At the time this article is being written, 100 days have passed since Simhat Torah, 5784/October 7, 2023, when Hamas terrorists in Gaza launched their vicious assault on southern Israel, igniting a war that has continued with no end in sight.
Hamas still holds over 130 Israeli hostages, and has sternly rejected Israel’s conditions for a ceasefire – that it release the hostages and surrender control over the Gaza Strip. It is clear that Hamas is prepared to fight until the bitter end. And so the war rages on, with ripple effects being profoundly felt throughout the world – particularly in the Jewish world, as Jews everywhere grieve over the devastating losses Israel has suffered, and anxiously follow the developments while praying for peace and security for our brothers and sisters in Israel.
Over three months into the conflict, Israeli troops are still battling against Hamas militants amongst the ruins and rubble of Gaza. After securing control over Gaza City, the largest city in the Strip, the IDF’s heroic ground troops entered in early December the southern city of Khan Younis. This is the second largest city in the Hamas-run enclave, and the city where Hamas’ leaders are believed to be hiding in underground bunkers. These leaders include the masterminds behind the October 7th massacre, most notably Yahya Sinwar, who rules Gaza, and the notorious Mohammed Deif, the terror group’s military leader, whom Israel has unsuccessfully sought to eliminate numerous times over the years. Sadly, nearly 200 Israeli soldiers have died, and some 1,000 have sustained injuries, during this tragic and dreadful conflict.
“The Darkest Day Imaginable”
Community Magazine conducted an exclusive interview with Dean Elsdunne, International Spokesperson of the Israeli Police, who took the opportunity to express gratitude on behalf of the Jewish State to the Sephardic community for its concern and assistance throughout this crisis.
“The fact that the Sephardi community sees the importance of Israel, and specifically the southern border communities,” Elsdunne said, “shows the true meaning of ‘Am Yisrael hai.’ Israel is beyond grateful to all that the Sephardic community has done to stand by our nation. That includes those in Israel who were physically and mentally affected, but also those defending it, both the police and the IDF.”
Elsdunne described the October 7th atrocities as more than an assault on Israel. “Humanity was attacked,” he said. “The darkest things imaginable were committed by Hamas terrorists against innocent civilians. Our heroes wearing police uniform were the first to engage the terrorists, and now our IDF soldiers are inside Gaza making sure that dark day can never happen again.”
We spoke also with some of the officers in the IDF, who described how the bodies of hostages, victims of the October 7th attack, and fallen soldiers are identified. “The identification process consists of routine analysis according to accepted forensic standards. Israel is careful to respect the integrity of the bodies of the deceased.”
When it is confirmed that a body that was found in Gaza is not that of an Israeli, it is returned to Gaza. The outrageous accusations that the IDF steals organs from Gazan corpses are, according to the IDF, “completely unfounded.”
A Country United in Grief…and Concern
In Israel, of course, emotions are running high. Posters of the hostages still held captive line public places, and people hold signs urging leaders to exert as much pressure as possible to “Bring Them Home.” Many still yearn for the return of their loved ones. Many others are still grieving over lost family members, and struggling to move on. Thousands of wives are tending to their children alone, without their husbands, who are risking their lives on the front lives. Parents spend their nights tossing and turning, worrying about their sons fighting in Gaza. The love and concern felt for the courageous IDF soldiers, and the anguish over those who have fallen, have brought together Israel’s Jewish majority, the Druze community, and other minorities, all of whom have lost loved ones on October 7th and during the war.
Israeli news channels devote their broadcasts almost exclusively to war coverage, and stories of both tragedy and heroism spread daily throughout social media. There are also harrowing reports about the hostages’ ordeals in captivity, intensifying concerns about the plight of the remaining hostages.
Israelis also feel a great deal of uncertainty about the future, and about whether, when and how the country can achieve the goal of eliminating the Hamas terror organization. Although many of Hamas’ fighters and leaders have been killed – including heads and members of Hamas’ Nukhba Forces, which perpetrated the barbaric October 7th atrocities – a good number still remain, either hiding in the terror group’s extensive underground tunnel network, or living camouflaged among the civilian population. The process of dismantling Hamas could take many more months, and it is feared that this will continue to cost the lives of many soldiers, Heaven forbid.
As a result of Israelis’ ongoing fears and concerns, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval rating among the public was found to be just 45 percent, according to a poll taken in mid-January by the Yisrael Hayom newspaper.
Dismantling a Vast Terror Infrastructure
In early January, the IDF announced that the military campaign has entered a new phase, and that it would begin withdrawing some of its battalions from Gaza. The IDF claimed to have completed the dismantling of Hamas’ military framework in northern Gaza, and was now in the process of doing the same in the central and southern regions. Much of the city of Khan Younis had already come under the IDF’s control, but the Israeli military had yet to be deployed in the other large city in southern Gaza – Rafah, near the Egyptian border.
Israel Shin Bet intelligence agency has obtained a great deal of information from both captured Hamas operatives, and Hamas assets which were seized by the troops. Some of this information has helped the IDF in its military efforts, and some has enabled Israel to expose Hamas’ cruel and cynical tactics, including the way it has embedded itself within and under civilian infrastructure. For example, the director of Gaza’s Kamal Adwan hospital in Jabaliya, a town north of Gaza City, revealed during an interrogation that the site was used by Hamas to house a kidnapped soldier, and as a base for its terrorist activities.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that Israel must control not only its own border with Gaza, but also the border between Gaza and its southern neighbor, Egypt, to prevent the smuggling of weapons. To that end, Netanyahu declared, Israel will insist on seizing and maintaining control of the Philadelphi Corridor, the nine-mile strip of land between Egypt and Gaza.
