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The News Not Noise Letter: Israel Steps Up Assault with Unknown Consequences
Gaza is offline as Israel's ground operation expands. Plus: a consequential claim about Gaza’s biggest hospital. Also, Iran, North Korea, and China.
Communications are down in Gaza. Internet, cell service, and landlines went offline just before Israeli forces entered Gaza through two locations, one in the north and one in central Gaza. Journalists on the ground in Israel reported the sounds of drones overhead, ongoing artillery fire, and bright orange flashes in the sky. Israeli officials say this was not the full ground operation, but an effort to establish a beachhead for what’s to come.
A lot of this is heavy. And this crisis triggers painful collective histories, fears about the future and, for many, anxiety about your own safety. It has also spawned deep new divisions inside the US and in democracies around the world. These dynamics are important to explore – and we will do so, in time. But today, we want to help you understand what is developing now, in the present moment.
Remember a few weeks ago I said we’ll have to get used to living with uncertainty? Now is a good moment to practice.
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Here are the headlines:
Hostages: Saturday will be three weeks since the 10/7 massacre. Hamas holds at least 229 hostages – 30 are children, one of whom just turned 12 in captivity – and they are believed to be in the tunnel network under Gaza. Discussions of a negotiated release have been overtaken by the surprise of an “expanded” ground operation in Israel.
Expanded Ground Operation: Friday US-time, internet & phone service were taken out in Gaza. That’s intended to prevent Hamas terrorists from communicating with one another.
The Operation: The Israeli military says their operations “struck Hamas’ emergency operational apparatus, including war rooms, infrastructure and military headquarters.” And they hit “terror tunnel shafts, military headquarters, weapons warehouses, mortar launchers and anti-tank missile launchers.” This is worth noting: they claim that “Hamas’ emergency operational apparatus was responsible for setting up blockades that prevented Gazans from evacuating to safer areas in the southern Gaza Strip.” Perhaps this development will enable more Gazan civilians to evacuate south. (Note: while the bombardment is focused on the north, there are also airstrikes in the south.) Israeli officials say they also targeted a number of senior Hamas military commanders who they name.
Connect-the-Dots: Israeli officials say they plan to destroy Hamas. What will that require? Hours before this operation, an IDF spokesman presented evidence to English-speaking reporters that “Hamas uses Al Shifa hospital as a shield for Hamas terror infrastructure.”
Al Shifa is the largest hospital in Gaza. Located in Gaza City, it currently has 1500 beds, 4000 in staff and additional people gathered around it according to the IDF.
IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari presented an animation depicting a network of tunnels and office space under Al Shifa; he said that the IDF has intelligence it’s delivered to the US showing that Hamas terrorists enter the tunnel network through hospital wards and that on 10/7 many Hamas operatives “flooded” the hospital to take shelter under it. Further, that there is fuel in the hospitals which Hamas is using to power its “terror infrastructure.” And that right now terrorists “move freely” through Al Shifa Hospital. Note: he claims that Hamas also operates from underneath other “sensitive sites” – mosques, hospitals, schools, UNRWA locations.
The Gaza government media office told Al Jazeera the IDF’s claims about a terror HQ under the hospital are “another lie by the Israeli occupation forces.”
This is the crucial part: The IDF spokesman declared that Israel is planting “a red flag for the world.” “When hospitals are used for terror purposes they are liable to lose their protection in accordance with international law” and Israel now considers Al Shifa and other hospitals a legitimate target.
Aid workers on the ground have made clear it is not possible to evacuate Al Shifa hospital – there are too many sick and wounded. The IDF has made it clear they believe Hamas is responsible for putting civilians in harm's way. They are calling on Gazans to evacuate to the South.
Hamas Targets Tel Aviv: On Friday afternoon, a Hamas missile made it through the Iron Dome and struck an apartment building in Tel Aviv. Officials say three people were injured but no one was killed. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
What Happens Next? It is impossible to overstate the complexity of launching a full ground operation in Gaza: there is a network of over 300 miles of tunnels (according to Hamas leadership), with booby traps, more than 2 million civilians above ground, and more than 220 hostages in the tunnels, each guarded by a member of Hamas.
Fiendishly Difficult: General David Petraeus told CNN Israel’s mission in Gaza is “fiendishly difficult.” He said they face a “terrorist army… that has shown it can’t be negotiated with, can’t be reconciled with—it has to be destroyed” and that the “only way to do that is to clear every room, cellar, building, and cell.”
Controversy: In Israel, families of some hostages opposed a stepped up ground campaign – to give more time for negotiations. The US was also pressing to get hostages out first. But speaking on CNN, former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said that Hamas was making “astronomical” demands in exchange for the release of just some hostages and decision-makers concluded that Hamas was “just buying time,” trying to delay a ground offensive. Amb. Oren argued that a stepped up ground campaign could “increase pressure on Hamas” to release hostages.
