A careful campaign of deception ensured Israel was caught off guard when the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas launched its devastating attack, enabling a force using bulldozers, hang gliders and motorbikes to take on the Middle East’s most powerful army.
Saturday’s assault, the worst breach in Israel’s defences since Arab armies waged war in 1973, followed two years of subterfuge by Hamas that involved keeping its military plans under wraps and convincing Israel it did not want a fight.
While Israel was led to believe it was containing a war-weary Hamas by providing economic incentives to Gazan workers, the group’s fighters were being trained and drilled, often in plain sight, a source close to Hamas said.
This source provided many of the details for the account of the attack and its buildup that has been pieced together by Reuters. Three sources within Israel’s security establishment, who like others asked not to be identified, also contributed to this account.
“Hamas gave Israel the impression that it was not ready for a fight,” said the source close to Hamas, describing plans for the most startling assault since the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago when Egypt and Syria surprised Israel and made it fight for its survival.
“Hamas used an unprecedented intelligence tactic to mislead Israel over the last months, by giving a public impression that it was not willing to go into a fight or confrontation with Israel while preparing for this massive operation,” the source said.
Israel concedes it was caught off guard by an attack timed to coincide with the Jewish Sabbath and a religious holiday. Hamas fighters stormed into Israeli towns, killing 700 Israelis and abducting dozens. Israel has killed more than 400 Palestinians in its retaliation on Gaza since then.
“This is our 9/11,” said Major Nir Dinar, spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Forces. “They got us.”
“They surprised us and they came fast from many spots – both from the air and the ground and the sea.”
Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, told Reuters the attack showed Palestinians had the will to achieve their goals “regardless of Israel’s military power and capabilities.”
‘They ran riot’
In one of the most striking elements of their preparations, Hamas constructed a mock Israeli settlement in Gaza where they practiced a military landing and trained to storm it, the source close to Hamas said, adding they even made videos of the manoeuvres.
“Israel surely saw them but they were convinced that Hamas wasn’t keen on getting into a confrontation,” the source said.
Meanwhile, Hamas sought to convince Israel it cared more about ensuring that workers in Gaza, a narrow strip of land with more than two million residents, had access to jobs across the border and had no interest in starting a new war.
“Hamas was able to build a whole image that it was not ready for a military adventure against Israel,” the source said.
Since a 2021 war with Hamas, Israel has sought to provide a basic level of economic stability in Gaza by offering incentives including thousands of permits so Gazans can work in Israel or the West Bank, where salaries in construction, agriculture or service jobs can be 10 times the level of pay in Gaza.
“We believed that the fact that they were coming in to work and bringing money into Gaza would create a certain level of calm. We were wrong,” another Israeli army spokesperson said.
An Israeli security source acknowledged Israel’s security services were duped by Hamas. “They caused us to think they wanted money,” the source said. “And all the time they were involved in exercises/drills until they ran riot.”
As part of its subterfuge in the past two years, Hamas refrained from military operations against Israel, even as another Gaza-based Islamist armed group known as Islamic Jihad launched a series of its own assaults or rocket attacks.
The restraint shown by Hamas drew public criticism from some supporters, again aimed at building an impression that Hamas had economic concerns not a new war on its mind, the source said.
In the West Bank, controlled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah group, there were those who mocked Hamas for going quiet. In one Fatah statement published in June 2022, the group accused Hamas leaders of fleeing to Arab capitals to live in “luxurious hotels and villas” leaving their people to poverty in Gaza.
A second Israeli security source said there was a period when Israel believed the movement’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar, was preoccupied with managing Gaza “rather than killing Jews”. At the same time, Israel turned its focus away from Hamas as it pushed for a deal to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia, he added.
Israel has long prided itself on its ability to infiltrate and monitor Islamist groups. As a consequence, the source close to Hamas said, a crucial part of the plan was to avoid leaks.
Many Hamas leaders were unaware of the plans and, while training, the 1,000 fighters deployed in the assault had no inkling of the exact purpose of the exercises, the source added.
