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A Weekend on the Brink
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A Weekend on the Brink

Israel prepares for a ground offensive in Gaza.

Happy Monday! If you turned off the Jets-Eagles game last night when you heard a certain pop star was not at Metlife Stadium, let us fill you in on what you missed: Gang Green grounded the previously undefeated Birds in their first win over the team in franchise history.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli soldiers on Saturday that “the next stage” of the war against Hamas was “coming,” as Israel called up 300,000 reservists and moved closer to a large-scale ground invasion of Gaza. The Israeli government instructed Palestinian civilians in the region’s northern half to evacuate in preparation for the escalation, but Hamas leaders have issued contradictory orders, telling civilians to remain in place. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reported over the weekend it had killed several Hamas commanders responsible for last weekend’s devastating terrorist attacks.
  • Following the deployment of the USS Gerald R. Ford last week, the United States on Saturday sent a second carrier strike group—the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Groupto the Eastern Mediterranean Sea to act as deterrence for any escalation of violence in the Middle East. “There is a risk of an escalation of this conflict,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday on Face the Nation. “The opening of a second front in the North, and of course of Iran’s involvement—that is a risk.” President Joe Biden spoke to both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by phone over the weekend, urging both to prevent the war from rippling throughout the region. In a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday, Biden said Israel should eliminate Hamas, but cautioned it would be a “big mistake” to occupy Gaza and stressed the need for a “path to a Palestinian state.”
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned Sunday that if Israel didn’t “cease their atrocities in Gaza,” Iran would not be able to “remain an observer” in the conflict, adding that “significant damages” would also be “inflicted” upon the United States if the scope of the war expands. Iranian and Hamas leaders met in Qatar this weekend and “agreed to continued cooperation,” while Amir-Abdollahian praised the attack on Israel as a “historic victory.” Reuters also reported Friday that Saudi Arabia is engaging with Iran and putting normalization efforts with Israel “on ice.”
  • France raised its terror threat alert to its highest level Friday after a teacher was stabbed to death by a man connected to Islamic extremism. The attack—which also wounded three others—prompted French authorities to deploy 7,000 additional troops to maintain safety as the nation monitors an increase in Islamic terrorism seemingly tied to the Israel-Hamas war. The stabbing occurred on what a former Hamas leader declared a “Day of Rage,” which saw increased demonstrations in support of Palestinians, as well as the stabbing of an Israeli Embassy employee in Beijing.
  • Poland’s main opposition group, the Civic Coalition, declared victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections this morning, after exit polls indicated that the nationalist Law & Justice Party had lost its bid for a third term. The opposition’s apparent win marks a return to what will likely be a closer relationship with the European Union for Poland, and could yield more Polish support for neighboring Ukraine.
  • House Republicans voted 124-81 on Friday to nominate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio as their next choice for speaker, and a full floor vote is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday. Jordan and his allies have launched an aggressive vote-whipping operation to ensure victory—though the pressure campaign has aggravated some members of the caucus. Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told Meet the Press on Sunday that “informal conversations” were happening with a bipartisan group of representatives to more quickly arrive at a consensus pick.
  • Republican Jeff Landry, Louisiana’s current attorney general, was elected governor of the state on Saturday, winning nearly 52 percent of the vote in a crowded, all-party contest. By garnering more than half of the ballots cast, Landry avoided a runoff election and flipped the Louisiana governor’s mansion from blue to red, replacing term-limited Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
  • A coalition of health care workers unions reached a tentative deal with Kaiser Permanente on Friday, potentially ending the largest health care strike in U.S. history. The contract, which still must be ratified, would raise wages by 21 percent over the next four years.

