Israel vs Hamas: Why Did Hamas Launch a Surprise Attack?


Contributor: Seiji Kawada

Born in 1967 in Gifu, Japan. After graduating from the National Defense Academy of Japan, Kawada served as a pilot in the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). Today, Kawada teaches national security studies and international politics at Happy Science University (HSU) Faculty of Future Creation.

(Editor’s note: The original piece in Japanese was split up into two articles, part 1 and 2, which is combined in this English translation.)


Key points of this article:

  • Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel was well-prepared
  • Fears over mass casualties in the Gaza Strip
  • Examining Hamas’ motive for the surprise attack
  • Israel will use Azerbaijan as a base if they were to attack Iranian nuclear sites
  • Saudi Arabia’s ambition to possess nuclear weapons and the danger of spreading nuclear weapons
  • Steps to take toward a bright future for Israel and Palestine

It was early morning on October 7 when Hamas, an armed group in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, declared Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and announced that they had fired more than 5,000 rockets toward Israel. The Yom Kippur War also known as the Fourth Arab-Israeli War broke out 50 years ago on October 6, 1973. Hamas most likely had this date in mind in launching the surprise attack.

Israel announced that more than 2,200 rockets were fired towards them; this number differs from the declaration made by Hamas, but it is no doubt that this was a large-scale surprise attack as thousands of rockets were fired at Israeli bases, airports, and Israeli military facilities in the span of 20 minutes.

Hamas also destroyed the Gaza-Israel border fence and separation wall which allowed numerous ground troops to enter Israeli towns and military bases; more than 1,000 Israelis were killed or wounded within a few hours. Shocking videos were posted on social media sites like X – videos and images of Hamas occupying several Israeli towns and bases, bombing an Israeli Merkava IV Tank, or dragging Israeli soldiers out of a tank.


Hamas’ Surprise Attack on Israel was Well-Prepared

The two sides have clashed repeatedly over a long time, but this attack was the largest in recent years and it was the first time there was a ground invasion. It was an unprecedented surprise attack.

Furthermore, Hamas adopted new tactics this time that made it unusual; Hamas invaded from land, sea and air, by using one- or two-seater paragliders in order to enter Israel from the air and conducting landing operations on the Israeli coastline. This attack was clearly well-prepared, including its planning, equipping and training, and some reports claim that Hamas spent two years preparing for this attack.

The Gaza-Israel separation barrier and fence are as high as eight meters (26 feet), and the walls have been upgraded over the years. The walls have been equipped with hundreds of surveillance cameras and thermal sensors, and watchtowers became equipped with remote-controlled machine guns.

In addition, Israel has poured great money into building a concrete wall tens of meters beneath the ground in order to stop any attempts by Hamas from digging a tunnel and penetrating the Gaza-Israel border from underground. In case there were any attempts to penetrate the underground wall, Israeli authorities had installed modern systems and sensors such as seismic sensors capable of detecting any digging to immediately put an end to those attempts.

Israeli authorities were overwhelmingly confident in its surveillance and security of the separation barrier, and their confidence in border security is thought to be one of the factors that allowed this time’s surprise attack by Hamas.


Turmoil Continues

The Israeli military allowed the Hamas’ surprise attack to take place, and before the Israeli military could rush to the scene, many Israeli civilians were killed wounded or taken hostage.

This marked the fifth large military clash between Israel and Gaza since 2008, but excluding 71 Israeli deaths during the 2014 clash, the number of Israeli deaths were limited to around 10 deaths each time. This time, however, the number of deaths already exceeded 1,300 as of October 13 (at the time of the original article). The scale is much, much larger this time. As many as 150 Israelis were taken as hostages by Hamas (as of Oct. 13).

Also, Hamas has been continuing its rocket attacks since the following day, October 8, and it appears to be firing between 200 to 400 rockets on a daily basis.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declared a “state of war alert,” mobilized soldiers and called up 300,000 army reservists. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu committed to a military operation, stating, “Citizens of Israel, we are at war. Not an operation, not a round [of fighting,] at war!” and vowed to take “mighty vengeance” against Hamas.


