The brutal terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas is a tragedy, one that may change the course of the nation and the entire region.
Israelis are reeling, in shock over the toll of people killed, wounded and taken hostage, and the world is mourning with them. The militants killed more than 800 Israelis in a series of coordinated rocket attacks and continued fighting. To the world’s horror, they attacked civilians — including older people, women and children — and took them hostage. More than 150 people remain captive in Gaza, in a further atrocity.
The attack was a tragic and painful reminder of how vulnerable Israel has always been — and continues to be, at a time of rising global antisemitism. The terrorists burst through border fences without warning or any immediate provocation, landed on Israeli beaches and fired thousands of rockets into Israel early on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath and a Jewish holiday. Many Israelis have called this attack their 9/11.
Hamas struck Israel 50 years and one day after the surprise invasion from Egypt and Syria that launched the Yom Kippur War of 1973, prompting comparisons with one of the major battles of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But this time the attackers were not Arab armies against military targets; they were militants from a Palestinian enclave randomly terrorizing civilians, and this attack was organized by armed groups that have long questioned Israel’s right to exist.
Israel responded to this aggression with strikes in Gaza, killing at least 687 Palestinians so far, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis that this will be “a long war.”
President Biden is right to express America’s full support for Israel at this painful moment. The United States, as its closest ally, has a critical role to play. Moderate Israeli opposition leaders said they were prepared to join Mr. Netanyahu in an emergency government. The Biden administration, and all of Israel’s friends and allies, should encourage such a broad coalition. A unity government is the best chance Israel has to come together to defend itself against aggression, as it has at so many times in its history, and emerge from this war able to keep working toward a stable, secure future that includes peace with the Palestinians.
It is also the administration’s duty to work to prevent this terrible eruption of violence from spreading from Gaza to involve Palestinians in the West Bank. Mr. Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others have an invaluable role to play in maintaining open communication with leaders of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and of neighboring Arab states to urge calm.
For Republicans in Congress, this is an occasion to rise above political dysfunction and stand with the Biden administration to show resolve, in support of Israel and for peace and stability in the region. Israel and Hezbollah, an armed group based in Lebanon, exchanged fire on Sunday across Israel’s northern border. Hezbollah, like Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, is sponsored by Iran. Representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah have claimed that Iran helped prepare the attack, and while those reports are so far unconfirmed, the danger of a wider war is real and significant.
The U.S.-brokered efforts to establish relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a potential breakthrough in bolstering the security of the Middle East, are suddenly in jeopardy. Iran opposes that step toward peace, and if it was, in fact, behind the Hamas attacks, derailing this rapprochement may have been a major goal. Israel and Saudi Arabia should continue this effort and deny terrorists a veto over the nations’ futures.
The crisis unfolded as Israel was embroiled in a debilitating internal conflict. Ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox members of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition are trying to curb the power of the judiciary to serve as a check on the government. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis, including reservists, have rightfully gathered week after week to protest these dangerous changes and preserve their democracy.
But Israel’s military strength depends on its national unity, and Israelis have now come together to defend themselves. The government has promised a severe and protracted response against Hamas. It began with multiple strikes on cities in Gaza, and Israel should do everything it can to avoid the loss of civilian lives. Already the Israeli government is cutting off power and water to Gaza, and it ordered a siege to starve Hamas of resources. This tactic, if it continues, will be an act of collective punishment. All sides involved in the conflict are bound by international law, and it is important to note that violations by one side do not permit violations by another.
The United States has an important role to play here as well. It can and should offer diplomatic support and emergency military assistance and work with the Israeli government, Palestinian leaders and humanitarian organizations to help ensure that civilian casualties and suffering in Israel and Gaza do not spin out of control.
Mr. Biden has assured Israel of America’s total support, but America’s fractured politics remain an obstacle. Some Republican presidential candidates tried to put some blame for the attack on the administration’s recent decision to release $6 billion in blocked Iranian funds in exchange for the release of five Americans detained in Iran. This is a distraction. There is no evidence that those funds could have inspired or facilitated the Hamas attack, and these claims do not help Israel’s defense.
The violence in Israel may also strengthen calls to cut military aid to Ukraine. That is a false choice; America’s duty as Israel’s friend is to stand firm in its support, to join the Israeli people in their grief and to continue to work toward an end to the cycle of violence.