Hamas rocket barrage kills 21 soldiers, wounds dozens in daring attack
A daring midday rocket attack on an Israeli command post in central Gaza on Monday left 21 soldiers dead and 68 more wounded, marking the single deadliest day for Israeli forces since launching ground operations in the coastal enclave nearly 4 months ago.
Hamas quickly claimed responsibility for the brazen assault, which saw over 100 rockets rain down on the command center over the span of 10 minutes. In a rare video statement, Hamas military chief Abu Obaida declared that Israeli forces had “walked foolishly into a well-prepared trap” and vowed that “this is only the beginning” of a new phase in militant operations.
The attack has sent shockwaves through Israeli society and ratcheted up pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curb mounting military casualties. It came just hours after Netanyahu brushed off a prisoner exchange offer floated by Hamas via Egyptian mediators.
Netanyahu defends war strategy amid questions over prisoner swap
Addressing shellshocked lawmakers in a heated Knesset session earlier today, Netanyahu fiercely defended his government’s management of the war effort while sidestepping criticism over the aborted prisoner exchange.
“We will not bargain with terrorists, and we will not allow the blood of our brave sons to be shed in vain,” Netanyahu thundered. However, he declined to elaborate on why the offer – which reportedly sought the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 2 captive Israeli soldiers – was rejected out of hand on Sunday evening.
The prime minister insisted that the Gaza barrier project would continue in order to halt militant rockets and tunnels. “We will finish the work that our fallen warriors have started,” he pledged.
Yet opposition lawmakers waste no time in pointing out that the barrier remained incomplete after months of grinding attrition.
“How much more blood must be spilled before the government realizes that there are no military solutions here – only political ones brokered through dialogue,” admonished Labor leader Merav Michaeli. She further charged that rejection of the exchange deal showed “arrogance and poor judgement.”
Table 1 summarizes Monday’s Gaza rocket attack casualties:
Hostage crisis adds pressure – grieving families demand action
Aside from the staggering one-day death toll, the attack yielded significant collateral damage in the form of 3 Israeli soldiers taken captive by Hamas combatants.
One soldier, Sgt. Daniel Levi, was filmed being interrogated by captors in a video circulated on social media. Sgt. Levi, bloodied and distraught, is seen pleading for assistance while militants pepper him with questions about IDF operational details.
The harrowing footage sparked outrage in Israel, and families of the captive troops have urgently appealed to the government to secure their release.
“What is Netanyahu waiting for? Losing our sons is tragedy enough without them falling into enemy hands through sheer incompetence,” lamented Sarah Gottlieb, whose 19-year old conscripted son is among the missing.
Table 2 gives an overview of Israeli soldiers currently being held hostage by Hamas:
|Sgt. Daniel Levi
|Corp. Moshe Cohen
|Pvt. Uri Tamir
Death toll prompts anti-war protests
As livid Israelis absorb the human toll, the shocking setback comes amid a distinct turn in public opinion. Nightly anti-war vigils have cropped up across the country, bringing together bereaved families, former security officials critical of the long war’s trajectory, and a spectrum of left-wing activists. A recent poll showed 65% in favor of restarting ceasefire talks, even if it meant withdrawing from Gaza without capturing or killing top militant leaders.
At tense gatherings, protesters brandish signs reading “bring our sons home,” “stop endless war,” and “negotiate now.” Speakers rail against the Netanyahu government’s apparent “intransigence” when it comes to diplomacy.
“The writing is on the wall. Continuing like this is national suicide,” implored retired Major General Amos Yadlin, who heads the Institute for National Security Studies think tank. “It is time to pivot from the paradigm of unilateral military action toward active pursuit of a sustainable political solution.”
And with over 465 Israeli soldiers and over 3400 Palestinians killed since October, pressure is indeed mounting domestically for Netanyahu to show that rejecting dialogue comes with intolerable costs. The Egyptian proposal marked the first opening for high-level talks in six weeks, and its dismissal saw tensions boil over.
Khan Younis land invasion – high casualties spark domestic backlash
In apparent retaliation for Hamas’ highly successful rocket ambush, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi today ordered 10,000 troops to encircle and invade the Gaza border city of Khan Younis. The risky maneuver represents Israel’s first major Gaza urban land seizure attempt since getting bogged down in Rafah 4 months ago.