A Fear of Mass Casualties in the Gaza Strip

On October 13, Israeli forces deployed ground troops into the Gaza Strip for the first time since 2021. The objective of the ground assault appears to be to attack Hamas’ rocket forces and obtain information on Israeli hostages. A full-scale invasion is expected going forward. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said they will wipe out Hamas and a serious clean-up operation by Israeli forces is expected to take place.

Hamas has established a stronghold in the Gaza Strip by establishing bases among ordinary homes and digging a network of tunnels 30 to 40 meters deep underground so Israeli forces need to send in ground troops to eliminate Hamas.

The problem is, Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with more than 2.3 million people living in a narrow strip that is about 50 kilometers (approx. 30 miles) long and between five to eight kilometers (approx. three to five miles) wide. Approximately 45% of the population are children under 14 years old, and 70% of the population are refugees. No matter how much Israeli forces want to avoid civilians, there will be mass civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military notified the United Nations prior to the ground invasion that 1.1 million Palestinians living north of Wadi Gaza should evacuate south, but Hamas will not accept the evacuation and instead seems to plan on using civilians as shields. On October 13, the Israeli military again informed residents of northern Gaza to use evacuation routes to move to southern Gaza between the hours of 10am and 4pm local time.

Human Rights Watch, an international human rights non-governmental organization, made the following statement on X: “Ordering a million people in Gaza to evacuate, when there’s no safe place to go, is not an effective warning. The roads are rubble, fuel is scarce, and the main hospital is in the evacuation zone… World leaders should speak up now before it’s too late.”

As I’m writing this article on October 14, a full-scale invasion by the Israeli military has not yet begun, but I’m suspecting it will begin within the next few days. It will cause significant harm to the Palestinian people. I am deeply saddened, and I feel helpless, that so many victims are coming out of both Palestine and Israel over this time’s conflict.

*The NY Times reported that the invasion was planned for the weekend but was postponed for several days due to bad weather.


Examining Hamas’ Motives for the Attack

1. Israel’s Hardline Stance Against Palestine

Hamas holds great anger toward Israel for its increasingly hardline stance against Palestine.

In particular, the current Netanyahu administration is considered the most right-wing in Israel’s history and the Israeli government has been cracking down on Palestinians by conducting a series of raids against Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank. The Palestinian death toll due to this time’s military clash became the largest since the 2000s.


2. Preventing the Restoration of Israeli-Saudi Diplomatic Relations

Hamas delivered a message that Palestinians could not be ignored if Israel wanted security and that any Saudi deal would break the détente with Iran.

“All the agreements of normalization that you (Arab states) signed with (Israel) will not end this conflict,” Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, said.

The Palestinians have come to feel threatened by the fact that Arab states, which had previously supported Palestine and had hostile relations with Israel, are now starting to restore diplomatic relations with Israel.

In 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel signed the Abraham Accords and established diplomatic relations, which was followed by Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco to restore ties with Israel.

Recently, a senior Saudi official made a formal visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and hinted that the restoration of diplomatic ties was on its way. An Israeli-Saudi rapprochement was at its final countdown stage. Saudi Arabia is a central player in the Middle East and a self-identified leader of the Arab states. Therefore, Palestine could not allow the Saudis to join hands with Israel.

On top of that, what angered the Palestinians were the conditions for restoring Israeli-Saudi diplomatic ties. The Saudis demanded several conditions for restoring diplomatic relations, one of which was the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

However, the agreement reached among Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States was unacceptable to the Palestinians. It would leave Israeli-controlled Jewish settlements, which account for more than 60% of the West Bank, in their current state.

*As of October 14, a source told AFP that Saudi Arabia has suspended talks on potentially normalizing ties with Israel amid the escalating military clash between Israel and Hamas.


