In Israel, the gardens of Armageddon are on fire
Israel devolved into a state of war early Saturday morning. Hours later, after Hamas’s coordinated rocket and land attack on the country began, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared what those of us who have lived in the country already knew. “We are at war. Not an ‘operation,’ not a ‘round,’ but at war.”
For now, Israel is at war with Hamas — the close fight; however, as time will likely demonstrate, Jerusalem will take the fight to the source: Iran. The Gardens of Armageddon are on fire, and while this war may have begun in Gaza, it is likely to end in Tehran.
Hamas’s decision to launch “Al-Aqsa Storm” will have far reaching implications, not just inside of Israel, but likely as far away as Iran as well. Even the militant group’s choice of its operation’s codename, a reference to the 7th century mosque that sits atop the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, is suggestive of a bigger conflagration to come.
Palestinians typically reserve tie-ins to the Al-Aqsa Mosque for a widespread calls to arm or civil uprisings such as the two intifadas spanning the late 1980s through 2005. The bloody Second Intifada, commonly known in Palestine as the “Al-Aqsa Intifada,” resulted in upwards of 1,100 Israelis and 3,400 Palestinians dying.
This is bigger. Far bigger. The blow to Israel’s psyche was felt immediately. References to the Yom Kippur War in 1973 began flooding social media after reports of Hamas’s rocket attacks and militant infiltrations began hitting the news wires. So too videos and images of Israelis being kidnapped and held hostage, including one of a elderly Israeli woman being forced to hold an AK-47 by her Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) captor and described as a “POW.”
Hamas’s attack on Israel appears to be a large-scale, well-coordinated attack and executed operation. In a recorded message, Muhammad Deif, Hamas’s military commander, claimed to have launched 5,000 rockets against Israel in its opening barrage, while saying, “We must set the earth on fire under the feet of the occupiers.”
Indeed, that is happening. Open source intelligence video clips show Palestinian militants attempting to infiltrate Israel using hang gliders, breaking through the Gaza Strip border fence and the Erez crossing, and at sea on skiffs and what appear to be Sea-Doo-like watercraft.
Beyond just the psychological blow, Hamas’s operations are having significant reach. Militants from Gaza seized the small Nahal Oz Military Base in southern Israel. As retired U.S. Army General Mark Hertling noted, it is “never good when the enemy is walking through your motor pool.”
Hamas also appears to be learning from the war in Ukraine — and perhaps directly from Moscow and Tehran. Video shows an Israeli Merkava IV main battle tank being hit by a purported Hamas drone strike and catching on fire.
As Netanyahu and his war cabinet respond militarily and begin to game plan an end state to Hamas in Gaza, Jerusalem would be wise to factor in the timing of this assault, and its intended objective. Hamas launched this attack on the last day of Sukkot, a Jewish religious festival, likely in an endeavor to evoke the same psychological impact as the Yom Kippur War, which began in 1973 on Israel’s most holy holiday.
The purposeful taking of Israeli hostages, alongside beatings and massacring of Israeli civilians, added to the overall scale and depth of the operation. They are essentially inviting, if not begging, Israel to commit to a ground invasion of Gaza. The question is why? Iran, likely, is in possession of the answer.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas likely knows the answer too. He released a terse statement that “appeared to back Hamas’s major operation against Israel on Saturday, saying “Palestinians have a right to defend themselves.”
Iran may be agitating for Israel to become consumed in a bloody land war in Gaza, possibly to distract from their continued development of nuclear weapon program in defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency — and as a means of disrupting ongoing Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization discussions.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, perhaps emboldened by Ukraine’s success against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s conventional army using drones, Javelins and asymmetric warfare, likely sees an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza as the best means possible of militarily weakening Jerusalem.
Netanyahu and his generals are unlikely to take the bait — a hard lesson learned during the ground invasion of Southern Lebanon in 2006. Hamas poses a close fight threat to Israel; however, Iran is arguably Israel’s sole existential threat — as is Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.
Khamenei may soon come to deeply regret his role in Hamas’s attack on Israel and is also likely soon to find himself and his nuclear facilities in the crosshairs of Israeli war planners. For now, Iran is congratulating Hamas. Yahya Rahim Safavi, an adviser to Khamenei, said, “We congratulate the Palestinian fighters. We will stand by the Palestinian fighters until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also likely regret his decision to issue sanction waivers as part of a prisoner transfer deal with Iran — and its net result of unfreezing “$6 billion in Iranian assets.” Blinken claimed it was in the “national security interest” of the U.S. In reality, the Biden administration’s widely criticized deal may have helped indirectly foot the bill by freeing up funds elsewhere for Hamas’s terrorist assaults on Israel.
Tragically, it is just one more example of the Biden administration’s “permissive environment” on the global stage creating unintended consequences. First, the withdrawal from Afghanistan that Putin interpreted as a green light to invade Ukraine. Later, by misreading growing instability in Sudan, Niger and in the Sahel, resulting in anti-Western coups and closer regional alignment with Russia. Now, by unwittingly enabling Iran to take its fight directly to Israel on a scale heretofore unseen since the Yom Kippur War.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), 100 Israeli civilians have already died as we write this, and estimates are 1,000 or more are injured. Those casualty numbers will only grow with time.
In response, according to Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesperson, Israel “has begun a wide mobilization of reservists for all IDF units.” While initially aimed at regaining control of its border in Gaza, this mobilization is likely targeted at Iran, and is suggestive that a broadening of this war into a regional war may soon follow.
The Gardens of Armageddon are on fire and are close to burning out of control. Israel is going to hit back and hit back hard. Images of dead Israelis, beaten women and kidnapped families will not go unanswered. Khamenei and Iran may have just bought their own 9/11 or Pearl Harbor-like response.
Jonathan Sweet, a retired Army Colonel and 30-year military intelligence officer, led the U.S. European Command Intelligence Engagement Division from 2012 to 2014. Mark Toth is an economist, entrepreneur, and former board member of the World Trade Center, St. Louis.