Why this Israel-Hamas War Is Not Like the Others: A Brief Primer

Hamas and Israel are once again at war. For Israel, this is a war of necessity, not choice. And it promises to be different from any previous conflict in the nation’s history. The battle lines are between barbarity and civilization.

On Oct.7, 2023, Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations launched hundreds of rockets into Israel. Firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, often from behind the cover of human shields, is a war crime, but it isn’t new. But Hamas invading Israel and filming themselves executing Israeli civilians and taking dozens of them hostage is unprecedented. Israeli citizens were gunned down while waiting at bus stops, and the corpses of dead Israelis have been abused and paraded on the streets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his countrymen that “we are at war, not in an operation or in rounds, but at war.” It was, he said, “a murderous surprise attack.”

Indeed, the massive assault caught the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) flat-footed, eerily echoing the intelligence failures of the Yom Kippur War which erupted fifty years ago this week. The Yom Kippur War, however, was a conventional war between the IDF and the armies of Egypt and Syria. Elderly civilians and children were not taken from their homes in Israel en masse and shot or taken hostage, with grizzly images shared all over social media.

The scope and scale of the Hamas-led attack diverges from recent conflicts. Hamas used hang gliders to land operatives inside Israel, employed drones to destroy Merkava tanks, and attempted to infiltrate via water. At least 1400 Israelis are dead, and thousands more wounded—large numbers for a country of nine million people. Civilian casualties of this size are without precedent in Israel’s history. Many commentators, including former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, have likened the event to Israel’s 9/11. Tens of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated.

Other Gaza-based terrorist groups, like the Popular Resistance Committees, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and others, have also participated in the coordinated assault. All receive extensive funding and support from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such groups are unlikely to launch an attack of this size without Tehran’s blessing.

The Iranian regime has both the means and the motive.

Iran seeks Israel’s destruction and has spared no expense in seeking to achieve it. Importantly, Tehran is also flush with cash, having received billions of dollars from the United States in recent negotiations for U.S. hostages and via sanctions relief. Judging by their rate of fire, Hamas and other Gazan groups don’t seem to be worried about replacing munitions.

There is the possibility of war on other fronts, as well. Iran has proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon—all of which could help carry out attacks on the Jewish state. Out of all these fronts, Lebanon, which is de facto ruled by Hezbollah, Iran’s foremost proxy, is perhaps the most concerning. Hezbollah has an estimated 150,000 missiles, many with advanced capabilities, and possess more arms and operatives than many nation states. 

Another concern lies closer. In recent years, Iranian proxies have infiltrated the West Bank, hoping to unseat Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement. Iran has also been smuggling guns into Israel’s Arab communities, as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, has documented.

A multifront war would be something that Israel hasn’t experienced in half a century. And with Hezbollah and Hamas’s extensive use of human shields, casualties would be significant. To restore deterrence, Israel will be taking the gloves off. The civilized world can prevent the conflict from spreading by supporting Israel against the barbarism of Iranian proxies like Hamas.

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