Gaza update: October 9 2023
What's happened since Saturday and a few thoughts on the situation in Gaza.
As said in my previous Gaza update we’ll be back to our normal schedule around here tomorrow. I think another update on events that have taken place over the past couple of days is warranted, if only to keep tomorrow’s roundup from being entirely focused on Gaza. As before I’m going to start with a “what’s happening” section for everyone and a offer some thoughts of my own for paid subscribers only. Also as before I would preface everything below with the caveat that this situations is still unfolding very quickly and I’m not pretending to have any answers or even a full picture of what’s happening or what it might mean.
Two days after fighters from Hamas and other Gazan militant groups (I’m going with “Hamas” as shorthand but that includes Islamic Jihad as well as a number of smaller factions) launched a shocking attack on more than 20 military facilities and communities beyond Gaza’s security barrier, the Israeli military has been engaged in a sustained bombardment of the enclave and on Sunday declared a “complete siege.” Within that siege, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant promised that the people living in Gaza would have “no electricity, no food, no water, no gas.” We’ll be returning to Gallant’s remarks a bit later, but for now it should suffice to note that this is not much different from the day to day reality for Gazans prior to Saturday.
The airstrikes are not part of the day to day reality for Gazans, though of course this is not the first time Gaza has been subject to airstrikes. However, by at least some accounts I’ve seen this assault is more intense and more indiscriminate than anything the Israeli military has heaped upon Gaza before. That’s saying something. At last count the AP put the death toll over the past three days at 1600—some 900 in Israel (some soldiers but mostly civilians) and at least 680 in Gaza. At least 2600 people were wounded in Israel and over 3700 have been wounded in Gaza so far. Citing Israeli authorities, the AP further reported that as of Monday evening Israeli security forces “had largely gained control” of the places that were overrun by Hamas on Saturday. As remarkable as that attack was it’s perhaps just as remarkable that it’s taken this long for the Israelis just to largely—not entirely—excise the militants from their territory. Along with the persistence of the Hamas fighters, there continues to be a steady stream of rocket fire out of the enclave toward targets in Israel proper.
The question of hostages taken back to Gaza continues to loom large over this situation. The latest figures I’ve seen bandied about in this regard are in the 130-150 range, though a small number have reportedly been killed by Israeli airstrikes and Hamas leaders are threatening to start executing captives unless the bombardment is halted. It is highly unlikely that’s going to move the Israelis to change their approach. Nor would I expect talks on a potential prisoner swap, currently being mediated by the Qatari government, to bear much fruit in the near term at least. Hamas officials have also told reporters that they’re prepared to discuss a truce with Israeli leaders, though they must know that’s not going to happen and it’s safe to assume they’ve made the offer so that they can try to blame any violence moving forward on the Israeli government’s refusal to negotiate. Along with the Qataris the Egyptian government is reportedly trying to mediate between Hamas and Israeli officials. I think it’s unlikely they’re going to make much headway.
One other thing to watch is the situation unfolding along the Lebanese-Israeli border. Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters traded artillery barrages on Saturday, which immediately sparked fears of a second front and a wider regional conflict. There was some escalation on Sunday, and at least three Hezbollah fighters were reportedly killed, but there was still no indication that things were spiraling into a full-blown war. A group of Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters also reportedly crossed into Israeli from Lebanon, but Israeli officials say their security forces killed at least two PIJ fighters and thereby foiled whatever they were planning.
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