Israeli jets are striking targets in Gaza after the Palestinian Hamas jihadi organization launched a an unprecedented, massive surprise attack on Israel Saturday. The operation saw strikes across that nation with thousands of rockets as well as drones before ground assaults captured several towns. At least 40 Israelis have been killed and at least another 740 injured so far, according to The Washington Post.
As of 5 p.m. Tel Aviv time, air raid alerts were still sounding, according to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Telegram channel.
Additional videos emerging on social media show the rocket attacks - including strikes on Tel Aviv. They also show a multi-domain operation, with Hamas fighters pouring over the border on the ground, flying in by paraglider and assaulting from the water. Other videos show Hamas fighters roaming Israeli streets and capturing Israeli citizens, troops and military equipment. There are also videos showing what appear to be massacred civilians, running ongoing gun battles between the two sides and Israeli air strikes in response.
The attack, which Hamas calls "Operation Al-Aqsa Flood" after the Arabic name for Jerusalem mosque that has been a frequent point of friction - especially over the last few days - "began in Gaza and will extend to the West Bank and abroad, and to every place where our people and nation are present,” senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on the organization’s Telegram channel.
"Our enemy will pay a price the type of which it has never known," Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said. "We are in a war and we will win it."
Netanyahu said that Israel's first objective "is to clear out the hostile force that infiltrated our territory and restore security and quiet to the communities that have been attacked."
"The second objective, at the same time, is to exact an immense price from the enemy, within the Gaza Strip as well," he said. "The third objective is to reinforce other fronts so that nobody should mistakenly join this war."
That message is a likely warning to Lebanon's Hezballah organization that has hundreds of thousands of missiles and rockets and a history of warring with Israel. There are major, persistent fears that the chances of an attack on Israel from southern Lebanon has only grown as Hezballah's weapons stockpile has expanded drastically — both in quantity and quality — via Iranian support.
It is also likely a warning to Iran as well.
Israeli Maj. Gen. Ghasan Alyan said Hamas has "opened up the gates of hell into the Gaza Strip," an indication of a likely Israeli ground assault into the densely populated strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea.
“This morning (Saturday), approximately 2,200 rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory,” the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) said Saturday on its Telegram channel. “In parallel, a number of terrorists infiltrated into Israeli territory in southern Israel. In response, the IDF has launched Operation ‘Swords of Iron.’”
Media reporting says that the number of rockets fired into Israel has more than doubled since that initial IDF account.
Israel’s Chief of General Staff “has announced an extensive mobilization of reserve forces,” according to the IDF. “Numerous IDF soldiers, including special forces, have been dispatched to the area surrounding the Gaza Strip and are operating in a number of different locations in the division in order to protect the residents of southern Israel.”
Meanwhile, “dozens of IDF fighter jets struck a number of targets belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF reported. “In the last few hours, dozens of IDF fighter jets struck 17 military compounds and 4 operational command centers belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip.”
The IDF Spokesperson emphasizes the importance of all civilians following the life-saving instructions of the Home Front Command.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson quickly condemned Hamas.
"The United States unequivocally condemns the unprovoked attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians. There is never any justification for terrorism. We stand firmly with the Government and people of Israel and extend our condolences for the Israeli lives lost in these attacks. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has spoken to Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and we remain in close contact with our Israeli partners."
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he is "closely monitoring developments in Israel. Our commitment to Israel's right to defend itself remains unwavering, and I extend my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this abhorrent attack on civilians. Over the coming days the Department of Defense will work to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and protect civilians from indiscriminate violence and terrorism."
Palestinian officials, meanwhile, called for Operation Al-Aqsa to spread.
"As the Chief of Staff announced the launch of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, we assure you that the results of this battle, the occupation leadership knew nothing about," said Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Ubaida in an interview with the official Al-Aqsa Satellite Channel, according to the Hamas Telegram channel.
"Our people of the West Bank, and you, our people in occupied Jerusalem, you who have proven that you are the people of confrontation, this is your opportunity that we started from the borders of Gaza, and all you have to do now is move and target the settlements and bypass roads."
Hamas published several pictures on its Telegram channel it claims show its forces inside an Israeli military base.
Saturday's highly coordinated attack, on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, represents one of the biggest intelligence failures in Israel's 75-year history. It also marks a new phase in the long-burning conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The rocket barrage was far larger than anything previously seen and the response from Israeli forces to Hamas ground incursions was not immediate.
Exhibiting new tactics that in some ways mirror the war in Ukraine, Hamas followed its massive wave of rockets by swift ground assaults with so many highly mobile teams across such a wide area that they were able to gain the initiative and capture towns and military bases.
There was also video showing Hamas drone strikes on Israeli positions, including attacks using drones, a tactic seen across Ukraine that's now ubiquitous in warfare.
How much further this escalates at the moment is unknown, but the Hezballah organization in Lebanon could decide to open up a northern front.
Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah praised the attack and said it served as a warning against recognizing Israel, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“It sends a message to the Arab and Islamic world, and the international community as a whole, especially those seeking normalization with this enemy, that the Palestinian cause is an everlasting one, alive until victory and liberation," Nasrallah said in a statement.
A group of Arab countries, led by the United Arab Emirates, opened diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020, and since then, Saudi Arabia has held talks with the U.S. about also normalizing its relationship with the Israeli government.
Not surprisingly, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood is being greeted with cheers in Tehran.
Israel has promised an overwhelming response, something it has done in the past.
On Dec. 27, 2008, Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead,” an attack against Hamas in Gaza. A response to a major increase in Palestinian rocket attacks, Israel began a 15-day ground assault into Gaza on Jan. 3, 2009 that resulted in about 1,440 Palestinian and 13 Israeli deaths, according to a 2009 Congressional Research Service report.
“Israel’s technological superiority and reliance on heavy armor and firepower contributed to a wide disparity in casualties,” the report stated.
This is a developing story which we will update throughout the day as new information comes in.
Update 11:46 AM Eastern:
One of the key elements of the timing of this attack is that negotiations are underway between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. to improve the kingdom's relationship with Israel. In response to Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, the Saudi Foreign Ministry called for an immediate halt to the fighting, protection for civilians and also noted its previous warnings to Israel about the effects of its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory.
New video emerged of an Israeli Air Force F-16 being loaded up with a Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM.
Hamas leaders feigned surprise at the attacks.
Hamas posted video of its forces entering southern Israel on motorized hang gliders.
Here is a close-up image of armed Hamas fighters on a motorized hang glider.
More video emerged of Israeli citizens being taken captive by Hamas. The fate of these people remains unknown at this time.
After the incursions were underway, Israel began to mobilize its forces.
Update 1:02 PM Eastern:
The Pentagon released a readout of a phone exchange between Austin and his Israeli counterpart, reaffirming U.S. support for Israel:
"Secretary Austin spoke this morning with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant to convey his condolences for the victims of this appalling, abhorrent terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel. He conveyed that his thoughts are with the families of the victims, and that he sends his best wishes for recovery to those who were injured. Secretary Austin made clear to Minister Gallant his ironclad support for the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli people. He reaffirmed that the Department’s commitment to Israel’s security and its absolute right to defend itself from acts of terrorism is unwavering. Secretary Austin has directed his team to ensure that DoD is closely consulting with all of our Allies and partners who share a commitment to peace and oppose terrorism. Secretary Austin will continue to consult with Minister Gallant in the coming days and weeks to ensure that Israel has the support it needs."
Update 1:24 PM Eastern:
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's top spokesman, responded to questions from The War Zone about the status of U.S. troops already in Israel at the time of the attack.
TWZ: How many US troops are in Israel right now? What's their role and what equipment do they have?
PR: For operational security, we’re not going to get into specifics at the moment. We can confirm all US military personnel present in Israel are safe and accounted for.
TWZ: Any U.S. military movements as a result of this?
PR: We have nothing to announce at this time, though we will continue close consultations with Israel on its defense needs as we do with all partners.
Update 1:57 PM Eastern
Hamas released a statement promising continued attacks on Tel Aviv, which came under attack again this evening.
"In response to the bombing of the residential tower in the center of Gaza City…the Al-Qassam Brigades now direct a major missile strike with 150 missiles towards Tel Aviv."
Update 3:52 PM Eastern
It's a near certainty that what's to come will be an IDF operation unlike any we have seen before. The messaging from Israel's top leadership is supporting that conjecture.
Israel's Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant, made it very clear that the IDF's goal in terms of a response campaign will be far less restrained as they had been in the past. The objective will be to shatter Hamas permanently as a major threat emanating from Gaza:
"Today we saw the face of evil. The Hamas [terrorist organization] has launched a brutal attack against the citizens of the State of Israel - attacking men, women, children and the elderly, indiscriminately. Hamas will understand very quickly that it has made a mistake - a grave mistake, and will pay a [heavy] price. Fifteen years ago, as Head of the Southern Command, I came close to 'breaking the neck' [destroying] of Hamas. I was stopped by the political echelon. This phenomenon will not continue. We will change reality on the ground in Gaza for the next 50 years. What was before, will be no more. We will operate at full force. I ask Israel's citizens to remain determined and to support our security forces.”
Netanyahu is conveying similar sentiments:
Meanwhile, Israeli military equipment is showing up in Hamas hands on the streets of Gaza:
A video of Hamas RPG attacks on a Merkava tank and on a Namer APC has surfaced:
Various hostage or siege situations continue around the country:
Complicating a major IDF operation in Gaza will be the fact that many Israelis have been abducted and are effectively hostages there. Such widespread hostage rescue operations in such a hostile environment that is clearly aware that an operation is imminent are extremely challenging. The fact that these operations will be combined with what is likely to be the goal of largely destroying Hamas outright makes them that much more complex.
Update 6:32 PM Eastern:
A senior Biden administration official just wrapped up a briefing with reporters, including from The War Zone. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss these matters.
Here are some key takeaways:
- The administration was first notified about the rocket attacks in Israel at 2:30 a.m. Friday, At 7 a.m. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with his Israeli counterpart then convened a meeting with his national security team at 7:30 a.m.
- U.S. administration and military officials spoke throughout the day with their Israeli counterparts about anticipated needs, but the official declined to talk about specifics.
- Asked if this represented a massive intelligence failure, the official said: “I’m just I'm not going to get into any specific intelligence. Obviously, the Israelis in particular, will be looking at this very closely. I'm not going to get ahead of that.”
- On how this affects the ongoing negotiations with Saudi Arabia for a normalization deal with Israel, the official said: “...the process has a ways to travel. I think it is premature to speculate…I would say Hamas and terrorist groups and terrorist groups like Hamas will not derail the outcome.”
- On Iranian involvement: “It's too early too early to say whether the State of Iran was directly involved in the planning or supporting, I'm not going to get ahead of that. We're going to be looking at that very closely. That said, there's no doubt that Hamas is funded, equipped, and armed by Iran and others.”
- The official declined to speculate on what, if any, action Hezbollah might take.
- Asked about claims that Egypt provided information to the US, Israel and Russia about a potential Hamas attack as well as a potential Hezbollah attasck on the northern front, the senior administration official said: “I can't speak to what the Egyptians are saying there but I don't want to characterize the intelligence and I don't want to get ahead of what the Israelis will be looking at. But if the allegation is that we had some specific warning or indicator from another country that’s certainly not something that we've seen. So I think that's really not accurate, other than just general concern, as we have concerned about obviously, rising tensions - particularly in the West Bank - [that] we have been working very hard on. But in terms of the the level of sophistication of what transpired overnight here and what continues to transpire, that's a very different issue and I've not seen anything, support that.
Update 8:00 PM Eastern
The rockets continue to fly overnight:
Evacuation instructions have been issued to large swathes of Gaza, basically telling people to relocate to the central areas of the strip.
Airstrikes continue as Israel prepares the battlefield for its impending ground operation and executes strikes on Hamas interests. Hezbollah is threatening to activate in the north if Israel enters Gaza with a military force.
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