Israel Prepares to Strike Back

Israel Defense Forces soldiers walk through Kibbutz Be'eri where days earlier Hamas terrorists killed over a hundred civilians near the border with Gaza on October 11, 2023 in Be'eri, Israel. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
Israel Defense Forces soldiers walk through Kibbutz Be'eri where days earlier Hamas terrorists killed over a hundred civilians near the border with Gaza on October 11, 2023 in Be'eri, Israel. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

On October 7, hundreds of terrorists descended on Israel from the sky using paragliders, rushed in on the ground through holes dug in walls surrounding the Gaza Strip, and launched thousands of rockets indiscriminately into Israeli territory. Hamas—a Palestinian militant group and U.S.-designated terrorist organization—led the surprise attack, infiltrating villages and towns along the Gaza-Israel border. The fighters massacred men, women, and children—in their homes, in the street, even at a music festival—killing more than 1,400 Israelis and leaving more than 3,000 injured. Hamas terrorists also abducted more than 150 people and carried them back to Gaza—bounded on three sides by walls and on the fourth by the Mediterranean Sea—where many remain as hostages. The atrocities, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Israel this week, were “worse than what I saw with ISIS,” when he commanded U.S. military operations in the Middle East at the height of the terror group’s power. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war on Hamas last Saturday, vowing “the enemy will pay an unprecedented price.” As the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) regained control over the towns and kibbutzim Hamas fighters had infiltrated, it also began airstrikes on Gaza, which have killed at least 2,450 people over the last week, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry. A ground campaign in the Gaza Strip—from which Israel withdrew entirely in 2005—is imminent. More than 300,000 Israeli reservists have been called up to fight, and the IDF has amassed troops and vehicles to the north of Gaza. Over the weekend Israel ordered the evacuation of more than 1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza—which Hamas openly discouraged—urging them to move south in anticipation of the invasion. 

Questions abound as Israel—and the world—prepare for the next phase of the war: What would a ground offensive in such a densely populated region look like? What kind of U.S. support will Israel see? And in a region historically fraught with conflict, how do the events of the past week set this war apart?

For most of Israel’s history, the country’s main threat was from neighboring Arab states—Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, against which it fought several wars. That shifted in the 21st century, as Hamas and the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah—both supported by Iran—rose to prominence. Hezbollah took two Israeli soldiers captive during cross-border raids in 2006, and the IDF responded with an invasion that sparked the Second Lebanon War. The month-long campaign—which saw 400,000 Israelis in northern Israel displaced amid continuous rocket attacks and at least 157 soldiers and civilians killed—revealed tactical and strategic weaknesses in the IDF and left the Israeli government hesitant to carry out another similar ground operation. 

Applying some of the lessons learned in its war with Hezbollah, Israel—in its confrontations with Hamas, which took over Gaza by force in 2007 after winning parliamentary elections in 2006—has been cautious to launch a full-scale invasion. There have been several major confrontations between Hamas and Israel prior to last week—in 2008, in 2014, and in 2021, with plenty of other smaller skirmishes in between. But Israel’s paradigmatic response—particularly after the mixed results of the 2006 Hezbollah war—was a strategy of “mowing the lawn,” William Inboden—who served on former President George W. Bush’s National Security Council—told TMD, describing a strategy of threat maintenance over one of eradication. 

“Israel seemed to think that it was working—that they were managing the problem,” Inboden said, adding no one—including U.S. officials—saw last week’s events coming. “They knew they weren’t solving it. They knew they still had a problem with Hamas: [Hamas is] controlling Gaza. But they decided this was the least bad option—combining border security, defensive measures, continued aggressive intelligence collection and monitoring, and then the occasional airstrikes or an occasional limited ground incursion.” 

The 2014 crisis, prompted by Hamas’ kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, lasted about 50 days and resulted in one such limited ground incursion as part of an effort to destroy tunnels Hamas used to infiltrate Israel. About 2,500 Palestinians died, along with 69 Israeli soldiers and five civilians. The 2008 conflict led to a limited invasion paired with an air assault, while the 2021 fighting—which lasted 11 days—did not prompt a land invasion. 

After last week, that paradigm of maintenance and small land incursions has shifted: For the first time, an attack by Hamas resulted in a declaration of war—and more than likely a serious ground invasion. That shift, in large part, was spurred by the scale of last week’s attack. “Roughly 1,200 Israelis were killed in the first day or so, in that first attack,” Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told TMD. “When you look in per capita terms, that’s roughly [equivalent to] about 40,000 Americans, and that’s about 13 to 14 times more than were killed on 9/11 for us. So a lot of Israelis are considering this or are feeling like this is some combination of a 9/11 and Pearl Harbor for them.” Such an attack, Bowman added, demanded a reaction. 

