Recently, the film “Golda,” featuring Helen Mirren as the Israeli premier Golda Meir, opened, telling the tale of the slaughter that unfolded on the holiest of holy days, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), kicking off the 1973 Arab-Israeli War fought on Oct. 6-25, 1973. It came on the heels of the Six-Day Arab–Israeli War of June 1967, which was a complete triumph for the Israelis against Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, including the capture of Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and East Jerusalem. That had begun with a preemptive strike by Israel.
In 1973, however, it was Israel that was taken by surprise, and the Egyptian offensive to retake the Sinai Peninsula was remarkably successful. While Israel eventually eked out a victory against Egypt and Syria, it came very close to defeat; it required an emergency infusion of arms and aircraft from the United States to make up for initial losses. The victory cost Israel 2,656 dead, 7,251 wounded, 294 captured, and left the country shaken and traumatized, its security and intelligence (the famed Mossad) authorities humiliated, and Meir’s government, disgraced. But it did lead to Egypt and Israel forging a peace agreement by 1979.
The timing of the film’s release was meant to coincide with the 50th anniversary of that traumatic event. What has overshadowed that commemoration instead is the mayhem and slaughter that began on another holiday, Sukkot, when many soldiers were on leave, and others were redeployed to the West Bank to protect Jerusalem. Israeli authorities were depending on surveillance technology, its Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, and the existence of a wall separating the Gaza Strip (from which Israel had withdrawn in 2005), as well as a network of informants in terrorist organizations.
Israel was furthermore making progress toward recognition by Saudi Arabia, long one of its most implacable foes, and the building of a working alliance against Iran which has been supporting the terrorist organizations arrayed against Israel. Domestically, however, Israel was a divided nation, with large protests taking place against changes to the authority of the courts being maneuvered by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultraconservative allies intent on diminishing secular controls.
Last Saturday, everything changed. Hamas launched multiple attacks that have already claimed at least 900 lives, over 2,400 wounded, and over 150 kidnapped and taken hostage, the vast majority of civilians of all ages and nationalities.
In the Free Press, an FAQ (describing events as “the most deadly killing of Jews since the Holocaust”) by Alana Newhouse and Jeremy Stern mentions the disquieting possibility that, “According to sources in Israel and America who deal with national security and technology, one possible scenario involved a cyberattack that took down Israel’s border fence, with its layers of sensors, early in the morning on Saturday, Oct. 7,” which was compounded by gradually relaxing restrictions on trade, commerce, and even issuing work permits to encourage Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip, to maintain the peace.
What’s particularly relevant to us is how Russia and China had to be considered as potentially having assisted such an attack, considered beyond the capabilities of Iran, which the attackers have given credit for helping them plan the ambitious invasion of Israel’s border towns. The only thing keeping from the two countries being assumed to have helped is that both nations are themselves harsh when it comes to Muslim fundamentalists. But what is beyond doubt is Russia can only benefit from American resources now having to be divided between Israel and Ukraine—with the American security umbrella over Taiwan also thinly stretched, naturally.
As with Golda Meir, so with Netanyahu. There will be a political reckoning. Journalist Seth Abramson put forward a quote from The Times of Israel, about Egyptian intelligence warning the Israeli prime minister an attack was coming: the “Egypt’s Intelligence Minister General Abbas Kamel personally called Netanyahu only 10 days before the massive attack that Gazans were likely to do ‘something unusual, a terrible operation’.” As Abramson (a fierce critic of Netanyahu) put it, “So now we have (1) multiple warnings to Netanyahu, which (2) identified the origin of the attack, and (3) said it was coming ‘very soon.’ These multiple, reasonably specific warnings also (4) discussed the scope of the attack, saying that it would be ‘unusual,’ ‘big,’ and ‘terrible’—meaning, quite clearly, that it would (a) involve tactics Israeli intel had not encountered before, (b) involve a war theater much larger than earlier Hamas incursions, and (c) target civilians rather than exclusively military personnel.”
Israel is still reeling from the horror and the scale of the attacks. In The Guardian, Orly Noy mentions: “Now we see an absence of sufficient supplies and food for the hastily drafted reserve forces sent to the frontlines against Hamas, leaving the job of organising the items they need to civilians in each city and town.”