Why did Hamas attack Israel now?

Hamas military commander Muhammad Al-Deif called the operation “Al-Aqsa Storm” and said that the assault on Israel was a response to attacks on women, the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza.

What’s happening right now in Israel almost defies imagination.

Overnight, Hamas fighters launched an unprecedented invasion across Israel’s southern border with Gaza, storming Israeli towns and killing Israeli soldiers and civilians alike. Thousands of rockets were fired into Israeli territory, and at least 100 Israelis are dead — a senior Knesset official said the attacks led to the most civilian deaths on a single day in the country’s entire history. The fighting in southern Israel is ongoing, with reports that Hamas is bringing Israeli hostages back to Gaza. Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes have already killed nearly 200 Palestinians, a figure that will likely only grow, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that “our enemy will pay a price the type of which it has never known.”

Nothing like this has happened in the modern history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; even the bloody Second Intifada in the early 2000s never saw this kind of mass incursion into Israeli territory. Now an outright war between Israel and Hamas has begun, one whose consequences for the conflict and the broader Middle East we can only dimly anticipate. The only thing we can be certain about the future is that many, many people are about to die.

How can we begin to think about such a nightmare?

We can start by examining the conditions that made it possible. Though we can’t be sure why Hamas chose to launch this attack now, we do know that there are a number of background conditions — including not just the ongoing occupation but also recent surges of conflict in Jerusalem and the West Bank, a far-right Israeli government, and Israeli-Saudi negotiations about normalizing relations — that made the situation especially combustible.

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