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Israel’s Limited Ground Invasion Begins
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Israel’s Limited Ground Invasion Begins

War in the dense Gaza Strip takes another deadly turn.

Happy Thursday! To best pay our respects to Bob Knight—the fiery, Hall of Fame college basketball coach who passed away last night at the age of 83—we’d like to observe a moment soundtracked by the song he requested be played after he broke the record for winningest Division I men’s basketball coach 15 years ago. “I’ve simply tried to do what I think is best,” Knight said. “I wish I would have had a better answer, a better way, at times. But just like [Frank Sinatra] said, I did it my way, and when I look back on it, I don’t think my way was all that bad.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories 

  • Egypt on Wednesday opened the Rafah Crossing, allowing hundreds of foreign nationals and some injured Palestinians to flee Gaza through the passageway on its shared border—the first non-hostages allowed to leave the Strip since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7. Israeli airstrikes hit the Jabaliya refugee camp for the second day in a row yesterday, as part of the IDF’s effort to uproot Hamas terrorists and military infrastructure in the region. Citing B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, the Washington Post reported this week that violence perpetrated against Palestinians in the West Bank—at the hands of settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)—has also increased. More than 100 instances of extremist settlers attacking civilians have been reported since October 7, and some instances have been filmed by IDF soldiers—prompting a military investigation and the dismissal of at least one soldier. “The [soldiers’] conduct that emerges from these scenes is grave and inconsistent with the values of the IDF,” the IDF said. On Thursday morning, an Israeli man was reportedly shot and later died while driving on a West Bank highway, prompting an IDF search for the perpetrators behind the attack.
  • The Biden administration is scheduled to hold informal nuclear arms-control talks with China on Monday, the first such negotiations since the Obama administration. The meeting comes as U.S. officials have attempted to re-engage their Chinese counterparts following a diplomatic chill earlier this year. A Pentagon report released last month revealed that China is building up its nuclear arsenal at a faster pace than previously thought, and possessed more than 500 nuclear warheads as of this May. The talks are expected to clarify China’s nuclear plans, but not broach arsenal reduction.
  • Central bankers at the Federal Reserve held interest rates steady following their meeting on Wednesday, maintaining a target range between 5.25 to 5.5 percent just as they did in September and June. The past few months are now the longest period without a rate hike since the Fed began raising rates to combat high inflation in March 2022. Fed Chair Jerome Powell signaled the central bank could possibly be at the end of its tightening, but was careful not to rule an additional increase out should economic indicators change. “The process of getting inflation sustainably down to 2 percent has a long way to go,” Powell said at a press conference yesterday.
  • The judge overseeing Colorado’s 14th Amendment case alleging former President Donald Trump should be excluded from the ballot election rejected an attempt by Trump’s attorneys to dismiss the case on Wednesday. Judge Sarah Wallace made clear that her decision did not suggest she’d ultimately rule one way or the other. “I’m denying the motion for directed verdict because in order to grant the motion for directed verdict, I would have to decide many legal issues that I’m simply not prepared to decide today,” she said in response to the motion to dismiss. 
  • The House voted down a resolution to expel GOP Rep. George Santos from the body on Wednesday night, with 179 voting in favor and 213 against. 24 Republicans voted to oust Santos while 31 Democrats voted against the expulsion, citing concerns over the precedent of expelling a member of Congress before a criminal conviction or a recommendation from the House Ethics Committee. Committee Chairman Michael Guest, a Mississippi Republican, said in a statement on Tuesday that he will announce the panel’s “next course of action” in its investigation into Santos by November 17. 
  • Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado confirmed on Wednesday that he would not run for reelection.“Too many Republican leaders are lying to America, claiming that the 2020 election was stolen,” the five-term congressman said in a resignation video released yesterday. “These insidious narratives breed widespread cynicism and erode Americans’ confidence in the rule of law.” Longtime GOP Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, who currently chairs the Appropriations Committee, also announced yesterday she would retire at the end of her term. 
  • The Texas Rangers won their first World Series in franchise history on Wednesday, shutting out the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 5-0 victory. The Rangers, who were undefeated on the road in October, beat the D-backs four games to one in what was reportedly the least-watched World Series in history.

‘The Stronghold of Evil’

IDF vehicles drive on a road on October 31, 2023 in Southern Israel. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
IDF vehicles drive on a road on October 31, 2023 in Southern Israel. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mince words last week as he outlined the imminent next phase of his country’s war against Hamas terrorists. “Citizens of Israel, yesterday evening additional ground soldiers entered the gates of Gaza, the entrance to the stronghold of evil,” he said Friday evening in a televised address. “This is the second stage of a war whose goals are clear: destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas and bring the hostages home.”

As the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) transitions into the next stage of the war against Hamas—now on its 27th day—the invasion of the Gaza Strip has taken a different shape than some military observers originally expected. Even as the IDF moves more incisively into the Strip, military leadership must confront the difficult reality of war against an enemy that has made its base underground, enmeshed in dense civilian infrastructure. Meanwhile, the threat of a second—or third, or fourth—front still looms as Iran’s proxies in the region grow more emboldened and aggressive.