Fierce urban warfare batters Israeli forces
Intel suggests commanders gambled that catching Hamas off guard would allow for quick territorial gains. However, the risky operation swiftly devolved into chaotic scenes recalling the brutal house-to-house raids in Jenin and Nablus last spring.
Hamas combatants showed savvy tactical skills and motivation, springing elaborate ambushes in the suburb’s dense neighborhoods. They also managed to funnel multiple suicide bombers towards Israeli positions despite a strict lockdown.
By nightfall, grim-faced IDF officers conceded that at least 30 more Israeli troops perished in ferocious close-quarters urban combat, with an estimated 190 injured. Reports described body part-strewn streets lined with destroyed houses and smoldering Israeli vehicles targeted by anti-tank missiles. Among the fallen was a 16 year old American exchange student who had enlisted in the IDF despite desperate pleas from his parents back in Los Angeles.
Political blowback intensifies
Already reeling from Monday’s rocket massacre, the IDF’s shaky morale and combat effectiveness will now face stinging questions. The disastrous mission seemed to support critics charging that Israeli forces lack adequate preparation and intelligence for risky large-scale Gaza incursions.
Rattled by the fresh spate of military casualties, Netanyahu’s governing coalition saw multiple defections today from both junior parties and senior Likud officials.
“I cannot in good conscience continue backing a rudderless policy that sends our boys like sheep to the slaughter in fruitless offensives,” lamented Avi Dichter, a senior Likud lawmaker who resigned as Public Security Minister this afternoon.
Opponents rushed forth to decry the stalled Khan Younis thrust as yet more evidence of strategic incoherence.
“Blundering into densely populated areas without exit plans or combat discipline seems like the height of incompetence. This is not the brave but tragically shorthanded 1948 generation – it is a demoralized, confused and bloated military led by politicians who value ideology above Israeli lives,” seethed Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid faction.
Gaza quagmire sees Israel under growing pressure
Four months into bloody block-by-block trench warfare, Israel finds its vaunted military prowess humbled and options narrowing. With the Gaza barrier still incomplete and militants undaunted, citizens are questioning the hawkish Netanyahu government as grieving families’ pleas mount.
The abrupt scuttling of promising talks coupled with massive IDF casualties over two days may hasten political volatility as war fatigue spreads.
Egypt attempts new mediation
Following reports that Cairo moved to reopen backchannels with Hamas’ exiled chief Khaled Meshaal, news emerged this evening that Egyptian general intelligence director Abbas Kamel will visit Gaza City tomorrow. Kamel is set to meet with Hamas Gaza head Yahya Sinwar and Islamic Jihad secretary general Ziad Nahala in a bid to revive stalled negotiations based around an upgraded truce deal.
The urgent trip and proliferation of regional shuttle diplomacy suggests Netanyahu’s cold shouldering of dialogue channels has become untenable amid mushrooming domestic turmoil. With Israeli military limitations laid bare and appetite plummeting for more bloody offensives, ceasefire talks may be the only route left for an Israeli leadership with increasingly limited options.
Increased US engagement – The White House has thus far given Israel wide latitude on managing Gaza operations. But congressional leaders from both parties look ready to exert pressure, as images of battered Israeli forces expose the harsh realities behind Netanyahu’s defiant rhetoric. President Biden may push the prime minister towards compromise while quietly moving naval assets into the eastern Mediterranean as a contingency.
Tick-tock on Gaza exit plan – Though domestic anger has spiked, withdrawing from Gaza is logistically complex and risky. The IDF will likely need 4-6 weeks minimum to extricate without unacceptable loss of life and materiel. Netanyahu has 72 hours max before being forced into ceasefire talks to buy time for retreat.
Militant regrouping? – Monday’s big Hamas victory will temporarily help the group regain street credibility after the hardships Gazans have endured. But Israeli intelligence will closely watch for signs that smaller jihadi cells may gain strength in exploiting new cracks in Hamas’ previously tight grip. A scenario where disparate militants violently one-up each other with rocket attacks or border raids poses big complications.
Can Netanyahu’s coalition survive? – Between the stalled Gaza operation, economic woes, and his ongoing corruption trial, Netanyahu has burned through political capital at a staggering clip. If a ceasefire deal cannot placate his restive right-wing allies or stabilize the domestic mood enough to allow a Gaza exit plan, new elections loom large. But with no obvious successors currently positioned to form a government, uncertainty prevails across the Israeli political scene.
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