Humanitarian Situation: With a near total information blackout it is impossible to know conditions inside. Hamas had previously announced 7,028 Gazans had been killed – and released names – but did not specify how many of those were Hamas fighters. The commissioner-general of UNRWA said, “There is not much humanity left and hell is settling in.”
Important Unknowns: What happens to the hostages now? Can the IDF flush out the tunnels and avoid brutal underground warfare? What can be done for civilians, including those in the hospital? What happens to the foreign nationals still trapped in Gaza?
UN Calls for Ceasefire: Aligning with critics of Israel, the UN adopted a resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” in Gaza. 120 countries supported the measure, with 14 opposing it and 45 abstaining. Egypt’s UN ambassador said he endorsed the measure because “we can no longer bear what is happening to the Palestinians.” This, as Arab language news has been focused on an Israeli airstrike that killed the family of Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief on Wednesday. At the UN, the US opposed the ceasefire and Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called it “outrageous” because it did not condemn the 10/7 Hamas attack nor affirm Israel’s right to self-defense. Israeli officials believe Hamas would take advantage of a ceasefire to stock up, reposition, and even move hostages to other nations (i.e., Iran). Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said it’s a “dark day for the UN and mankind.”
Escalation Fears: The White House tonight said that they are “very concerned” about the possibility of escalation – specifically naming Iran and terror groups. NSC Spokesman John Kirby said this is why the Pentagon sent so many US assets to the region. They have also made it clear that the US does not call the shots for Israel’s military operations.
Protests: In the wake of Israel’s stepped-up military operations, protests continue in the West Bank. Hamas has called on “Arab and Muslim countries and the international community” to “act immediately” to stop Israel's military operations.
Iran: To quickly review, the Islamic Republic of Iran is the sponsor of Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, plus the Houthis in Yemen among other terror groups. Because Hamas is a proxy for Iran, it’s no surprise that the Islamic Republic is warning Israel and the US that its terror groups “have their finger on the trigger” and if more civilians are killed “anything will be possible.” Yes, this may be alarming but it is not unexpected. And in another sign that US adversaries are growing closer, Iran’s deputy foreign minister met with Hamas representatives in Moscow yesterday.
Americans in Lebanon, Leave “ASAP”: There are fears that Hezbollah in the north will fire on Israel. If Israel returns fire Lebanon will not be safe. Now the US is warning Americans in Lebanon to leave “as soon as possible.”
US Strikes Iran Munitions: Iran-backed militants assaulted US military personnel in Iraq and Syria. The US responded by striking two Iranian military munitions stockpiles in Syria. (Note that this is not considered an opening to a larger war with Iran because the US struck terror cells, which are non-state actors.)
North Korea: ABC News reports that US troops have been working with South Korean troops to practice responding to “Hamas-style surprise artillery attacks” by North Korea.
Russia: Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, is the latest Putin-ally to warn that if Iran is the target of a direct attack, Iran “will respond” and we could face another world war. Don’t panic. This is called saber rattling – it’s a way to warn the US and Israel to keep the fighting contained.
China: China announced it will send $2 million of humanitarian aid to Gaza. And meantime its fighter pilots are getting too close for comfort in the skies near Taiwan.
Fighter Jet Chicken: The US military says a Chinese fighter jet flew within 10 feet of an American Air Force jet over the South China Sea, nearly causing a collision. The Chinese plane reportedly “flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner” with “uncontrolled excessive speed.” For context, the US regularly conducts flyovers of this region to deter China from taking aggressive action against Taiwan, the US’s democratic ally. China has been ramping up provocations near Taiwan for a while. FYI, experts constantly assess whether it’s likely China will invade Taiwan while the US is preoccupied with wars in Europe and the Middle East. To learn more about China, Taiwan, and why the US is involved, you can read this backgrounder from the Council on Foreign Relations.
Big Picture: These are a lot of global hot spots. It’s good to know about them now so you understand what to track and the interplay between US adversaries.
Maine Shooter Found Dead: We don’t want to call this “good news,” but it’s certainly a relief for tens of thousands of Mainers who were under shelter-in-place orders for two days: the suspect in the Lewiston, Maine mass shooting was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was found in the woods about eight miles from Lewiston. On Wednesday night, the gunman opened fire at a bowling alley and a bar, killing 18 people and wounding 13.
I remember when we used to send you News That Doesn’t Suck on Fridays. We look forward to getting back to that, eventually. For now, here’s a few social posts that we hope will make you smile:
All of us, this week:
The power of a close-up:
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