A Week of War in Israel

Israel continues to deploy soldiers, tanks and armored vehicles near the Gaza border in Netivot, Israel on October 15, 2023. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu/Getty Images)

Greetings. Last Saturday we awoke to the news that Hamas had launched a horrific attack on Israel, but we were still learning the scope of the devastation when we sent you this newsletter that afternoon. We now know that it was the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Israel has declared war on Hamas and late Thursday asked the United Nations to help evacuate the northern part of the Gaza Strip.

The war is hardly just a conflict between Hamas and Israel. Hamas is backed by Iran, and the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran not only assisted Hamas with the planning but that final signoff on the attack came from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. As Charlotte reported, the bloodshed appears to have derailed, at least temporarily, the U.S.-brokered normalization efforts between Israel and Saudi Arabia (something that Iran isn’t exactly unhappy about). Western leaders have been vocal in their support for Israel, led by President Joe Biden. At the White House on Tuesday, he delivered what we described in The Morning Dispatch as  “one of the strongest statements of support for Israel to ever come from the building.” But around the world, from American college campuses to European capitals and cities in the Middle East, supporters of the Palestinians (and outright Hamas sympathizers) demonstrated against Israel. 

In short, it’s a regional conflict with immense global implications. And we’re covering it from every angle, including speaking to Israelis about what they are experiencing, analyzing what it means for Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, looking at how U.S. policy on Iran might be allowing the Islamic Republic to fund terrorism, and keeping up on what Congress is doing in response. Let’s get right to what we published last week. Thank you for reading.

Israeli Intelligence Failed, But So Did Hamas

Even before the shock of the unprecedented assault had worn off, the questions started: How could Israel, with its world-class intelligence organizations, have missed this? Jonathan Schanzer writes that they “were operating on the faulty assumption that Hamas no longer wished to invite painful wars upon the beleaguered population of Gaza.” They had assessments that Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, was looking for a way to bring relief to his beleaguered people. That was obviously wrong. But, Schanzer argues, Hamas also miscalculated: “The Hamas terrorist organization had a rare and precious opportunity to work toward the modus vivendi that the Israelis believed was in the offing,” he writes. But now? “The Hamas murder spree of October 7 ensures more misery for the people of Gaza.” 

‘The Worst of Our Worst Nightmares’

Michal Uziyahu lives with her husband and three children in Ein HaBesor, a farming collective about 9 miles from the Gaza Strip. She spoke with Harvest about what her family experienced on October 7, when residents and first responders barricaded their community and staved off 10 or more terrorists. “Saturday, we went through a massacre. They slaughtered us. They didn’t go there to attack soldiers. They slaughtered children and women and men,” Uziyahu said. Harvest also recalled what she learned when she made a trip to Kfar Aza, a kibbutz near the border with Gaza, in August. She described an idyllic setting where children play happily, dogs run freely, and no one locks their doors—but they are ready to head at a moment’s notice for one of the many above-ground bomb shelters that dot the commune. “Questions abound now about what life will look like for these small, now-decimated communities in the south, and for survivors of the atrocities that have sparked what may be a long and difficult war,” Harvest writes. For more Israeli reaction, check out Kevin’s conversation with Shmuel Junger, who lives with his family in the West Bank.

Is Saudi-Israeli Peace Done For?

About a week before Hamas attacked, Charlotte reported on the latest developments in Israel and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to establish diplomatic relations: Israel’s tourism minister attended a U.N.-hosted conference in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis had sent a delegation to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian officials, showing that they would likely want some concessions for the Palestinians in exchange for peace with Israel. So much for all of that—for now. In the wake of Hamas’ assault, the Saudis released a statement blaming Israel for the “the continued occupation, the deprivation of the Palestinian people of their legitimate rights” and more. But Charlotte also notes that the real loser here is Palestinian leadership: “Both Israel and Saudi Arabia’s long-term motivations for achieving peace remain, and neither country has fully relinquished its commitment to the cause even as tensions in the region flare. So while Hamas may have disrupted Israel’s attempts at fence-mending with the broader Muslim world in the immediate term, it likely also solidified the Palestinians’ exclusion from any future deal to the great long-term detriment of the very people it purports to represent.”

