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The security implications of the Hamas attack and Israel's declaration of war

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to Natan Sachs, who is director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, with the most pressing question, how could these attacks have occurred?

NATAN SACHS: It's an excellent question and one which will be asked a lot in Israel in the next coming months and many years to come. It's unclear. This was a dramatic tactical surprise, a huge success by Hamas. It caught the Israeli Defense Forces off guard, Israeli leadership off guard. Tactically, they managed to swarm through the border in ways that really no one imagined. But also in a broader sense, Israel thought the Gaza Strip was not the danger zone at the moment. It was focusing on the West Bank. And clearly, that was wrong. In many ways, this is a true doomsday scenario for Israeli intelligence. And many in Israel, although it's very early, are talking about this as a second 1973, when Israel was surprised. Of course, then the stakes were much, much higher and bigger with Egypt and Syria attacking.

SIMON: Well, we certainly recognize that there are human repercussions, which we're seeing really with each and every minute. But I wonder what kind of shockwaves this sends through the Israeli security and military establishment and what they begin to do.

SACHS: Well, I'll say, you know, this looks like, of course, a very dramatic case, but it might seem like one more round between Israel and Hamas. I think this may not be. Israel is very different than it was just 12 hours ago. And I think the demand in the Israeli public, the shock and the Israeli public will give both cover, but also demand for very robust action. And so the Israeli leadership and the Israeli military face a very difficult conundrum. First, they have to get Hamas terrorists out of the Israeli towns and villages in the south. There are still at least two cases of hostage situations, hold offs. But then they will have to figure out what to do with the operation. I would be surprised if there is not a ground operation in Gaza. What extent it has and what they do about the hostages - the Israeli hostages - inside the Gaza Strip, those will be very difficult conundrums for them going forward.

SIMON: What about airstrikes in Gaza?

SACHS: We've already seen them, and they will continue, of course. The question is the targets. Now, the Israeli intelligence was surprised here - tactical intelligence, but also broader intelligence. And so the question is, how good is their intelligence right now in terms of targets in the Gaza Strip? The air power is there, and it will be used. It will certainly be used tactically if the ground forces go in. But in terms of what in Israel is known as the bank of targets, the strategic targets, especially the leadership, since Hamas initiated this attack, they almost certainly went into shelter before this happened. And so it might be hard to get them.

Still, I'd say Hamas had a huge success in the first hours of this operation and still ongoing. But it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. The Israel determination of Israeli society writ large and this government to go after this leadership of Hamas, I think, will be unlike in the past. They'll be hunted. And I think they might be hunted for many years to come. Their success may have been, in fact, too great for their goals.

SIMON: How destabilizing might this be for the broader region, trying to work out some kind of way to live with each other?

SACHS: We always see the Israeli-Palestinian issue coming in the way of attempts to do that. I'd caution that this does not automatically destabilize everything. There are many governments in the immediate vicinity, including the Egyptian, certainly the Jordanians, with no love lost towards Hamas. So that does not affect them directly, although they will have difficult PR and public issues to deal with themselves.

The big question to my mind is actually what happens in the north with Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the past, in 2006, we saw Hezbollah joining the fray just as there was fighting in Gaza. And Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has been testing the grounds and pushing the envelope in the north in recent months. If he decides to go for it, if he decides to start firing rockets from Lebanon, I think the repercussions would be horrendous. I truly would not want to be a Gazan right now, and I would not want to be a Lebanese if Hassan Nasrallah decides to do that.

SIMON: Because the Israeli response will be that fierce.

SACHS: It will be extremely fierce. It would - it was in the past. Obviously, it was always terrible to be a Gazan in the context of conflict. But this time, a Rubicon has been crossed. Something dramatic has happened in Israel. Israelis were very, very attuned on social media, on WhatsApp messaging, but also in the news, to the voices of people in villages and towns fearing for their lives as they heard Hamas operatives just outside their doors. And the scenes of what the Hamas operatives did in those villages will come out soon, and I suspect they will be dramatic and shocking.

SIMON: Natan Sachs of the Brookings Institution. Thanks so much.

SACHS: Thank you. It's been my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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