Taking captives has long been a part of Hamas’ playbook, but the sheer number of abductions also makes this attack different from past attacks. After Hamas abducted a young IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2006, the Israeli government eventually traded over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to secure his return in 2011. “In the past, Israel has paid a very high price for hostages alive and dead,” Enia Krivine, a senior director of the Israel Program for the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, told TMD from Israel. “I think that Hamas may have miscalculated here, because they thought that by coming in and creating these atrocious acts and massacres [that] they would be protected by holding these hostages. And the message—the resounding message—from Israel, from the IDF the past six days has been, ‘You made a miscalculation and that’s not how we are going to prosecute this war.’”

This has been apparent from very early on in the conflict. “It’s not going to be a rescue operation,” Maj. Nir Dinar, a spokesman for the IDF, told TMD last weekend. “It’s going to be a war in which we will be very, very happy to find these kidnapped people alive and bring them back to their homes.” In its effort to induce Hamas to return the hostages, the IDF earlier in the week cut access to fuel, water, and electricity in Gaza—though on Sunday, both Netanyahu and Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said the water had been turned back on in southern Gaza where civilians are encouraged to evacuate. 

This change in approach—from a willingness to agree to numerically disproportionate trades of captured Palestinians for even the remains of captured Israelis to the admission that the roughly 150 captives may not be rescued—speaks to the degree to which the attack has altered Israel’s modus operandi and officials’ understanding of Hamas as an entity. “For the first time, the goal here is to destroy Hamas once and for all,” Krivine told TMD. “And that has never been the goal before. There was always an assumption that Hamas would moderate, that when Hamas had a country to rule, and 2.5 million people it was responsible for, that you would see pragmatism. And in the past few days … you’ve seen senior national security figures in Israel come right out and say, ‘We were wrong.’”

The invasion bent on eradicating Hamas will reportedly focus on taking Gaza City, in the north of Gaza, and will likely be met by thousands of Hamas fighters entrenched in the warren of tunnels beneath the city and the tight urban areas probably fitted with booby traps. The ground invasion will be supported by air cover from fighter jets and drones. Despite Israel’s military superiority, rooting out Hamas will not be a straightforward task, as the group is deeply enmeshed in Gazan society and has a long history of using civilians as human shields—it has already encouraged civilians to remain in Gaza City rather than evacuate as Israel ordered, calling Israel’s order to leave “psychological warfare” to “create confusion.” 

The IDF’s goal is to eliminate key Hamas leaders, but many—including Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the group—live in Qatar and enjoy the support of the government in Doha. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week warned Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani against the historical status quo. “I’ve also been making it clear in all of my conversations throughout this trip that there can be no more business as usual with Hamas,” Blinken told reporters. “Murdering babies, burning families to death, taking little children as hostages. These are unconscionable acts of brutality.”

The U.S. is also taking steps to make sure the conflict does not become a regional one. In addition to sending Austin and Blinken to Israel and its neighbors, two U.S. Navy aircraft carriers—the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Gerald R. Ford, plus their strike groups—have been positioned in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, mainly as a deterrent to Iran, and by extension, Hezbollah. “It sends a message of political support with the muscle to back it up,” Bowman said of the Ford’s arrival last week. As we wrote Friday, Hezbollah has not yet opened a northern front in the war—but such an escalation could prove disastrous. Compared to Hezbollah, which has a fleet of missiles superior to some nation-states, Bowman told TMD, “Hamas is junior varsity.” The IDF this morning announced the evacuation of Israeli civilians living near the Lebanese border.

Even if Israel’s fight remains a one-front war, this will enter into the unfortunate pantheon of critical moments for the Middle East. “This is momentous enough, and horrifying enough that I do think soon enough 2023 will be looked back on as another one of those hinge point dates in the Middle East, alongside 1967 and 1973, or 2001, for that matter—so many other fulcrum points,” Inboden said. “None of us know how it’s going to play out, but we know that it will change the region forever.”

