The massacre of more than 1,000 Israelis on Saturday night marks the hugest onslaught against Israel since the Yom Kippur War, which started on October 6, 1973, exactly 50 years before Saturday’s assault.
For those of us who grew up reading about the Mossad and its potency in gathering intelligence, there is disbelief and shock that Israel could be overrun so easily by what many consider an ill-prepared rag-tag army with limited tactical capacity.
It is increasingly becoming clear that the massive failure of intelligence has wounded Israeli sense of invincibility almost beyond recovery. In the few hours Hamas breached the security barriers, they killed at least 1,200 Israelis, and kidnapped an unknown number of civilians and soldiers.
Many of those killed or kidnapped were living near the Gaza border, including in isolated Kibbutzes, aware of the danger lurking but sure of the capacity of the Israeli army to secure them.
Indeed, hundreds killed were caught in the well-attended Supernova music “rave” near the border, a shocking security risk that displayed massive confidence in the government. When the dust settles, many heads will roll for these costly blunders.
But for now, it appears the focus of both Israel and Hamas is elsewhere, and we may be headed to an all-out war in this volatile region.
Hamas appears determined to prove a point about its damage-causing capacity, and as late as Wednesday, it was breaching Israeli security and carrying out attacks within Israeli borders. Their Hezbollah allies in Northern Israel are still launching missiles across the border, though they appear restrained.
For Israel, the Netanyahu administration appears to have decided to carry out an all-out assault in Gaza, what many right-wingers within Israel have been demanding for years. Many, including current PM Benjamin Netanyahu, have been reluctant, knowing such a mission was fraught with risks. But with Saturday’s attacks, that option appears live.
Such an attack would still be risky for Israel. Gaza is a small strip of land measuring about 350km square. In that small space are squeezed about 2.5 million Palestinians living in dejected, poverty-stricken neighbourhoods. They have inadequate social services, water, sewerage services and electricity. Unemployment is one of the highest in the world.
This unfortunate situation, exacerbated by the blockade by Israel, has led to extensive resentment towards Israel, particularly among the huge youthful population, a natural breeding ground for Hamas.
Additionally, within the dense Palestinian population, Hamas has built an extensive military infrastructure. An assault in an area like that could give Hamas an undue advantage and cost many lives for the Israelis, hence the historical hesitancy.
In the meantime, as they amass hundreds of thousands of troops near the border, Israel has carried out massive bombardment of Gaza. Though not directly targeting civilians, the bombardments have caused the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians either caught by shrapnel or found in the vicinity of targeted sites.
The lack of electricity, depleting food and water and limited medical services will also lead to numerous deaths. Scenes from Gaza look like post-war Germany, with neighbourhoods completely flattened. The anger in Gaza is intense and growing.
Across the border in Israel, the rage is also so acute that right-wing lawmaker “Tally” Gatliv’s proposal that Israel uses a nuclear weapon to wipe Gaza off the map has been getting mainline traction.
This is one of the most dangerous times for the Middle East, and all must be done to ensure it does not develop into a full-scale regional or global war.
Ultimately, when the tensions have reduced, there will be a need for more serious investment in a long-term solution for this corner of the world.
While there can be no justification for the wanton killings on Saturday by Hamas, the situation in Gaza was a powder keg headed for detonation.
Unfortunately for both these descendants of Abraham, the price of their wars is always paid by civilians, including children, on both sides of the fence. May wisdom prevail, and may the deaths of the many innocent civilians this time round not be in vain. May it be the catalyst for long-term peace.
-The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya