We cannot always prevent the murder of workers in an orchard or sleeping families, but we can set a high price for our blood. A price too high for the Arab settlement, the Arab army and the Arab government to pay. … [Retaliation operations] are not for vengeance. It is an act of punishment and warning, that if that state does not control its population and does not prevent them attacking us – the Israeli forces will cause havoc in its land.

  • IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, Lecture to IDF officers: “Retaliation Operations as a Means of Ensuring Peace”, July 1955 (Published in IDF monthly journal Skira Hodsheet, August 1955)


The Hamas offensive began shortly before 06:29 on October 7, 2023. By 10:00 IDF radars had detected approximately 2,200 rocket launches at dozens of Israeli cities, towns and villages between Gaza and the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem-Beersheva line. During the day, Hamas and the other Palestinian militias fired many hundreds more; the exact number has not yet been reported.

The firing was conducted in salvos with multiple launchers in an attempt to penetrate the Iron Dome defense system. Many rockets landed in open areas, but even assuming a 95% success rate (the highest Iron Dome has ever achieved), that still means dozens of rockets that managed to hit inside Israeli cities, towns and villages. The number of fatalities and wounded is not very high relative to the size of the bombardment solely because of Iron Dome and the early-warning system that enabled most Israeli civilians to reach bomb shelters in time.

Simultaneously with the beginning of the rocket bombardment, Hamas troops began crossing the border into Israel at variety of locations. The majority had approached the border in tunnels, climbed out just before the underground wall built by Israel, and then, using explosives, broke through the above-ground obstacle of a steel-rod fence and advanced into Israel. Observation cameras monitoring the fence were shot up with small arms and RPG rockets. One group attacked and captured the civilian crossing into Israel at Erez where 20,000 Palestinian civilians cross daily into Israel to work and where hundreds of trucks transit with goods. A small group crossed the border using paragliders (parachutes with small propeller engines) and a final group attacked from the sea, landing on an Israeli beach. (Of this group only a few got through; most were intercepted by Israeli navy patrol boats and strike-drones).

All together, within the first couple of hours, more than 1,000 Hamas troops crossed the border into Israel in approximately 15 to 30 locations (different sources have provided different numbers) and then fanned out in groups to attack Israeli civilians and military positions. They entered two Israeli towns and 12 villages (at least), driving through the streets shooting at passersby and breaking into houses to kill the residents. In three locations they captured buildings and held the occupants as hostages. The biggest such case included 50 people of all ages at Kibbutz Be’eri who were herded into the communal dining room.

One group reached a large nature-party (like a rave party but held outdoors in nature) where approximately 3,000 young Israelis, mostly in their twenties, had gathered to dance. They attacked them with grenades and assault rifles, then chased the fleeing group, hunting down people who had sought to hide in the low brush. This is probably the location where the largest number of casualties was inflicted. The IDF and police units reaching this area have spent the past two days fighting off remaining teams of terrorists and collecting survivors and bodies.

One large and a few small IDF bases along the border were also attacked in the first rush, pinning down the outnumbered troops at those locations to fight for survival rather than assist the civilians who were simultaneously under attack.

The first responders in the civilian residential areas were local response teams of IDF reservists living in the villages (usually 10 to 20 people per village). They grabbed their weapons and ran out to face the attackers together with a few on-duty policemen in the towns. Here and there, Israelis with private weapons (pistols) also attempted to face the Hamas teams, who were armed with assault rifles.

The IDF units in the area were initially busy trying to fend off the surprise assault, so the first organized IDF response took a few hours as units located in other areas of Israel were rushed to the Gaza border. On arrival, they began trying to understand what was happening and determining how to allocate themselves to deal with the situation, including formulating a means of protecting villages not yet attacked in the initial strike. They began gradually counterattacking inside the villages captured by Hamas forces, combing the areas to find and kill the terrorists. Once a Hamas force was deemed destroyed, the IDF units evacuated Israeli residents who had locked themselves inside their homes during the onslaught. They also surrounded Hamas teams holding hostages.

The IDF units have been going through residential areas house by house, room by room, searching for terrorists to kill or capture and collecting Israeli survivors and bodies. The evacuated residents are being sent north to central Israel where they are being hosted by kibbutzim (communal villages), public facilities (converted schools), and private citizens who are donating rooms in their homes. Other units combed the areas between the villages to search for scattered civilians – especially from the nature-party – and other Hamas teams that might be hiding there waiting for an opportunity to strike when things seemed to calm down.

All the hostages held in Israeli territory have been rescued, but approximately 130 Israelis (the figure claimed by a Hamas spokesperson), including civilians both male and female, the elderly, young children, and soldiers were kidnapped and taken into Gaza. Hamas claims it has placed them in underground installations.

By the early afternoon of October 8, the number of confirmed Israeli casualties had reached at least 700 killed (some expect it to rise to over 1,000) and 2,240 wounded (some with grave injuries, so they might yet die) who have reached hospitals. There are at least another 700 Israeli citizens whose names are known but who are unaccounted for (some might be dead and not yet discovered; others might be among the kidnapped; others might still be in hiding somewhere and out of touch). There are probably more missing whose names are not yet known.

Hamas casualties are currently estimated to be at least 400 killed and almost 2,000 wounded. These figures include those hit inside Israel and those hit in Israeli counterstrikes in Gaza. Dozens more have been captured. Since these numbers were declared, there have been numerous skirmishes as IDF troops continue to comb the residential and open areas to a distance of several kilometers from the border with Gaza.

In an amphibious raid into Gaza, Israeli naval commandos captured a senior commander of the Hamas naval commando force.

The Israeli government has declared war and ordered the IDF to conduct a mass mobilization of reserves. It also ordered the beginning of an aerial offensive response on Hamas targets in Gaza. The initial strikes were delayed to allow Palestinian civilians living in the buildings and vicinity to evacuate as urged by the IDF using various means of communication – radio, telephone calls, etc.

By the evening of October 8, it was reported that about 75,000 Gaza residents had relocated to designated safe areas, clearing the declared areas for free action by the IDF. In the late evening of that night, the Israeli air force struck approximately 800 targets in Gaza and the navy struck some more. They included residential buildings used by Hamas for hiding command posts, combat positions and storage sites, two banks, numerous weapons storage sites, and some launchers of Hamas and other armed groups. In addition, Hamas troops moving to and from the border, between combat positions and launch sites, etc., were detected by surveillance drones and attacked.

The mobilization of reserves is not only for Gaza. Some IDF units are heading to the border with Lebanon in case Hezbollah decides to join the war; others are reinforcing the forces in Judea and Samaria or replacing regular units being sent to Gaza. Residents in some of the Israeli villages along the Lebanese border are being evacuated.


Shortly after 07:00 on October 8, Hezbollah fired a number of mortar bombs at an Israeli strongpoint on the border with Lebanon. The IDF returned fire with artillery. At time of writing, it is not clear whether this exchange was a harbinger for an escalation or an isolated incident.

In Egypt, an Egyptian policeman opened fire on a bus of Israeli tourists, killing two and wounding a few more. He also killed an Egyptian.

In east Jerusalem Arab residents began rioting. There have also been sporadic attacks throughout Judea and Samaria.


The answer to this question is not clear.

Several excuses were quickly published – such as the fact that Jews were allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, which Hamas sees as an infringement of an exclusive Muslim privilege. But only two days passed from that event till the attack. The extent and level of organization of this offensive prove that it had been planned and prepared for a far longer period of time.

Some believe Hamas felt it had to pressure Israel to improve the dire economic situation in Gaza. However, Israel has been acting to improve Gaza’s economic situation (including allowing 20,000 Gazans to cross the border every day to work in Israel). This attack will worsen Gazans’ economic situation, not help it. So this too is not a feasible argument.

Another theory is that this action was fomented by Iran. Hamas and Hezbollah officials have stated that Iran backed it, assisted in the planning, and approved the offensive. They have no particular reason to lie about this, though crediting Iran could be a ploy of psychological warfare – enhancing Iran’s image as a Middle Eastern power to be feared by its enemies.

Iran’s envoy to the UN has denied Iranian involvement. However, Iran’s backing, physical support in funds and weapons, and urging have been documented behind the surge in terror attacks in and emanating from Judea and Samaria over the past two years. In 2019 there were 1,346 terror attacks against Israelis in or emanating from Judea and Samaria; in 2020 there were 1,320. In 2021, the number leaped to 2,135 and in 2022 increased again, to 2,613. From January to August 2023 there were 1,502 attacks against Israelis. Though there were several intense cycles of fighting on the Gaza border during the same period, most of the time that border was almost quiet.

There is some logic to possible Iranian involvement in the current attack. Iran is deeply displeased with the progress in discussions on an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia – an agreement initiated very much as a treaty of cooperation against the common Iranian threat. Just last week, Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, stated that Saudi Arabia is “betting on a losing horse”. The theory goes that the current attack was to prove Israel’s weakness and give the Saudis second thoughts.

However, there is a weakness to this theory. A combined attack with Hezbollah would seem to have been a better way of proving Israel’s limitations. A Hezbollah offensive could yet be in the offing, but Israel is now more awake to the possibility and is preparing for it. Logic seems to dictate that a simultaneous offensive (like the simultaneous Egyptian-Syrian offensive in 1973) would have been a better course of action. There could, of course, be reasons why Iran might prefer a disjointed offensive – to pull the IDF into Gaza and then attack from Lebanon while it is being taxed in the south, for example. Or there might have been problems of coordination.

To sum it up – we do not yet know.


This is an issue that will require a very intensive inquiry after the war.

The supreme source of the failure is totally that of the intelligence services, which had concluded that Hamas was more interested in the economic well-being of its population than in furthering its ideological agenda by initiating a war that would damage that population’s well-being. In line with this supposition, the government made various decisions to help the Gazan economy. But more importantly, the IDF assumed that the current scenario was simply not on the table and convinced the government that that was the case. How Hamas managed to plan, organize, and assemble its forces without Israeli intelligence services discovering it will need a very deep analysis once the war is over.

While the details differ and will only come to light in an inquiry, in principle, this is the 1973 fiasco all over again.

The second failure is a long-term one, and not just a failure of this government but of Israeli society in general and IDF senior commanders over the past 20 years. It stems from the insufficient manpower available on a routine basis to man the IDF’s missions. This has always been a problem and has objective roots in the size of our population, the percentage of budget Israel can allocate to defense, and the extent of damage to the economy that is created by mobilizing reserves.

But this problem has been exacerbated by a 25-year shift in strategy concocted at the IDF’s most senior levels, based on new Western concepts of what wars are and how they are conducted. The result was a deliberate reduction in size of IDF reserves in general and the number of days per year that they serve. This created a built-in shortage of available troops per mission the IDF is required to conduct.

This shortage was dealt with by constantly shifting troops and taking risks in areas considered less imminently threatening. The recent need to reinforce IDF units in Judea and Samaria due to the escalation of attacks there caused the IDF to reduce its forces along the Gaza border – and why not, since IDF intelligence assessed that Hamas was not going to conduct a major offensive in the foreseeable future (see intelligence analysis above).

Text from the interrogation of a Hamas terrorist captured by the IDF has been published, and it illustrates the extent of the complete failure of Israel’s intelligence services. According to him:

  • Hamas had been preparing this attack for more than a year.
  • Hamas was encouraged by the political demonstrations in Israel, seeing them as a sign of Israeli weakness.
  • The past weeks’ riots conducted by Hamas were a deception to enable them to prepare their attack and hide the preparations.
  • The attack force included 1,000 men who broke through the border fence at 15 locations (as noted above, other sources claim more locations).
  • This terrorist and his unit were surprised that the IDF was not waiting for them. They operated inside Israel for about five hours before they met armed resistance.


At time of writing (early afternoon on October 8), a few active terrorists remain inside Israel. The IDF is still busy clearing its territory of remnants of these Hamas teams. The question is, what comes afterwards?

I am not privy to the decisions of the rival leaders, so my answer to this question must be regarded as conjecture.

Hamas is understandably overjoyed at its success, which is the worst defeat inflicted on Israel since October 6, 1973.

The quote from Moshe Dayan at the beginning of this article, stated nearly 70 years ago, encapsulates Israel’s situation and the necessary strategy it must implement, albeit adapted to today’s conditions. It is not a foolproof strategy or an easy one to implement successfully, but it is probably the only one that has the potential, if successful, of ensuring a better situation in future. What it cannot achieve, just as it did not achieve it when implemented by Dayan himself and his successors, is eternal peace. Better vigilance and better preparation for future threats will have to be implemented too.

The Israeli government has declared its intention to conduct a major counter-offensive on Hamas in Gaza, the objective of which is to inflict mass casualties and destruction to the Hamas organization, personnel and equipment. But it has not indicated the methods or timeline (other than to say it will be a long war).

Experience has shown that a purely aerial offensive, as conducted in the past, even if significantly intensified, cannot achieve this objective. So it appears that a ground offensive will be conducted sooner or later, even if at first there is a prolonged aerial offensive to prepare the way. This will require preparation and will bring IDF units into dense urban terrain that favors the Hamas defenders who have considerably fortified it and trained in it. It therefore risks suffering heavy IDF casualties. It also risks inflicting major casualties to Palestinian civilians and prompting severe criticism by Israel’s only major international supporter, the US.

It will also take a long time to complete, and international support is unlikely to last very long. During Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, after a month in which 135 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks, the US government initially accepted Israel’s need to conduct the operation and then demanded that it halt it midway. Another example occurred during the 2014 war with Gaza, when the US government and Europe tried to force Israeli concessions to Hamas. They were blocked by Egypt, which controls one of the borders of Gaza and views Hamas as a hostile ally of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Obama went so far as to deny Israel replenishment of a key armament item it had requested. After the public calls of commiseration have subsided, it is an open question how the US and Europe will actually act. As of right now, the US government is stating full support for Israel.

Furthermore, the longer the IDF is busy fighting in Gaza, the less it will be prepared for fighting on the Lebanese and Syrian fronts, having lost personnel both killed and wounded and used up stocks of supplies and funds for purchasing more. Thus the risk of another front opening up grows over time.

The final question that must be answered is this. Even if the Israeli counter-offensive is completely and rapidly successful, what then? Hamas rules Gaza because the majority of the population believes in its agenda. In the last democratic election to the Palestinian Authority parliament in January 2006, Hamas won the majority of seats. That is why Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, has consistently refused to conduct elections ever since. He is fully aware, and this is backed by the polls, that Hamas would gain an even higher proportion of seats. So if Hamas is thrown out of power in Gaza, who will replace it? Will the IDF have to stay there and conduct a non-stop counter-guerrilla campaign while attempting to provide administrative services to the population? That is the last thing Israel wants. The alternative is to withdraw and let the various factions fight each other for control. But given what is known about the opinions of the Palestinian populace, either Hamas will recover its organization and position or its only strong rival, the even more extreme Palestinian Islamic Jihad, might.

These are the questions Israel’s government and military must answer to achieve a better situation at the end of this catastrophic debacle.


Dr. Eado Hecht, a senior research fellow at the BESA Center, is a military analyst focusing mainly on the relationship between military theory, military doctrine, and military practice. He teaches courses on military theory and military history at Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, and Reichman University and in a variety of courses in the Israel Defense Forces.

Βίας ο Πριηνεύς: Άκουγε πολλά, μίλα την ώρα που πρέπει.

Θαλής o Μιλήσιος: Καλύτερα να σε φθονούν παρά να σε λυπούνται.

Κλεόβουλος ο Λίνδιος: Το μέτρο είναι άριστο.

Περίανδρος ο Κορίνθιος: Οι ηδονές είναι θνητές, οι αρετές αθάνατες.

Πιττακός ο Μυτιληναίος: Με την ανάγκη δεν τα βάζουν ούτε οι θεοί.

Σωκράτης: Εν οίδα ότι ουδέν οίδα. Ουδείς εκών κακός.

Θουκυδίδης: Δύο τα εναντιότατα ευβουλία είναι, τάχος τε και οργήν.

Πλάτων: Άγνοια, η ρίζα και ο μίσχος όλου του κακού. 

Αριστοτέλης: Δεν υπάρχει τίποτε πιο άνισο από την ίση μεταχείριση των ανίσων.