Speaking at press briefing on January 13, the Israeli premier vowed, “We’ll destroy Hamas, we’ll demilitarize Gaza. Military equipment and other deadly weapons will [otherwise] continue to enter this southern opening, so of course we need to close it.”
Netanyahu has rejected all calls for a ceasefire, insisting that Israel will not end the war until Hamas is dismantled. Additionally, the Prime Minister has ruled out handing over the strip to the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the war is over, claiming that Israel cannot entrust its security to the PA, a hostile entity.
The dismantling of Hamas’ infrastructure, which is embedded within and underneath the civilian population, has taken a heavy toll on the lives of the Gazans. Palestinian officials claim that 85 percent of Gazans have been internally displaced. And while Israel has allowed hundreds of truckloads of aid into the strip each day, the United Nations’ humanitarian chief described the situation as “intolerable.”
The IDF has been fighting also up north, against the Hezbollah terrorist group which sits in southern Lebanon with a far more formidable military force than Hamas had in Gaza. Although Hezbollah has, to date, stopped short of initiating a full-scale war on Israel, it has been firing rockets intermittently into northern Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis were forced to evacuate from their homes in northern Israel when the war began, and they have been displaced for several months. The IDF successfully targeted Wissam al-Tawil, commander of Ridwan Force, an elite Hezbollah unit, on January 8th. Nevertheless, Hezbollah’s enormous arsenal of rockets and guided missiles remain a threat, resulting in thousands of displaced Israelis unable to return home.
Meanwhile, some 1,200 miles southeast of Israel, another radical terror group has joined Hamas in causing mayhem and bloodshed in the Middle East. The Yemen-based Houthis – who, like Hamas, are proxies of Iran – have attacked several vessels passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which leads to the Red Sea, causing significant disruptions to one of the world’s major shipping routes. This campaign likely marks the most significant threat to maritime security in the region since the era of Somali piracy in the late 2010s. As ships are forced to reroute around Africa, this situation poses a great risk to the global economy, with the potential to drastically raise oil prices and other costs.
A U.S.-led coalition has launched Operation Prosperity Guardian in an effort to protect passage through this vital waterway, bombing Houthi installations in Yemen. The coalition includes the United Kingdom, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. The goal is to destroy the Houthis’ assets in order to secure shipping routes so that global maritime economy and trade can continue.
The campaign began on January 11th, when the U.S. and British militaries attacked over a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen, a coastal nation that has been through a decade-long civil war. The Houthis have vowed to strike back, as the Iranian-backed militants seem determined to fight despite the odds stacked against it.
Expectedly, Israel’s military actions have met with harsh condemnations and hostility throughout the world. While the governments of most major Western nations – particularly the U.S. and U.K. – have steadfastly supported Israel’s war on Hamas, university campuses throughout the West have become hotspots for anti-Israel sentiment and rhetoric. Loud, angry and provocative protesters have been marching, calling for a ceasefire and parroting the outrageous claim that Israel is committing a “genocide” in Gaza. These demonstrations have, in many instances, devolved into outright antisemitism, with some Jewish students facing hostility and harassment. The presidents of two major Ivy League universities – Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania – were forced to resign following a torrent of criticism for their testimony before a Congressional committee, in which they showed indifference to antisemitic speech at their campuses.
But the most public – and absurd – display of what we might call “outrageous outrage” toward Israel occurred at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, Netherlands, on January 12th. South Africa formally accused Israel of committing “genocide” against the Palestinians as per the 1948 definition of the term. Ironically, the ICJ was established after the Holocaust in 1945 in response to Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jewry. Now, less than 80 years later, the court convened to hear South Africa’s claims that, in light of the large number of civilian deaths resulting from Israel’s actions against Hamas, Israel is committing “genocide.” Israel’s President Isaac Herzog has called the charges “preposterous” and described them as a “blood libel.” Several of Israel’s allies, including the U.S. and Germany, have likewise dismissed South Africa’s claims, and Israel assembled a team of outstanding legal experts to refute the outrageous accusations before the ICJ.
Israeli public opinion remains strongly supportive of the war on Hamas. Benny Gantz, former Chief of Staff of the IDF and – until recently – a prominent member of the opposition to Netanyahu’s government, joined the government early during the war, and has been serving on the war cabinet. Opposition leader Yair Lapid has expressed full support for the military campaign. Throughout Israel, signs and posters can be seen with the pronouncement, “Beyahad nenatze’ah – Together we will win.” The October 7th atrocities have awakened many Israelis to the grim reality that the Jewish State can no longer allow Hamas to live in its backyard, in Gaza, and that Israel has no choice but to dismantle this evil terrorist organization. Since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, Israel has tolerated occasional rocket fire from the Strip, figuring that the Iron Dome defense system provided enough protection to obviate the need to wage an all-out war against Hamas. The events of October 7th have shown Israelis that it must eliminate Hamas at all costs, and that this war must be fought in order for peace to prevail.
While many uncertainties about the future remain, it seems quite clear that Israel will never again allow the Gaza Strip to be ruled by a hostile entity such as Hamas, and that this war – and Israel’s control over Gaza – will not end until the communities in southern Israel can live in peace and security, without fear or rocket attacks or terrorist infiltration.
As the Jewish State fights for its survival, Jews around the globe lift their eyes heavenward and pray for the safety and success of our courageous IDF soldiers, for the swift return of all our hostages, and for true peace and security in Israel and throughout the world.