Read: Hammering by Hamas
When the day came, the operation was divided into four parts, the Hamas source said, describing the various elements.
The first move was a barrage of 3,000 rockets fired from Gaza that coincided with incursions by fighters who flew hang gliders, or motorised paragliders, over the border, the source said. Israel has previously said 2,500 rockets were fired at first.
Once the fighters on hang-gliders were on the ground, they secured the terrain so an elite commando unit could storm the fortified electronic and cement wall built by Israel to prevent infiltration.
The fighters used explosives to breach the barriers and then sped across on motorbikes. Bulldozers widened the gaps and more fighters entered in four-wheel drives, scenes that witnesses described.
A commando unit attacked the Israeli army’s southern Gaza headquarters and jammed its communications, preventing personnel from calling commanders or each other, the source said.
The final part involved moving hostages to Gaza, mostly achieved early in the attack, the source close to Hamas said.
In one well-publicised hostage taking, fighters abducted party-goers fleeing a rave near the kibbutz of Re’im near Gaza. Social media footage showed dozens of people running through fields and on a road as gunshots were heard.
“How could this party happen this close (to Gaza)?” the Israeli security source said.
The Israeli security source said Israeli troops were below full strength in the south near Gaza because some had been redeployed to the West Bank to protect Israeli settlers following a surge of violence between them and Palestinian militants.
“They (Hamas) exploited that,” the source said.
Dennis Ross, a former Middle East negotiator who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Israel had been distracted by violence in the West Bank, leading to a “thin, under-prepared presence in the south.”
“Hamas probably succeeded beyond their expectation. Now they will have to deal with an Israel determined to decimate them,” he said.
Retired General Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told reporters on Sunday the assault represented “a huge failure of the intelligence system and the military apparatus in the south.”
Amidror, chairman of the National Security Council from April 2011-November 2013 and now senior fellow with the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said some of Israel’s allies had been saying that Hamas had acquired “more responsibility”.
“We stupidly began to believe that it was true,” he said. “So, we made a mistake. We are not going to make this mistake again and we will destroy Hamas, slowly but surely.”
Climate fund hailed, but ‘needs billions rather than millions’
The launch of a climate “loss and damage” fund drew praise and hundreds of millions of dollars in pledges at the UN’s COP28 talks on Thursday but also warnings that much more is needed to help vulnerable nations.
“We have delivered history today,” the UAE’s COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber told delegates who stood and applauded after the decision’s adoption in Dubai.
The announcement was followed immediately by financial pledges, including 225 million euros ($246 million) from the European Union, $100 million from the United Arab Emirates, another $100 million from Germany, $40 million from Britain, $17.5 million from the United States and $10 million from Japan.
After years of dragging their feet on the issue, wealthy nations backed the fund in a landmark agreement at the COP27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last year.
Its launch on the first day of COP28 follows fraught negotiations on the mechanics of the fund, which will be housed at the World Bank on an interim basis.
“This sends a positive signal of momentum to the world,” Jaber said.
He said it was “the first time a decision has been adopted on day one of any COP and the speed in which we have done so is also unique, phenomenal and historic.”
“This is evidence that we can deliver. COP28 can and will deliver,” he added.
Environmental activists hold a banner during a climate strike action in Paris, France, June 23, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
But the money pledged so far fall well short of the $100 billion that developing nations — which have historically been least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions — have said are needed to cover losses from natural disasters.
“The progress we’ve made in establishing a loss and damage fund is hugely significant for climate justice, but an empty fund can’t help our people,” said Madeleine Diouf Sarr, chair of the Group of the 46 Least Developed Countries.
The Alliance of Small Island States — among the most impacted by rising seas and other effects of climate change — said “the work is far from over”.
“We cannot rest until this fund is adequately financed and starts to actually alleviate the burden of vulnerable communities,” it said.
“Success starts when the international community can properly support the victims of this climate crisis, with efficient, direct access to the finance they urgently need,” the group added.
Rachel Cleetus, policy director of the climate and energy programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the financial commitments should be “in the billions, not millions”.
“Millions would be an insult given what’s happening already around the world,” Cleetus told reporters.
