Disarray has swept Israel since terrorists from Gaza overran a swath of southern Israel, killing roughly 1,400 people, briefly capturing more than 20 villages and army bases and outmaneuvering the most powerful military in the Middle East.
The shock of the attack has shaken Israelis’ sense of invincibility and raised doubts and debate about how their country should best respond.
Immediately afterward, the government called up around 360,000 reservists and deployed many of them at the border with Gaza. Senior officials soon spoke of removing Hamas from power in the enclave, raising expectations of an imminent ground operation there.
But nearly three weeks later, the Netanyahu government has yet to give the go-ahead, though the military says that it has made a few brief incursions over the border and that it will make still more the days ahead.
The United States has urged Israel not to rush into a ground invasion, even as it pledges full support for its ally, but domestic considerations have also played a role in the delay. Beyond the hostages, there is concern about the toll of the operation and uncertainty about what exactly it might mean to destroy Hamas, a social movement as well as a military force that is deeply embedded in Gazan society.
When asked what the military objectives of the operation are, an Israeli military spokesman said the goal was to “dismantle Hamas.” How would the army know it had achieved that goal? “That’s a big question, and I don’t think I have the capability right now to answer that one,” the spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, said at news briefing a week after the attack.
One immediate concern is the fate of the hostages hostages, and the negotiations, mediated by Qatar, to secure the release of at least some of them, according to an Israeli official, three senior military officers and a senior foreign diplomat familiar with the talks. The Israeli government wants to allow more time for those talks to make headway, perhaps to secure the release of captured women and children.
While there is little internal disagreement about allowing a small window of time for further negotiation, there is a dispute between the military establishment and parts of Mr. Netanyahu’s government about what to do if the negotiations fail, according to the officials and officers.
The military leadership has already finalized an invasion plan, but Mr. Netanyahu has angered senior officers by refusing to sign off on it — in part because he wants unanimous approval from members of the war cabinet he formed after the Oct. 7 attack, according to two people present at cabinet meetings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive matters.