Israel is officially at war after a surprise attack by Hamas this weekend.
Israel has, since its creation by a United Nations declaration in 1947 and declaration of statehood in 1948, faced constant tension and conflict with its Arab neighbors on all sides, going to war with one or all bordering nations on several occasions.
A key area of tension between Israelis and Arabs has involved Israel’s treatment of the residents of Palestine, which collectively describes the regions of the Gaza Strip, lining the Mediterranean Sea, and the West Bank, bordering nearby Jordan.
Despite its long experience of tension and conflict, the attack carried out this weekend was one of the most well-organized and complex attacks that Israel has ever faced, raising questions among some as to how Israel’s intricate intelligence network was caught so unaware.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, U.S. officials were quick to condemn the attack and vow continued support for Israel. But with the House currently in limbo due to the recent deposition of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as speaker, the timeline of United States assistance to Israel remains in the air.
Here’s what you should know about the attacks on Israel this weekend.
On the morning of Oct. 7, rockets launched from Palestine streaked over Israeli skies, hitting such distant targets as Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Most rocket targets fell in the land between Gaza and the West Bank.
Roughly an hour later, ground forces of Hamas advanced into Israeli territory by land, sea, and air.
Hamas, the political party that governs the shrinking region denoted as Palestine and which is labeled a terror group by the United States and many other world governments, claimed credit for the attack, which it has labeled “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm.”
Muhammad Deif, the military leader of Hamas, cited Israel’s handling of Palestine as responsible for the attack.
“The enemy will understand that the time of their rampaging without accountability has ended,” Mr. Deif said.
Mr. Deif cited the imprisonment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, an Israeli “desecration” of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and its occupation of the West Bank—which it’s held since 1967—as justifications for the attack.
The Aqsa Mosque is a particularly hotly-disputed site, claimed as an important religious site by both Jews and Muslims.
Hamas forces entered 22 Israeli towns and military installations and took several military and civilian hostages—including American citizens, according to Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer. Several of these hostages have been taken back to the Gaza Strip.
The invasion saw some of the first ground confrontations between Israeli and Palestinian forces on Israeli territory in decades.
According to preliminary reports, some 250 Israelis had been killed in the invasion by the end of Oct. 7, along with roughly 1,400 wounded.
Hamas has called on other Arab and Palestinian groups to join in the attack, saying the conflict is only in its opening act.
On the other side of the map, Israeli forces briefly exchanged fire with militants of Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based terror group, raising the specter of a new front in the conflict.
Hamas-linked individuals have claimed that they received funding for the attack in part from Iran, which was recently set to receive $6 billion from the U.S. government as part of a prisoner swap deal.
However, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has argued against claims that this money funded the attack, saying that the $6 billion has been frozen and Iran can’t access it.
Israel was quick to respond, despite apparently being caught off guard by the attack in spite of its deeply sophisticated intelligence network.
Following the first barrage by Hamas, Israel responded in kind with its own missile attacks on the Gaza Strip. Israeli air forces attacked locations thought to be associated with Hamas.
The most recent reports suggest that roughly 500 Israelis and Palestinians died in the opening hours of the conflict.
Later, early on the morning of Oct. 8, the Israeli Security Cabinet formally declared war against Hamas, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others vowing vengeance.
The move—the first such declaration since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, according to a statement from the government—was confirmed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Oct. 8, according to a statement posted on social media.
“Last night, the Security Cabinet approved the war situation and, to this end, the taking of significant military steps, as per Article 40 of Basic Law: The Government,” the statement reads.
“We are at war, and we will win it,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a separate televised statement.
Mr. Netanyahu has said that the “first phase” of the Israeli response ended with the “destruction of the majority of the enemy forces that penetrated our territory,” and that Israel is now looking toward a second “offensive” phase.
“Israel will reach every place Hamas is hiding,” Mr. Netanyahu said, warning Gaza’s residents, “leave those places now.”
Israel Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant also vowed revenge in a statement, saying, “We will change reality on the ground in Gaza for the next 50 years. What was before will be no more. We will act with full force.”
However, that situation is complicated by Hamas’ holding of several hostages, whose lives could be threatened by a counteroffensive from Israel.
Abu Obaida, a spokesman for the Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, suggested as much, saying, “What happens to the people of the Gaza Strip will happen to [the hostages]. Beware of miscalculation.”
American Response Uncertain
In the aftermath of the attack, American lawmakers and political leaders from across the political spectrum were quick to offer condemnation and statements of support for Israel—including most major lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were reportedly briefed on the situation this morning, and the White House has promised forthcoming initiatives to provide assistance.
However, in Congress, options to respond with financial or military assistance are deeply limited at the moment due to a dramatic vote on Capitol Hill last week that saw the historic ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as speaker of the House.
Eventual passage of aid for Israel is all but a foregone conclusion.
However, the speed with which Congress approves such aid remains up in the air, as the House is currently without a leader.
Last week, a contingent of eight Republicans in the House booted Mr. McCarthy out of his role as speaker as most Democrats joined them in a 216–210 vote.
Currently, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), selected by Mr. McCarthy before his ouster, is in charge of the House as acting speaker.
Mr. McHenry has expressed support for Israel, but his power is limited compared to that of a duly-elected speaker. It’s unclear if he is able to bring comprehensive legislation to the floor in his current role—meaning that any financial or military aid to the Middle Eastern nation is legally ambiguous in Congress until the House selects a new speaker.
Lawmakers are currently weighing their options to advance support for Israel despite these challenges. Several Republicans have called for swift action, ranging from the approval of a resolution by unanimous consent to the reinstatement—whether permanent or temporary—of Mr. McCarthy.
The House will return on either Monday or Tuesday, but the actions it will take amid continued uncertainty.
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.