No Amount of ‘Context’ Justifies Killing Babies 

It’s like clockwork: Hamas attacks Israel, the U.S. and Western governments express their support for the only functional democracy in the Middle East, and progressives spill into the streets to shout their support for the Palestinian cause and—by extension Hamas. Jonah has had enough of the apologia, thank you very much. But he also highlights how some of the arguments defending the terror that Hamas unleashes—namely that “this is what happens when you treat people like this” and “they had no choice”—are actually a vicious slander, implying that the Palestinians are savages.  The Palestinian leaders have made plenty of choices over the years, but they have continuously rejected the one choice that would have brought them peace—a two-state solution. He writes: “​​Palestinian leaders have rejected this choice at every turn. They used the Palestinian people as a prop for their own ideological agendas, funding schools that taught the necessity of eliminating the Zionists and offering rewards to the families of suicide bombers. They let the refugee camps grow and fester with extremism and poverty, and they kept the extremists on the payroll to keep civilians in line. They made choices. I don’t believe Israeli leaders always made the right choices in response to all of this. But, please, tell me what the right choices are when dealing with so many people determined to kill you?”

A Coalition of the Willing

Not to turn on a dime, but it would be remiss of me not to mention that there was a bit of news out of Congress this past week. Well, not news, exactly. No big legislation passed, there was no progress on a long-term spending package to avoid a government shutdown next month, nothing like that. Such work would require a functioning House of Representatives, and we don’t have one. Drama would be a better word. Eight Republicans joined all the Democrats to remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker last week, but the architects of that ouster didn’t have much of a plan to replace him. The contest to replace McCarthy played out this week, but with no resolution. The Republican conference voted to nominate House Majority Leader Steve Scalise on Wednesday, only to have him withdraw from consideration on Thursday after it became clear that he didn’t have 218 votes to win. On Friday, the conference voted again, this time picking Jim Jordan. Kind of. On the first secret ballot, Jordan defeated challenger AUSTIN SCOTT 124-81. On a second secret ballot asking members if they would vote for Jordan on the House floor, the margin increased only slightly—152-55. Jordan has work to do this weekend to try to drum up support.  Which brings us to Nick’s Friday edition of Boiling Frogs (🔒). He asks whether it’s time for the sane Republicans to start working with the Democrats. “Watching the House break down might plausibly have convinced some members of the Conservative Party that a governing coalition with the Democratic Party would be more fruitful than a governing coalition with the MAGA Party,” he writes.

You can expect more on both the war on Israel and the chaos in Congress next week. Meanwhile, here’s the best of the rest:

  • Former President Donald Trump told Fox News last week that Hezbollah was “very smart” to attack Israel from the north and blamed Netanyahu for the intelligence failure. Will that hurt him in the GOP primary? The Dispatch Politics crew has an unsurprising answer.
  • Rarely do you see a more stark illustration of the real-world effects of our immigration policy than the fact Katalin Karikó won a Nobel Prize for helping to develop the mRNA COVID vaccines. Karikó fled Hungary in the 1980s and came to teach in the U.S. Scott Lincicome doubts she would be able to do so today. He explains why in Capitolism (🔒).
  • When it comes to Iran’s ability to fund terrorism, many people are pointing to the Biden administration’s decision to unfreeze $6 billion in funds in a hostage exchange. That’s not great but, as Saeed Ghasseminejad and Behnam Ben Taleblu point out,  the Biden administration’s lax sanctions enforcement over almost three years has helped the Islamic Republic bring in tens of billions of dollars.  
  • The question that has for decades shaped the debate about Israel and the Palestinian territories is: One state or two? Emmanuele Ottolenghi argues that Hamas’ attack renders neither of them viable. 
  • On the pods: On Advisory Opinions, David French and Sarah discuss the laws of war—and whether international law is even a thing—in light of Israel’s expected invasion of Gaza. The gang is in a somber mood on The Dispatch Podcast, but they manage to cover a wide range of topics on the war in Israel: What is Hamas’ goal? What is America’s role? And more. In the solo Remnant, Jonah has some choice words for both the left and the right regarding their response to the war in Israel.
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