3. Iran’s Ulterior Motive

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held telephone conversations with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, praising the Hamas attack as “courageous” and that the Hamas operation raises the dignity of Islamic states. Furthermore, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) stated that he supports the Hamas military operation, but Iran has denied direct involvement in the Hamas surprise attack. The U.S. is also cautious about admitting Iran as the mastermind behind the Hamas operation.

Meanwhile, on October 8, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that according to senior members of Hamas and Hezbollah, Iranian officials helped plan Hamas’ surprise attack from the preparatory stages and gave the final go-ahead.

According to the WSJ, officers of Iran’s IRGC had been meeting with representatives of four Iran-backed militant groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, at least biweekly in Beirut, Lebanon, since August to work out details of the air, land and sea incursions against Israel.

Israel has stated that they will attack leaders of the Iranian regime if Iran’s involvement in the Hamas attack becomes apparent. There’s a risk going forward that the Israel-Hamas war will escalate into a large-scale conflict involving Iran.

Among Saudi Arabia’s conditions for normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel is that the U.S. sign a formal agreement guaranteeing Saudi security. There’s no doubt Iran felt threatened by the thought of restored Israeli-Saudi relations since U.S. influence will be restored in the Middle East and Iran would be further isolated.


Israel Will Use Azerbaijan Base If They Were to Attack Iranian Nuclear Sites

In addition, Azerbaijan, which shares a border with northern Iran, won a war against Armenia last month, securing its possession of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Turkey was a strong supporter of Azerbaijan, and given that Iran has hostile relations with both Azerbaijan and Turkey, Iran is increasingly cautious of its northern border.

Israel was also a quiet player in this war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Israel imports oil from Azerbaijan; and for Azerbaijan, Israel is its largest supplier of military weapons, with more than 60% of Azerbaijani weapons coming from Israel. Israeli-made drones gave Azerbaijan a huge advantage over the Armenians in the latest war, and the two countries have close economic and military ties.

Already in 2012, Azerbaijan granted Israel access to air bases in Azerbaijan near Iran’s northern border, and it’s been pointed out that Israel could use these bases to attack nuclear facilities in Iran.

At the same time, Azerbaijan fears worsening relations with Iran. They have outwardly claimed that their military facilities are not intended for use against Iran, but still, there is no guarantee that their words will be kept.

Following Azerbaijan’s recent victory, there are plans to establish the Zangezur corridor, which would allow free passage between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia has expressed reluctance to open the corridor, and thus, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Azerbaijan may soon invade Armenia within the next few weeks and take control of the corridor by force.

If Azerbaijan invades Armenia, Iran may send troops in order to prevent Azerbaijan from expanding its influence; meanwhile, Armenia is strengthening relations with the U.S. and France, so I sense that a war involving major powers may break out here as well.


Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Ambition and the Danger of Nuclear Proliferation

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia demanded that the U.S. allow them to build a nuclear power plant and to mine recently discovered uranium deposits in Saudi Arabia to allow uranium enrichment on Saudi soil as a condition for the restoration of diplomatic relations.

The Saudis claim that this is for peaceful intentions. However, Saudi Arabia has only agreed to limited treaties regarding its obligation to submit to on-site inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding their production of nuclear weapons, and they are also reluctant to submit to rigorous audits.

Iran restored diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, but still, their relation is not anchored with deep trust with the Saudis. It’d be Iran’s nightmare if the Saudis were to possess nuclear weapons in the near future along with Israel – Iran must avoid this at all costs.

If Saudi Arabia possesses nuclear weapons, Iran will surely do the same, and vice versa. Once this happens, it’s almost certain that the regional powers of Turkey and Egypt will move forward in acquiring nuclear weapons.

An American think tank called the Atlantic Council surveyed experts around the world asking, “Which of the following countries will have nuclear weapons within the next ten years?” Iran was ranked first with 68%, followed by Saudi Arabia with 32%.

A future where Middle Eastern countries would confront each other with nuclear weapons is extremely dangerous given deepening tensions in the Middle East.


Toward a Bright Future for Israel and Palestine

(1) Why Palestinians Hold Hatred for Israel

The Western support for the Zionist movement and the establishment of Israel in Palestine marked the beginning of the suffering in the Middle East.