“We want to hear the starting point is a conversation about billions and then a plan to scale it up by 2030 so that it meets the needs that are clearly rising,” she said.
The fund will be housed in the World Bank for four years, a decision that developing nations begrudgingly accepted as the Washington-based institution is dominated by Western powers.
Its board members must now be appointed and represent wealthy and developing nations, and their first steps will be critical in building up its credibility.
A European diplomat said the first contributions will enable the financing of pilot projects and to test how the fund works before seeking more money “in a year or a year-and-a-half”.
Developed countries, the US chief among them, insisted that contributions be on a voluntary basis, and want richer emerging powers such as China and Saudi Arabia to open their wallets, too.
US climate envoy John Kerry said the government would work with Congress to provide the $17.5 million pledge and said the US expects the fund to “draw from a wide variety of sources”.
Richard Sherman, the South African co-chair of the committee that oversaw negotiations, acknowledged that “the outcome might not be satisfactory to all people.
“We certainly know that our colleagues in civil society have been shouting at us.”
‘Let us be a lesson’, Kazakhs wary of return to nuclear testing
As Russia warns of the rising risk of nuclear war, and relations with the United States sink into a deep freeze, communities close to the vast Soviet-era nuclear testing site in northern Kazakhstan have a message for leaders: “Let us be a lesson.”
Hundreds of tests were carried out between 1949 and 1989 on the barren steppe near the city of Semey, formerly known as Semipalatinsk, close to the Kazakh-Russian border. The effect of radiation had a devastating impact on the environment and local people’s health, and continues to affect lives there today.
Many nuclear proliferation experts believe resuming testing by either nuclear superpower more than 30 years after the last test is unlikely soon.
But tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to increasingly hostile rhetoric, and the arms control architecture built since the Soviet Union’s collapse more than three decades ago has begun to unravel.
In early November, President Vladimir Putin revoked Russia’s ratification of the 1996 global treaty banning nuclear weapons tests. Moscow says it will not lead to a resumption of testing unless the United States does first.
“Let our suffering be a lesson to others,” said Serikbay Ybyrai, local leader in the village of Saryzhal, who saw tests being carried out some 20 km (12 miles) away when he was a boy. “If this (testing) resumes, humanity will disappear.”
When devices were detonated above ground – until 1963 when tests went underground – authorities would order local people out of homes and schools because of fears that ground tremors might cause buildings to collapse.
“I remember I was about five years old,” said Baglan Gabullin, a resident of Kaynar, another village that lived under the shadow of nuclear testing.
He recalled how adults would instruct him and his friends not to look in the direction of the blast.
“We were small, so on the contrary, out of curiosity we looked. The flash was yellow at first, and then the black mushroom grew,” he said.
Kazakh authorities estimate up to 1.5 million people were exposed to residual radioactive fallout from testing. Over 1 million received certificates confirming their status as victims of tests, making them eligible for an 18,000-tenge ($40) monthly payout.
‘Everyone started dying’
Maira Abenova, an activist from the Semey region who set up a non-governmental organisation protecting the rights of nuclear test victims after losing most family members to diseases she said were related, urged politicians not to allow nuclear escalation.
“As someone living with the consequences of what you could call 40 years of nuclear warfare, I think we can tell the world what we have gone through,” she said.
There is little reliable data on the specific health impact of testing in Kazakhstan.
But scientists say exposure to radioactive material on the ground, inhalation of radioactive particles in the air and ingestion of contaminated food including local livestock contributed to increased cancer risk and cases of congenital malformation.
UN climate talks open in oil-rich UAE, pressure for urgent action
The UN climate conference opened Thursday with nations urged to make faster cuts to planet-warming emissions and phase out fossil fuels as scepticism swirls over the oil-rich United Arab Emirates hosting the talks.
The two-week-long negotiations in a vast exhibition venue in Dubai come at a pivotal moment, with emissions still climbing and the UN saying this year is likely to be the hottest in human history.
