Israel and Hamas have boiled over into deadly war

The violence started with a surprise attack from the Hamas-held Gaza Strip

IDF soldiers walk past a burning car in Israel
Hundreds of people on both sides of the conflict have been killed
(Image credit: Kobi Wolf / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The historic powder keg of the Middle East has ignited again, as Israel and Hamas are at war with each other following an unprecedented surprise attack from the latter. Hundreds of people on both sides of the conflict have died, and the combatants appear primed to fight for the long haul if necessary. 

How did the conflict start?

Fighting broke out following a full-scale assault by Hamas, described by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence as a Palestinian terrorist group that has "conducted many anti-Israel attacks in both Israel and the Palestinian territories." Hamas launched its attack from the Gaza Strip, a strip of land along Israel's western border that makes up a portion of the partially recognized State of Palestine. 

The attack began around 6:30 a.m. local time on Saturday, when Hamas launched a barrage of rockets toward Israel. Insurgents then began entering Israel and engaging soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). At least 2,200 rockets were fired into Israel over this single day, and "raids were carried out into the country from land, with paragliders and from the sea," according to an IDF press release . To put that in perspective, 4,000 total rockets were "fired from Gaza into Israel during the 50-day war between the two sides in 2014," CNN reported. 

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Israel responded by launching "Operation Swords of Iron," a counterassault initiative "to defend Israeli civilians against the combined attack," the IDF said. Israel has fired hundreds of its own rockets back at the Gaza Strip, and dozens of IDF fighter jets "struck a number of targets belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization."

How much violence has occurred?

While the exact totals are hard to quantify, hundreds of people have been killed both in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Israeli media has put their death toll at around 600 people with another 1,800 injured, NPR reported. This includes women and children.

Palestinian officials put their own death toll around 300, per NPR, and 2,000 reportedly injured, including women and children. The war has caused massive destruction on both sides of the border. Videos posted online showed Israeli counterstrikes destroying entire building blocks via a barrage of rockets, as well as open conflict between the IDF and Hamas in Israeli streets.  

After the fighting began, Hamas reportedly began going town-to-town taking hostages, and one video obtained by The New York Times "appears to show several Israelis being taken hostage by Hamas militants." By Sunday morning, IDF soldiers were still trying to clear Hamas insurgents, and while The Times of Israel  reported that all hostage situations in Israel itself "were resolved overnight," dozens of people, including American citizens, were brought to the Gaza Strip after being kidnapped. 

Why didn't Israel see this coming?

Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, is widely considered to be one of the best on the planet, with an annual budget of nearly $3 billion. However, the Hamas attack appeared to come out of the blue, and likely represents "one of the biggest failures by Israeli intelligence since the Yom Kippur war of 1973," Bloomberg reported. The wide-scale assault, involving land, sea and air attacks, "involves the kind of planning and coordination that intelligence agencies are supposed to pick up on," the outlet added.

Israel has recently warned that Palestinian insurgents were prepping for violence — but nothing of this magnitude was on their radar. Marc Polymeropoulous, a former Middle East counterterrorism expert for the CIA, told NBC News that the attack was "Israel's 9/11," describing the event as a "catastrophic intelligence failure."  Polymeropoulous added that it was "almost inconceivable how [Israel] missed this," and also raised questions as to why other intelligence communities, particularly the U.S., didn't sound alarms.

Despite this, the main intelligence failure "falls squarely on the Israelis," Colin Clarke, a senior research fellow at The Soufan Center, told NBC.

What has the global response been?

Many Western countries are standing behind Israel. President Biden said in a statement that the U.S. "unequivocally condemns this appalling assault against Israel." He added that the U.S. was "ready to offer all appropriate means of support" to Israel, and has spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about rendering aid. 

Similar sentiments were expressed by other Western leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others. 

While the Western world has largely backed Israel, most Middle Eastern countries have expressed support for Hamas. This includes the nations of Iran, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The latter two countries chastised Israeli aggression and released statements "blaming Israel for the Hamas invasion," Time reported. 

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