Weekend attacks ripped a page out of the Islamic State playbook, says former Canadian commander
Behind a blizzard of grim statistics and a set of potent PowerPoints, there was a palpable sense of betrayal, dismay — even cold fury — among senior Israeli officials who warned Thursday that the sense of charity and moderation felt by ordinary Israelis toward Palestinians in Gaza is evaporating.
Speaking on background to Canadian journalists, the officials described what they see as a changed mindset. They suggested Israelis who may have been moderate in their views are now hardening them in response to the atrocities committed over the weekend in southern Israel.
Those who felt sympathy no longer feel that way — that was the clear message the officials meant to impart in the aftermath of what some commentators have described as Israel's 9/11 moment.
Israelis, the officials said, are asking themselves tough questions — such as whether they can still rely on their cherished security establishment.
Even for a country accustomed to a perpetual state of twilight war, they said, the Hamas-led massacres — the wholesale slaughter of entire families, including children — represented an intolerable, emotional turning point.
"It is different this time. There are rules … Red lines have been crossed," said one senior Israeli official, who added that many of those slaughtered in the Kfar Aza kibbutz, just three kilometres from the border with Gaza, were "among those who extended a hand of friendship to the Palestinians."
To further underline the sense of rage on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office released photos on social media of a dead infant in a pool of blood and the charred body of a child. It also shared graphic images of dead children with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and with NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels.
"It was actually deeply disturbing," Defence Minister Bill Blair told CBC's Power & Politics on Thursday.
Defence minister shown 'deeply disturbing' images of Hamas's attack
Featured Video'We saw images of Israeli women and children and their citizens who had been horribly attacked and murdered,' Defence Minister Bill Blair told Power & Politics on Thursday. Pictures of the aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians were shared by Israel's defence minister at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Belgium.
"We saw images of Israeli women and children and their citizens who had been, you know, horribly attacked and murdered. We heard very carefully, very clearly from the defence minister of Israel about the huge impact it's had on their country and everything they're doing to respond to it."
Blair said the assembled defence ministers expressed their "overwhelming support for the people of Israel and their right to defend themselves against this type of terrorist attack."
More than 1,200 Israelis and 1,600 Palestinians have been killed — including an overwhelming number of Hamas militants who took part in the weekend cross-border assault that took Israel's defence forces and intelligence services completely by surprise.
Hamas attacked because of Israel's 'illegal' siege, Israeli journalist says
Featured VideoColumnist Gideon Levy fears a bloodbath of innocent civilians in Gaza if Israel reacts without moral and legal limits. He claims Israel made Gaza a cage, an experiment in human beings, that the international community normalized.
The atrocities committed by Hamas throughout southern Israel are the result of a cold, cynical calculation ripped straight from the playbook of the Islamic State and are meant to provoke a response, said retired Canadian major-general Denis Thompson.
During his time as commander of the international peacekeeping force in the Sinai, Thompson said, ISIS militants "went on a murderous rampage against the Egyptian security forces [and] had no problem beheading people … burning people alive, executing them summarily …"
Such atrocities are "calculated to enrage people and I think there's going to be a call for revenge, and the revenge means quite possibly that the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, are going to go into the Gaza Strip as they did in 2014 under Operation Protective Edge."
Israeli officials would not say on Thursday what action the country's military intends to take, beyond the stated war aim of eliminating Hamas as a threat.
'I can't imagine what they were experiencing': Relative of slain Israeli family describes attacks
Featured VideoAmit Bek, an Israeli whose relatives were killed by Hamas at Kibbutz Nir Oz, shares survivors' stories, describing the attackers as organized and methodical in their attacks on civilian homes.
"The military operation will continue until the threat is eliminated," one senior official told Canadian journalists.
One journalist asked how Israel will know whether the threat has been eliminated. "We'll know when we know," the official replied.
The officials also defended the full blockade of Gaza and the growing humanitarian crisis there by stating that Israel is at war and "anything coming out of Gaza is a severe, lethal threat."
'What's the endgame?'
Thompson said dismantling Hamas is the obvious response. Beyond that, he added, there are too many unanswered questions.
"What's the endgame? I don't see any good options for Israel," he said. "If they eliminate Hamas, who replaces it? That's a different question.
"I'm hoping that there are some people with big brains inside of Israel that are thinking about what the endgame actually is right now."
Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for the IDF, told CBC's Power & Politics on Thursday that destroying Hamas is the goal and that "all other things are secondary."
Thompson said he wonders what that means for roughly 150 men, women and children who were taken hostage and spirited into Gaza on the weekend, as well as the hundreds of foreign nationals trying to get out of the territory.
"My question … to the Israeli government is, are they willing to sacrifice those hostages in order to get to this war aim?" he said. "Because it's almost an impossible operation, to launch a hostage rescue against a whole bunch of individual targets that are spread across the Gaza Strip in one of the most densely populated parts of the world."
It's clear, Thompson added, that the goal of Hamas and its Iranian backers is to derail the efforts of the wider Arab world to normalize relations with Israel.
On Thursday, the Israeli officials said they're counting on Saudi Arabia, a country with which Jerusalem has held closed-door negotiations, to "use its influence" in the region.
Cooperation between the Saudis and Israelis in areas like security and intelligence has long been an open secret. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview in September that "every day we get closer" to a normalization deal.
But a major obstacle was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the prince added.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called bin Salman on Wednesday. The two leaders discussed supporting the Palestinian cause.
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