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We Were Blind

Hamas didn’t descend on us out of the blue: They plotted in plain sight, and we were both too timid and willfully blind to take notice


More than the slaughter of innocents and the IDF bases overrun on Simchas Torah, the snatching of an estimated 239 captives was Hamas’s single greatest achievement on that black day. Both Bibi Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have repeatedly said that the more military pressure exerted on Hamas in the ground operation now underway, the greater Israel’s leverage in the negotiations for the hostages’ release.

Both Bibi and Gallant are aware that this is only partially true and that the imperative of dismantling Hamas means that, inevitably, the captives need to be deprioritized.

Netanyahu himself will be aware that the story of the captives dates back to 2011. It was Bibi who authorized the Shalit deal, which freed 1,000 Palestinian terrorists in exchange for a lone Israeli soldier. Crucially, one of that number was Yahya Sinwar, who now heads Hamas in Gaza. The Shalit deal taught Sinwar that captives is an Israeli weak point, and he spent the subsequent decade determined to take advantage of that sensitivity, by digging attack tunnels to pull off the very scenario that occurred on Simchas Torah.

The Mishnah in Maseches Gittin — widely quoted at the time of the Shalit deal — forbids redeeming captives above their value so as not to whet the appetite of pirates to repeat their crimes against other Jews. Ignoring that elementary dynamic is human — after all, which leader can ignore the plight of a captive’s family when a trade of despicable murderers will bring their son home?

Those who lay the blame solely at Bibi’s door ignore the widespread pressure to bring Shalit home at whatever cost. All the fine talk back then of how much Jews valued human life — instead of confronting the fact that the Shalit deal was a massive incentive to further terror — was part of an almost wall-to-wall consensus across Israeli society that Gaza was a minor problem that could be allowed to fester behind a high-tech wall topped with air defenses.

In the postwar reckoning, many will attempt to lay the blame solely on Bibi. But while he shouldn’t escape blame, let no one forget that Hamas didn’t descend on us out of the blue: They plotted in plain sight, and we were both too timid and willfully blind to take notice.



Few can find Dagestan on a map, yet on Sunday night, the majority-Muslim region in Russia threatened to become another place synonymous with Jewish tragedy. A flight from Israel was surrounded by a mob intent on wreaking vengeance for their Palestinian coreligionists. Authorities eventually succeeded in regaining control over the local airport in Makhachkala, allowing the Israeli passengers to continue on their way to Moscow and other parts of Russia. The incident was a reminder of two facts: First, that any territory controlled by Muslims — including heavily Islamic areas of Western cities — should be regarded as dangerous for Jews for the duration of the war. Questions are being asked about why Israeli authorities allowed the flight to proceed, when there had been warnings of anti-Israel unrest the previous day.

Second, the incident illustrated the unstable future of Russian Jewry under Vladimir Putin. Just days before, Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar was filmed in an audience with the Russian president. His supplicatory tone as he thanked Putin for his protection of the local Jewish community was painfully reminiscent of that adopted by generations of Jewish interlocutors who had to deal with the poritz. It’s a reminder that no matter how gracious the autocrat, in an unfree society, there is always a price to be paid for the mere right to exist.



Why is Elon Musk running the world’s foreign policy? Israel’s ground incursion began with a 24-hour communications blackout, which ramped up the pressure on Hamas by making civilian communication among the territory’s two million inhabitants all but impossible. US pressure eventually forced Israel to turn on the cell phone network, but not before Elon Musk had made his Starlink satellite-based Internet service available for Gaza’s humanitarian organizations.

That led to a furious response from Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, who tweeted that “Hamas will use it for terrorist activities,” and vowed to break ties with Musk’s company. In response, the tycoon said that he would only provide services to groups approved by the US and Israel.

The exchange was more evidence of the billionaire’s disturbing ability to operate an independent foreign policy, enabled by his control of an independent global communications network. That trend first came to light when Russia invaded Ukraine, and it was Starlink that enabled the Ukrainian military to continue operation after Russian airstrikes destroyed the communications network.

But that support came with a price: It was later revealed that Musk intervened to deny Ukraine communications coverage of Crimea in order to thwart attacks on Russian forces there that he feared would trigger World War III.

Whether that assessment was correct or not, the US has itself to blame for Musk’s erratic interventions into foreign affairs, which have been enabled by the hollowing-out of the American government’s technological supremacy.

A generation ago, it would have been the federal government that funded networks such as Starlink — as it did with the GPS satellite system that underlies much of the world’s smartphone location system. But the ceding of this critical infrastructure arena to the private sector — once seen as a boon to the US taxpayer — has been revealed as another sign of US decay.

Again and again, decisions that dictate America’s foreign policy options are made not in the White House or Pentagon, but by a mercurial billionaire.



Like Megillas Eichah, which we don’t end on a sad note, I’d like to conclude this column with the silver lining that emerged in the military analysis of the attack on Simchas Torah. A widely seen picture in the aftermath of the slaughter in the Gaza area kibbutzim showed a religious soldier crying over the sight of a family’s Shabbos table. That soldier was Yair Ansbacher, a special forces reservist, who fought in the desperate battles to contain Hamas’s commandos. In a subsequent video, Ansbacher laid out what he thinks was Hamas’s full plan, which involved a simultaneous attack from the north by Hezbollah’s elite Radwan unit. The plan called for the terror groups to conquer large swaths of the country’s north and south that contain the country’s principal air force and army bases, thus cutting off the country’s population centers from immediate reinforcement while the IDF was busy repelling the attacks on its bases. It was the sheer bloodlust of Hamas’s operatives that prevented them from carrying out their full military objectives. Taken together with Hezbollah’s failure to open a second front, Ansbacher says that dispassionate military analysis discloses a miracle that took place on Simchas Torah in those critical opening hours.

The short clip in which Ansbacher sketches out Hamas’s plan is worth watching. Because, yes, we were willfully blind about the approaching danger — and blinded because Hashem didn’t want us to know — but amid all the tragedy, the full enormity of what we were saved from is worth remembering, too.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 984)

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