As Netanyahu said, Israel’s aim is to destroy Hamas—the terrorist organization that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007—and retrieve the more than 200 hostages (of whom perhaps ten are American citizens) taken to Gaza during the organization’s October 7 attack. And while the goals are straightforward, their execution will be much more difficult. The hostage situation remains particularly shrouded in mystery, with some 200 people being held by Hamas and another 50 or so by other terrorist groups in Gaza. Only four hostages have been released thus far: an American mother and daughter, and two elderly Israeli women. One hostage, an Israeli army private, has been rescued, and proof-of-life has been provided for four others, who appeared in a Hamas-filmed video this week and two weeks ago. This leaves hundreds unaccounted for.

The Israeli government has said it has intelligence on the whereabouts of some of the hostages, and Hamas has said it dispersed the hostages through its “spiderweb” of tunnels, as described by one released hostage, in an effort to use them as human shields against Israeli attacks. Hamas’ actions put Israel in a difficult situation. “I think Israel’s got to fight this war as if there’s no hostages, and pursue returning the hostages as if there’s no war,” Enia Krivine, the senior director of the Israel Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told TMD—referencing a famous David Ben-Gurion quote about the 1939 White Paper. “I think that’s as much of a strategy as you can say they have.” 

Netanyahu has argued the ground invasion will help bring about the hostages’ release. “Hamas will not do it unless they are under pressure,” he said. “This creates pressure.”

When it comes to prosecuting the war, Israel’s tactics so far have looked much different than the overwhelming ground invasion that once seemed likely, and the ground raids came much later than first expected. While the movements have been shrouded in official secrecy, satellite imagery suggests the IDF has advanced incrementally into the Gaza Strip from the north, northeast, and east with at least two armored and infantry divisions—totaling some 20,000 troops, Axios reported Tuesday. The approach has taken them from the more sparsely populated areas toward the city center—and heightens the risk of dense urban warfare that is inevitable in Gaza City. Ground troops have moved in under extensive Israeli air cover—which has focused on targeting Hamas infrastructure, including its elaborate tunnel system and sites of potential missile launches against Israeli forces. Israel’s bombing campaign against Hamas targets in Gaza has intensified over the last few weeks, and the IDF said they’ve launched strikes on more than 11,000 Hamas objectives to date. 

Now almost a month since the October 7 Hamas attack, the invasion is only just getting fully underway. One simple explanation for the long-delayed ground campaign may be the need to train the more than 300,000 reservists Israel called up in the immediate aftermath of the attack. “If you’re going to be calling up that percentage of reservists, they need time to train or retrain,” Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, told TMD. “Israel, unlike the United States, has mass conscription, so all those soldiers will have spent time on active duty and many of them will have spent it thinking about Gaza. But nonetheless, if your day job is an office job in Tel Aviv or whatnot, clearing Hamas out of Gaza is a different game. And you need to be trained to make sure you’re ready for that.”

Several outlets reported the U.S. had put pressure on the Israeli government to delay its ground invasion in order to give intermediaries—mainly regional players like Egypt and Qatar, as Israel is officially not negotiating directly with Hamas—time to negotiate the release of some of the people in captivity, or to allow additional intelligence gathering that may reveal their locations. The U.S. also reportedly pressed for a slowdown in effort to remedy the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, and at least one report from the Wall Street Journal suggested that the Israeli government paused its plans to allow the U.S. to position additional missile defense systems around U.S. troops in the region, as the Pentagon braces for more attacks from Iran’s proxies. Disrupted during a campaign speech last night by a protester calling for a ceasefire, President Joe Biden seemed to agree, saying “I think we need a pause” and marking a departure from his administration’s previous position.

U.S. pressure aside, the foot-dragging may have been strategic, in an effort to give Israeli military and intelligence leaders time to assess how they had been caught so off-guard by Hamas’ attack—and in turn, to try to catch the terrorist organization off-guard with its own counter-attack. “[The reason Hamas] chose such tactics of brutality, and why they chose to film everything, and why they chose these egregious and vile tactics against civilians and children and babies and women and pregnant woman was was they wanted to elicit a knee-jerk reaction from the IDF,” said Krivine. The IDF has instead waited, “prudentially.”

But now that the invasion is apparently here, why isn’t it as overwhelming as expected? The more deliberate advance may be aimed at limiting IDF casualties and maximizing effectiveness in a dense urban environment, which is particularly deadly to invading forces when faced with a dug-in enemy—as demonstrated by fighting against ISIS in Mosul or in Fallujah during the war in Iraq.* “Israel is basically isolating the northern half of the Gaza Strip—which you would expect—controlling the periphery of Gaza City, and then slowly clearing suburbs as you move forward into the heart of the urban center,” Cohen told TMD. “The military adage is that ‘cities swallow armies whole.’”