World leaders, Britain’s King Charles III and activists and lobbyists are among more than 97,000 people jetting into the flashy Gulf city, which boasts the world’s tallest skyscraper, one of its busiest airports, and an indoor ski slope.
Double the size of last year’s conference, COP28 is billed as the largest-ever climate gathering and the UN and hosts the UAE say they will be the most important since Paris 2015.
There, nations agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial era, and preferably to a safer limit of 1.5C.
But scientists say the world is off-track, and the nearly 200 nations gathering for COP28 must commit to accelerating climate action or risk the worst impacts of a warming planet.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said leaders should aim for a complete “phaseout” of fossil fuels, a proposal opposed by some powerful nations that has dogged past negotiations.
“Obviously, I am strongly in favour of language that includes (a) phaseout, even with a reasonable time framework,” Guterres told AFP before flying to Dubai.
A central focus will be a stocktake of the world’s limited progress on curbing global warming, which requires an official response at these talks.
Hosts under fire
On Thursday, nations are expected to formally approve the launch of a “loss and damage” fund to compensate climate-vulnerable countries after a year of hard-fought negotiations over how it would work.
But it remains to be filled, with rich nations urged to make contributions so the money can start flowing.
The UAE sees itself as a bridge between the rich developed nations most responsible for historic emissions and the rest of the world, which has contributed less to global warming but suffers its worst consequences.
But the decision for it to host has attracted a firestorm of criticism, particularly as the man appointed to steer the talks, Sultan Al Jaber, is also head of UAE state oil giant ADNOC.
Jaber, who also chairs a clean energy company, has defended his record, and strenuously denied this week that he used the COP presidency to pursue new fossil fuel deals, allegations first reported by the BBC.
Christiana Figueres, who was UN climate chief when the Paris deal was reached, questioned the role of fossil fuel companies at COP and said she was “giving up hope” they could be part of the solution to warming.
Guterres said Jaber was in a better position to tell the oil industry that a fossil fuel phaseout was necessary than “if he was the member of an NGO with a very solid pro-climate record.”
“A very clear signal that the era of fossil fuels needs to end very rapidly is our litmus test for COP28,” said Romain Ioualalen, global policy campaign manager at Oil Change International.
Rule by consensus
Rallying a common position on the matter will be difficult at COP where all nations — whether dependent on oil, sinking beneath rising seas or locked in geopolitical rivalry — must take decisions unanimously.
The UAE hopes to marshal an agreement on the tripling of renewable energy and doubling the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.
Nations will navigate a range of thorny issues between November 30 and December 12, and experts say geopolitical tensions and building trust could be a huge challenge.
At the opening of the conference, delegates were asked to pause for a minute’s silence for civilians killed in the Gaza conflict.
On the sidelines of COP, Israeli President Isaac Herzog will hold talks with diplomats on the release of hostages held by Hamas, his office said. He is also scheduled to speak on Friday within minutes of Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority.
Neither US President Joe Biden nor Chinese President Xi Jinping are attending, though Washington is sending Vice President Kamala Harris.
But the US and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, did make a rare joint announcement on the climate this month that spurred optimism going into COP.
Imran urges CJP Isa’s attention towards PTI’s ‘victimization’
PCB reveals schedule of National T20 Super 8
Long wait for freedom: Afghan refugees in limbo
Pakistan team finally issued visas for World Cup in India
Regional players to meet in Russia on Afghanistan
Attack plots the norm since Danish cartoon crisis: experts
Business4 weeks ago
With larger fall, rupee near 1-month low
Sports3 weeks ago
Thrilling MotoGP title duel goes to Malaysia
Technology4 weeks ago
TikTok CEO to meet top EU chiefs amid disinformation worries
World4 weeks ago
Woman shouting ‘You’re all going to die’ shot by police in France
World3 weeks ago
Israel intensifies brutal Gaza strikes despite ceasefire calls
World3 weeks ago
Saudi Arabia to host extraordinary joint Islamic-Arab summit
World2 weeks ago
Israel warning to Lebanon sharpens amidst cross-border enmity
Pakistan4 weeks ago
Taliban minister threatens Pakistan of ‘consequences’