In 1948, the State of Israel was created and the first Arab-Israeli War broke out, 700,000 Palestinians became refugees and they were forced to flee to the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

For more than 70 years since then, many Palestinian refugees who have been unable to return to their homeland have been pressed into the Gaza Strip among other areas. In the Gaza Strip, 2.2 million people, or 70% of the population, are refugees, and more than 500,000 are said to be living in refugee camps.

Gaza and the West Bank are enclosed by a separation barrier, and Palestinians living in Gaza cannot go to work or school without passing through checkpoints on the Israeli side. This is why Gaza is called an “open-air prison.”

Masaki Takahashi wrote a book called “My Village Was Surrounded by Walls: Children Living in Palestine” (English translation not available) which features voices of many children he interviewed in the region. One of the children he interviewed, Allah Alfara, said, “I want to think that people all over the world know about Gaza. How horrible it is here, how much we are suffering.”

In the West Bank, the separation barrier extends more than 700 kilometers long, and the Israeli-occupied areas have not been returned to the Palestinians; rather, Jewish settlement is continuing, and this past June, Israeli authorities approved plants to build over 5,700 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.


(2) Why Did Israel Build a Wall? Why Do Israeli Citizens Support Attacks on Palestinians?

One of the driving forces behind the attacks against Gaza is the fear held by Israeli citizens. Israeli citizens have a strong fear of Palestinian “terror” that occurs time and time again. Behind this fear is a history of persecution and destruction that the Jewish people have borne since ancient times, as well as the Nazi’s Holocaust, which engraved a sense of extreme fear in the minds of the Jewish people.

The Jewish people in Israel see Palestinians as dangerous perpetrators.

But even if they are in favor of attacking Gaza, their true feelings must lie in the fact that they don’t know how to bring about peace. On the other hand, many Israeli citizens are said to be indifferent to the harsh reality in Palestine.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been discussed for a long time, but little progress has been made. The mainstream opinion is that a two-state solution in which both sides recognize each other as a country is desirable, but the reality is that both sides are at a stalemate. Furthermore, recent large-scale attacks have peaked the anger and hatred held by both sides. A two-state solution in the near future will be close to impossible.


(3) The Teachings of Islam

Now, if a Palestinian state was to be created, it’s not certain whether this would really be desirable for the people living there. Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas are in favor of armed conflicts and their goal is to build an Islamic state through war.

This jihadist ideology is deeply woven into the establishment of Islam, but utopia cannot be realized through terrorism or by attacking enemies.

The reality of an Islamic state is also colored by totalitarian tendencies that are far from democratic, such as a lack of human rights for women and the armed suppression of civilian criticism and protests against Islamic state leaders.

Therefore, it’s not totally desirable that a Palestinian state be established by force and that a fundamentalist, regressive Islamic state be born.

On the other hand, the Israeli side has problems as well.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu enforced the Israeli Basic Law in 2018 which disregards Arabs, who make up 20% of Israeli citizens, and stipulates, among other things, that only the Jewish people have the right to national self-determination. The law fixed Arabs as second-class citizens. It also justifies the oppression of Palestinians as seen in Gaza and the West Bank.

Japan, and any country that values freedom, democracy and human rights, must explicitly criticize such inhumane and ethnically discriminatory policies. The Israeli side should seek absolute peace through mutual understanding and cooperation that overcomes ethnic differences; they should recall that ethnocentrism was the cause of its destruction.

Also, Islamic leaders who are trying to save the Palestinian people from suffering should know that happiness and prosperity cannot be achieved through terrorism. They need to bring back the original Islamic spirit of tolerance. Only then will a future of democratization become reality.

I’m well aware that the road to such peace is extremely difficult. But I believe that the only solution to avoid the final Armageddon is religious reform and leaping for a political philosophy that is based on a love for humanity.

Israel vs Hamas: Why Did Hamas Launch a Surprise Attack?
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