08 Oct 23. Sibylline reported that overnight on 7-8 October, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) continued Operation Iron Swords, stepping up airstrikes inside the Gaza Strip and ground operations to push back Hamas militants. Israeli ground forces have retaken the majority of areas Hamas had infiltrated during operations overnight, but fighting continues on the morning of 8 October in Beeri and Sderot, alongside a number of other smaller villages close to the Gaza border.
- On the morning of 8 October, the IDF confirmed that there are eight ‘points of engagement’ where fighting continues inside Israel, namely: Beeri, Kfar Aza, Kibbutz Reim, Kissufim, Sderot, Sufa, Yakhini and Zikim. However, at the time of writing on 8 October, there are also reports of isolated firefights away from the Gaza border, including reports of fighting in Ashkelon, seven miles (11 km) north of Gaza near the Rutenberg power station. Over 400 Hamas militants have reportedly been killed during ground fighting, according to the IDF, but hostage situations and Hamas reinforcements from Gaza will continue to slow IDF operations in the short term.
- More Palestinian fighters are reportedly crossing the Gaza border and are entering the town of Magen. Confirmed reports of a major Hamas attack on an Israeli military base in Tseelim, 12 miles (19km) east of Gaza, indicates that Hamas are continuing to expand ground operations, reportedly with the support of parachute and paraglider forces. There are also unconfirmed reports that Israeli citizens in Ofakim are being told to remain indoors given reports of Hamas militants roaming the city.
- The IDF stated that all residents living in towns near the Gaza fence will be evacuated within 24 hours, as Israeli forces likely continue preparations to launch a ground operation into Gaza. Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force has reported that it has struck various targets across Gaza, including various homes of Hamas leadership, the compound of the head of Hamas intelligence, banks, weapons sites used by Islamic Jihad, and other military targets.
- The Israeli embassy to the US has said that over 100 Israeli soldiers and civilians have been taken hostage by Hamas. Reports suggest they are being or have already been transported back into the Gaza envelope. The al-Qassam Brigades published a statement from military spokesperson Abu Ubaida on Telegram claiming that ‘prisoners are present on all axes in the Gaza Strip’. The diplomatic mission also confirmed that two hostage situations had been ‘resolved’ earlier today.
- There is widespread footage and visual evidence that confirms Israeli civilians have been killed and kidnapped in the areas of Hamas incursions, despite Hamas’ claims they are not targeting civilians. Amnesty International has confirmed numerous civilian deaths at the hands of Hamas militants. Israel’s Embassy in Turkey has estimated at least 300 Israelis have been killed and almost 2,000 injured. Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip have reportedly left 313 Palestinians dead and nearly 2,000 injured, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
- Israeli authorities have requested that civilians living near the Lebanese border, such as Hanita, Kfar Raosh HaNikra, Moshav Betzet and Shlomi evacuate within 48 hours, underscoring the growing tensions on the border region. The IDF reportedly fired warning shots on the morning of 8 October as Hizballah fighters continue to operate close to border crossing points, claiming to target several Israeli military positions in the Sheba’a Farms area.
- At around 1230hrs (local time) on 8 October, a sole perpetrator opened fire on an Israeli tour group at the Pompey Pillar site in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria, killing two Israeli nationals and their Egyptian tour guide. The incident underscores the risk of heightened ideological mobilisation amongst pro-Palestinian groups, particularly given the significant presence of Palestinian refugees in Egypt. This will elevate risks of sole perpetrator attacks on Israeli personnel and travelers in major urban cities, including along the Egypt-Israel border.
- Pro-Palestine groups, including those affiliated with the Turkish Islamist political party, organised large-scale anti-Israel protests in cities across Turkey on 7 October, including the capital Ankara, Diyarbakir, Istanbul, Trabzon and Van. In Jordan, protests also took place in cities including the capital Amman, and alongside the Jordan-Israel border. There will almost certainly be further anti-Israel protests in major urban cities in countries including Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey over the coming days, elevating risks of sole perpetrator and group attacks.
- Diplomatic missions in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have issued security alerts and advisories cautioning nationals to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase security awareness. US Embassy staff are currently sheltering in place, with the French Embassy also suggesting to nationals to shelter in place if based in the south and areas in proximity to Gaza. General advisories ask citizens to closely follow the ‘Home Front Command’s update (website is only available in Israel). Formally, diplomatic missions have not issued evacuation notices or plans. However, Sibylline is currently tracking a French government Airbus A330-243 likely heading towards Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV). However, it remains unclear if this pre-empts mediation or evacuation efforts.
- As of the time of writing, the following airlines have cancelled flights to Israel: Air Europa, Air France-KLM, Lufthansa Group, Iberia, ITA, Air Baltic, Royal Air Morocco, Air Malta, Air Astana and Air Gulf, Delta Airlines, Korean Air company. Meanwhile, Emirates, Fly Dubai, British Airways, TUS, Cyprus Airways, Turkish Airlines and Pegasus are continuing operations but will to monitor the situation closely and could yet cancel their flights.
West Bank tensions are likely to remain extremely high, with a realistic possibility of escalation and Palestinian low-capability attacks in the coming hours. However, a third Intifada in the form of large-scale, protracted Palestinian unrest currently remains unlikely (see Sibylline Special Report – 9 March 2023). Hotspots for confrontations will be areas in the northern West Bank, including Jenin and Nablus and further south Hebron and the Shuafat refugee camp (in East Jerusalem), particularly around Israeli checkpoints.
Hizballah will likely continue to test defence Israeli defences along the northern border, elevating security and escalation risks. Hizballah has taken responsibility for a strike on IDF positions along the Israel-Lebanon border, but the group is seemingly currently reluctant to fully commit to the fighting. Similar low-intensity incidents, including grouping at border fence areas, are likely in the coming hours. Miscalculation risks are high on both sides, which could result in either side responding, including against Israeli targets in northern Israel.
Continued IDF bombardments in Gaza are likely throughout the day, delaying ground forces entry into Gaza. The Israeli Air Force is likely to target suspected underground sites with carpet bombing, in preparation for a full-scale ground operation. The close proximity of Hamas military positions to civilian populations will sustain high security risks to civilians and non-combatants. Separate ground operations to retrieve hostages are unlikely at the current moment due to the likely heavy presence of militants, elevating pressure for a full-scale ground forces operation into Gaza to retrieve hostages. However, such an operation will increase the risk of Hizballah’s entry into the conflict, which would increase risks in northern Israel. (Source: Sibylline)