The IDF has urged Gazan civilians to leave northern Gaza—an order Hamas has insisted civilians ignore, calling it “psychological warfare”—but those who remain are still at risk. Earlier this week, the IDF announced a strike against a Hamas target in Jabaliya, a refugee camp which has become a permanent settlement in northern Gaza, where the IDF claimed Hamas’ Central Jabaliya Battalion had set up extensive infrastructure and taken control of civilian buildings. The IDF dropped bombs on the site as part of a “wide-scale strike” on the battalion and in effort to take out one of its leaders, Ibrahim Biari. The strike reportedly killed Biari, whom the IDF says was a key planner in the October 7 attack, as well as other Hamas terrorists—though the IDF declined to give a precise number.

The blasts left several yawning craters ringed by destroyed buildings, which the IDF attributed to the collapse of a tunnel system underneath the area. In the fog of war, it’s still unclear how many civilians were killed in the strike, though initial eye-witness accounts indicate it could be dozens, at least. Hamas, which controls the Gazan government and therefore its health ministry, publishes casualty numbers but does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in doing so, potentially inflating casualty numbers—if their veracity is to be believed at all

As complicated and destructive as Israel’s Gaza invasion has been—and will surely continue to be—the threat of other enemies joining the fray lingers. Hassan Nasrallah—a Muslim cleric who leads Hezbollah, an Iran-backed terrorist organization based in Lebanon—is set to deliver a speech on Friday, his first since the Israel-Hamas war began, sparking fears that what he will say may lead to a regional conflagration. While cross-border rocket fire by Hezbollah—which has a much deeper arsenal than Hamas—has increased since the October 7 attack and earned a corresponding response from Israeli forces, there has been no major attack that would prompt a declaration of war.

“Hamas is a useful balance against Israel for Hezbollah, strategically,” Greg Brew, an Iran analyst at Eurasia Group, told TMD. “It’s useful to have an ally, of a sort. It’s useful to have an Israeli antagonist in Gaza, because that takes the pressure off of Hezbollah. So Hezbollah—with Iran’s support—will do what it can to keep Hamas in play, and that is part of the reason why they’ve been maintaining this sort of steady pressure on the Israelis.” At the same time, outright war with Israel doesn’t seem to be in Hezbollah’s interest at a time when its political footing in Lebanon is uncertain and the U.S. had made significant moves to deter Iran and its proxies from additional provocation, Brew added. 

The U.S. has moved significant military assets into the region in a clear signal that it is backing Israel—and warning aggressive regional actors, including the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and militias in Iraq and Syria, against additional attacks on Israel. “If the administration can get what it wants out of this, there will be credible deterrence,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told reporters Wednesday. “The Iranians and Hezbollah will believe that the administration is willing to take action. And in that way, Israel has an opportunity to potentially finish what it started in Gaza. And then everybody goes back to their corner.”

Worth Your Time

  • While state attorneys general pursue a case against Meta over the effects of its platforms on children, state governments have also attempted to develop regulatory schemes for social media use among minors. Congress, however, has been notably absent in legislating online protections for children, argues Tim Wu, a former adviser to President Biden on competition and technology policy. “By my count, since 2017 [Congress] has held 39 hearings that have addressed children and social media, and nine wholly devoted to just that topic,” Wu wrote for The Atlantic. “But just what has Congress actually done? The answer is: nothing.” Wu provides an insider’s account of the failed attempts to enact additional protections for kids online, noting that the idea of protecting children used to be “politically, low-hanging fruit” and citing former tech employees urging Congress to act. “Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer of Facebook, made a similar point to me,” Wu writes. “Government, he says, is too focused on online problems with intangible harms that are inherently difficult for the platforms to combat, like ‘fighting misinformation.’ In contrast, government does far too little to force platforms to combat real and visceral harms, like the online exploitation of minors, that the platforms could do more about if pushed. This is not to let the platforms off the hook—but government needs to do its job too.”

Presented Without Comment

The Hill: D.C. to Give Some Residents Free Digital Tracking Tags Amid Rash of Car Thefts

Also Presented Without Comment

The Wall Street Journal: Treasury Indicates Demand for U.S. Debt Is Waning

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Politico: Poll Has RFK Jr. Grabbing 22 Percent Against Biden and Trump

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew reported on a GOP megadonor’s return to the arena, Scott outlined (🔒) how the New Right is losing its economic agenda to the Biden administration’s policy record, Nick explored (🔒) why people are tearing down the posters of hostages held in Gaza, and Jonah pointed out pro-Hamas progressives pose a serious problem for the left.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David discuss the Supreme Court case on whether the state actors can block private users on social media on the latest Advisory Opinions, while Jonah is joined by Franklin Foer on the Remnant to discuss his new book, The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and the Struggle for America’s Future
  • On the site today: Kevin analyzes the tragic mass shooting in Maine—and how everyone who had a chance to stop the shooter failed—while Jonathan Ruhe explains how Iran has the upper hand against the U.S. in the Middle East unless Biden toughens up.

Let Us Know

Do you think a more measured and methodological ground invasion will yield more success as Israel tries to win its war against Hamas while discouraging wider war in the Middle East?

Correction, November 2, 2023: Fighting in Fallujah occurred during the war in Iraq, not Afghanistan as this newsletter previously stated.

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James Scimecca

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.

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Mary Trimble

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.

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Grayson Logue

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.