Israel spent the past couple of years in a martial daze in which it did not take full measure of Hamas’s ideas and purposes and intentions and capabilities. That will be the subject of the post-war examination inside Israel of what happened this weekend. That examination is likely to create an entirely new political reality—and may wash away two generations of highly flawed leaders. The years during which those leaders argued to stalemate about almost everything will likely be viewed as the slow-acting poison that made possible the horrors of October 7, 2023—the single day on which more Jews died and were wounded than any other since the Nazi death camps eight decades ago.

Still, people who always want to lay some blame on Israel for the threats against it are leaning rather heavily on the talking point that this is an “intelligence failure”—as though Israel somehow summoned this evil upon itself and therefore what we should talk about is what Israel did wrong. That’s like if the law blamed someone for a massacre committed against their family in their house because of a faulty lock. The victim of the massacre will spend the rest of his life tearing himself apart for not having dealt with the lock, and will suffer greatly as a result. But he is not guilty of the crime. The murderer is the criminal, and we can never forget that.

The task for Israel now is to destroy Hamas. This is not just like how it’s a police department’s job to find the perpetrator of the massacre. This is something much larger and far more fundamental. There can be no lesser a response than the destruction of Hamas by the Jewish state—because this was one of the bloodiest pogroms in human history. Hamas infiltrators took Jews and slaughtered Jews en masse. As I write the death toll from a single morning‘s activities is well above 700, with thousands more injured. There is no difference here, even numerically, from the horrifyingly countless stories of the Nazi forces moving into a town in Poland, rounding up the Jews, making them dig a trench, and then murdering them with gunfire in the trench.

Saving Jews from pogroms is the secular purpose of a Jewish state. The pogroms in Russia and elsewhere are what fueled the mass Jewish migration to Israel known as the “Second Aliyah” at the beginning of the 20th century. Jews have ingathered in Israel for the past 140 years not to make themselves a convenient target for anti-Semitic monsters but to gather strength and force and arms and tactics and skills and the absolute self-assurance necessary to kill anyone who comes for the Jews.

So Hamas must be destroyed. Period. The problem is that destroying Hamas may require the country to do something it does not want to do, which is reoccupy the Gaza Strip. In 2005, Ariel Sharon ingeniously decided to cut one of the Gordian knots of Israel-Palestine deadlock simply by saying, “Hey, you want us out? We’re out. Byeeee.” Sharon’s solution only worked in the medium term because of the development of the astonishing Iron Dome system that prevented Hamas rockets fired from Gaza from inflicting mass damage on Israel. Israel did have to go into Gaza in force in 2014 to seal up the tunnels Hamas had dug to kidnap people and wreak havoc in a major military operation, but that operation ended and Israel left.

Israelis have felt so safe from Hamas’s rockets that in the past year, every single Saturday night, tens to hundreds of thousands of them have gathered in the same places to stage political protests in Tel Aviv with a complete feeling of assurance that their collective presence would not be disrupted by a murderous barrage from Gaza, a mere 40 miles to their south. Miracles—and we can count Iron Dome as a miracle of a kind—are glorious things worthy of our awe and celebration. But human beings cannot rely on miracles to save them, and Iron Dome could not stop thousands of Hamas terrorists once their organization figured out a way to invade in a way that used their rockets mostly as decoys, not as first-strike weapons.

Hamas is better than Israel thought it was. It’s smarter, it’s more resourceful, and for all we know, it’s gotten so sophisticated it figured out how to supply Israeli intelligence with a lot of false information to keep Israel blissfully unaware of what it was going to attempt.

There is much more to be said about who actually planned this—was it Hamas or Iran—and what happens next. Does Hamas have follow-through plans? Will Iran trigger its vassal Hezbollah just beyond Israel’s northern border to fire off its hundreds of thousands of buried rockets and initiate a two-stage war? How Israel judges the current danger and acts on it is going to determine the country’s future for the next 20 years.

When Israel was caught by surprise 50 years ago upon the launching of the Yom Kippur war, the country’s political system was finally and irrevocably blown up and three decades of sclerotic and unimaginative single-party rule came to an end. That was a relatively easy call; the Right had never had power, the Left screwed up, and in due time the Right was handed the reins. Now the Israeli political system is much more complicated and the divisions nowhere near as clear or stark. But many of the fights that have consumed Israelis are going to seem petty after this, as Israel struggles to reestablish its deterrence against its terrorist foes and their state sponsors. And presumably new heroes will arise who may take up the banner and lead the Jewish state forward out of its domestic slough of despond.

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