

The prospects for major escalation amplified public anger in Israel about how the country’s advanced military, on its most fortified border, could be overrun so easily by urban guerrillas. Hamas promotional videos showed small drones dropping grenades on Israeli observation towers to blind surveillance cameras, as well an Israeli tank knocked out by anti-armor fire, its crew captured. Hamas also used paragliders and motorboats to access Israeli territory by air and sea.

The objective of Hamas appears to have been primarily to shake Israel’s self-confidence. Not only was the cross-border rampage the country’s worst intelligence failure since the 1973 Yom Kippur war; it was the first time since the 1948 War of Independence when Israel lost control of entire communities to enemy fighters. Hamas called on fellow Arabs and Muslims to join in a war that it predicted could bring about the Jewish state’s demise, suggesting that the group’s patron in Tehran sees an opportunity to tighten the noose of armed proxies it has been laying along Israeli borders.

More immediately, Hamas is signaling that it would be willing to return Israeli captives in exchange for the release of thousands of Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails. Whether those captives, or the willingness of either side to enter a trade, will survive whatever escalation follows remains to be seen.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to exact retribution on Hamas. His security cabinet have set, among their objectives, the dismantling of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad regimes in Gaza. For now, they have wall-to-wall domestic support — including a proposal by opposition figures to enter into a broad national emergency government, echoing the one that formed in Israel before the 1967 Six-Day War.

Mark Dubowitz is the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). For more analysis from the author and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow Mark on X @mdubowitz. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


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