Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Hamas Attacks Israel: War Breaks Out

Rockets Fired From the Gaza Strip in August 2022

In the early hours of Saturday, October 7, air raid sirens awakened the Israeli population as many observed the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret. These sirens, not an unusual occurrence in the region, denoted the beginning of the most lethal attack on Israel since 1973 when Egypt attacked Israel on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. 

The brutal, multi-faceted assault on Israel was launched by Hamas, the terrorist group in control of the Gaza Strip, nearly 50 years after Egypt’s attack. Rockets were fired as far north as the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and were accompanied by unprecedented infiltrations by Hamas militants into Israeli territory. Some infiltrators were seen paragliding into a nearby music festival for peace. These militants have massacred large numbers of civilians, taken hostages back into Gaza, and taken control of Israeli police stations and military bases. Among those taken hostage were young children and elderly women. 

In the hours following the surprise attack, horrifying footage spread through social media. These videos included the parading of a naked young woman’s dead body by Hamas fighters, the taking of Israeli hostages, and the ruins of buildings in Israel and Gaza.

On Sunday, Israel’s cabinet formally declared war. Retaliatory airstrikes on strategic targets in Gaza alongside an immediate deployment of forces to battle Hamas fighters in Southern Israel marked the beginnings of Israel’s response. In a statement released early Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “exact an immense price from the enemy.” Israel also called up large numbers of reservists, preparing for a long war, possibly with numerous adversaries. 

Fear that other Arab actors in the Middle East will attack Israel is widespread throughout the international community. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran greenlit Hamas’s attack during a meeting on the previous Monday. In addition, Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based and Iranian-backed terrorist group, launched limited rockets into northern Israel, prompting the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to move troops to its northern border.

As of Tuesday morning, the estimated death toll for the conflict is as follows: over 900 people dead in Israel, 765 dead in Gaza. Additionally, Hamas is estimated to have over 100 Israeli hostages.

Saturday marked the most Jewish deaths in a single day since the end of the Holocaust.

The American response was both swift and generally supportive. President of the United States Joe Biden released a statement early on Saturday, condemning the attacks and declaring that his “Administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering.” Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., asserted the United States’s support for “Israel in its unwavering right to defend itself.” Furthermore, House Speaker Pro-Tempore Patrick McHenry referred to the attacks by Hamas as “vicious” and an “act of war.” Void of a permanent speaker, it remains unclear how effectively the House of Representatives will be able to act in defense of Israel.

The United States moved the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, one of the world’s largest aircraft carriers, to the eastern Mediterranean. This action is likely an attempt to deter any further Iranian involvement in the war.

At Vanderbilt, the actively unfolding conflict was quick to receive responses from multiple campus organizations and university leadership. Vanderbilt Hillel referred to the attacks as “deplorable” and reinforced its solidarity with Israel. Similarly, Chabad at Vanderbilt expressed devastation and stated “our hearts, our prayers, our intentions, our hugs have been with you and our brothers and sisters in Israel the past 48 hours.”

In contrast, Vanderbilt Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) released no official statement. But, the SJP official instagram account has continuously reposted articles from the Institute of Middle East Understanding. One of these articles blamed the Hamas terror attacks on “Israel’s decades-long military occupation.”

Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier conveyed heartbreak “at the reports of violence in [Israel and Gaza],” in a statement to the Vanderbilt Community on Saturday. Diermeier avoided any condemnation, or recognition, of Hamas’s attacks on civilians.

Vanderbilt Assistant Professor of Political Science and Middle East expert Erin York provided her insight on the events. In reference to the uniqueness of the current war, Professor York noted the unusually high number of Israeli casualties in comparison to past Hamas-Israel clashes. York stated that these high casualty numbers will “likely substantially change…the policy response relative to those prior clashes.” Additionally, York noted “the degree to which [the attacks] caught Israeli intelligence off guard,” as another distinguishing factor.

Professor York expressed her belief that it was “unlikely there will be direct involvement from other Arab states,” on the basis of past Israel-Gaza conflicts. Nevertheless, all involved parties are preparing for a long, grueling war with lasting ramifications for both regional and global politics.

Image credit: Mohammed Ibrahim, by Unsplash

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About the Contributor
Elliot Shani, Contributor