Worth Your Time

  • For Tablet, Armin Rosen looks at how Hamas was able to fool the world about its intentions for so long. “For the past 20 years, the best minds in Washington and Jerusalem treated Hamas as a pragmatic political operator whose leaders were satisfied living in the same world as the rest of us,” he writes. “Their charter, first adopted in 1988, endorsed a set of bloodcurdling millenarian goals. But despite the open madness and world-making ambitions of their public pronouncements, Hamas remained a semi-legitimate player, treated as just one unremarkable thread in the Middle East’s rich tapestry of mildly threatening, gun-toting political dreamers. Even to the most hardened Israeli security officials they were a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot whose extreme rhetoric and regrettably unshakable habit of murdering Jewish civilians could be understood within the normative politics of ‘resistance movements.’ Their behavior could therefore be modulated and controlled through a proper combination of sticks and carrots. This view is untenable after this weekend, but I understand why it existed for so long. I once held versions of it myself. I visited the Gaza Strip on a two-day reporting trip in the winter of 2014, a couple of months after what was naively thought of as a major round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. I joined the ranks of journalists stupid enough to believe what we thought we’d seen there.”
  • In an essay for Foreign Affairs, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates questions whether a divided America is up for the challenge of deterring bad actors around the globe. “Never before has [the United States] faced four allied antagonists at the same time—Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran—whose collective nuclear arsenal could within a few years be nearly double the size of its own,” he writes. “Not since the Korean War has the United States had to contend with powerful military rivals in both Europe and Asia. And no one alive can remember a time when an adversary had as much economic, scientific, technological, and military power as China does today. The problem, however, is that at the very moment that events demand a strong and coherent response from the United States, the country cannot provide one. Its fractured political leadership—Republican and Democratic, in the White House and in Congress—has failed to convince enough Americans that developments in China and Russia matter. Political leaders have failed to explain how the threats posed by these countries are interconnected. They have failed to articulate a long-term strategy to ensure that the United States, and democratic values more broadly, will prevail.”

Presented Without Comment

Axios: Moderates [Republicans] are growing increasingly irritated with the tactics [Rep. Jim] Jordan allies are using to pressure them into voting for him [for speaker], with one member noting the [Sean] Hannity show has gotten involved in the efforts sending potential defectors the email below.

(via Juliegrace Brufke, @juliegraceb)
(via Juliegrace Brufke, @juliegraceb)

Also Presented Without Comment

The Washington Post: Arkansas’ [Republican] Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Face GOP-Led Audit Over $19K Lectern

Toeing the Company Line

  • Alex fact checked some unproven, resurfaced claims that Rep. Steve Scalise has ties to white supremacists.
  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew wondered if Trump’s comments on Israel will hurt him in the primary, Haley and Harvest explored (🔒) how lawmakers will support Israel in Congress, Jonah detailed the GOP’s long-running obsession with ideological purity, Nick asked (🔒) if Republicans and Democrats could possibly come together to elect a speaker, and Stirewalt reflected (🔒) on the Republican Party’s vocal minority.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah blasted the left for its wishy-washy response to Hamas’ massacre, and the right for losing the plot on America’s foreign interests. Meanwhile, Drucker interviews North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum about his presidential bid.
  • On the site over the weekend: Samuel Goldman reviewed Samuel Moyn’s Liberalism Against Itself, Christopher Scalia highlighted the irreplaceability of Shakespeare, and Drucker spoke with White House spokesman John Kirby about the Biden administration’s thinking on Israel.
  • On the site today: Paul Miller argues that the best way to support the Palestinians is to support the IDF, while Jacob Becker draws on the lessons of Leon Jaworski and the Nuremberg trials in the face of more atrocities committed against Jews.

Let Us Know

Do you agree with the Israeli government—and President Joe Biden—that the time has come to “eliminate” Hamas entirely? If such a campaign is successful, what do you think comes next for the Gaza Strip?

Click here for more coverage of the war in Israel.

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.