Many have compared the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel to “Israel’s 9/11.” I believe that is the wrong analogy.
The terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, shocked the United States because they presented a new kind of threat. Until then, the United States hadn’t faced a major terrorist attack on its soil. It was enraging but also surprising and disorienting. However, America came to its senses very quickly and initiated a wide array of responses.
By contrast, the threat of terrorist attacks and hostile infiltrations is nothing new to Israelis. Israel has faced terrorist attacks on its soil from the day it was created, many of them extraordinarily cruel.
The Oct. 7 attacks were indeed of unprecedented scale, with several communities practically conquered by Hamas — something that has not happened since 1948. Still, I do not think that is the source of the shock that Israel is experiencing.
Rather than 9/11, I believe the more apt comparison is to Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricanes were not an unfamiliar threat to Gulf Coast states, including Louisiana. Katrina was a historically fierce storm, and it hit the topographically vulnerable city of New Orleans, but it was not a new type of threat.
What caused the unprecedented disaster, however, was not the storm itself. It was the failure of the city’s levees to hold back the rising waters. The levees had been neglected for years and, when they failed, a catastrophic flood resulted.
The stranded residents of the flooded city did not receive help for days. The Louisiana Superdome was swamped with refugees and became a chaotic scene of mass hunger and crime.
Yet while the television cameras rolled, politicians congratulated each other for their response to the disaster. Then-President George W. Bush famously praised FEMA Director Michael Brown, saying, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Americans felt like their government was akin to Henry Drummond’s Golden Dancer rocking horse in the play “Inherit the Wind”: “The wood was rotten, the whole thing was put together with spit and sealing wax! All shine and no substance!”
In short, the disaster exposed profound dereliction at all levels of government — federal, state and local.
The crisis Israel is now facing cannot be reduced simply to the scope of the horrors that befell the residents of southern Israel. It must be acknowledged that the disaster was a result of the systemic failure of the Israeli political and security establishment.
The complete miscalculation by Israeli intelligence agencies made the attack possible. Kibbutz residents were left stranded in their shelters for many long hours as Hamas terrorists strode through their homes. The Israel Defense Forces were nowhere to be seen. Many tried to send word of their predicament through social media and to journalists—anyone they could reach. Several hundred civilians were saved by reservists acting on their own. Survivors from the kibbutzim were tended to by private citizens.
IDF reservists called up on Saturday were unable to get to their bases because public transportation was shut down for Shabbat and the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. The transportation minister was vacationing in Mexico.
The sorry list goes on and on.
Many Israelis now feel as if their entire political and security establishment is put together with spit and sealing wax.
Thus, I believe the major challenge facing Israel is rebuilding its public sector in the broadest sense: rebuilding the Israeli state.
A lot has been said about the shared values of Israel and the United States. I think both societies also have similar capacities for rejuvenation. Both societies were built on the concept of rebirth. Both have faced severe crises and grew stronger as a result. There is a keen sense in both countries that their citizens are stronger than their governmental structures.
New Orleans was rebuilt. Israel can be, too.
Or Rappel-Kroyzer is a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, a doctoral student in American history at Tel Aviv University and an interdisciplinary researcher in data science.