The October 7 War: Observations, October 2023 – May 2024

On October 7, Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and violated and killed 1,200 people and kidnapped 252 others in the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. The conflict that has ensued—between Israel and not just Hamas but the full panoply of Iranian-backed terrorist organizations, and even Iran itself—has been intensely scrutinized. In particular, questions about the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) strategy, operations, legality of conduct, concern for mitigating harm to civilians, and provision of humanitarian assistance are being raised and actively debated everywhere from the public square to international organizations.

That is why, as retired U.S. generals, admirals, and military legal experts, we undertook this preliminary assessment of the 2023–2024 armed conflict initiated by Hamas. Our analysis—based on primary source research, a factfinding trip to Israel, and discussions with senior Israeli, international aid agency, and United Nations (UN) officials—is necessarily interim, focused on the first six months of fighting and issued while fighting was still ongoing. This report, moreover, is focused solely on military operations by the IDF and Hamas that have taken place inside Gaza or were initiated from within Gaza, about which we offer operational, legal, strategic, informational, and contextual observations to assist American policymakers and military leaders seeking to understand this conflict and its implications.

Our expertise does not extend to addressing the future political disposition of Gaza, although we do discuss the importance of there being an agreed upon vision of a “day after” in order to shape IDF operations. For a detailed analysis of what a post-Hamas Gaza might, but also should not, look like, we commend to readers the 2024 report of a separate JINSA group, The Day After: A Plan for Gaza.

Overall, after Israel was attacked on October 7 by a Hamas force that was organized, trained, equipped, and motivated to viciously kill as many civilians as possible, we find that Israel’s determination to “destroy”—defined in U.S. and Israeli military doctrine as rendering the enemy unable to continue fighting effectively, rather than, as the term may be more commonly interpreted, completely eliminating the enemy altogether—Hamas as a conventional military force in the Gaza Strip is wholly justified self-defense and represents a justifiable objective. The IDF’s operations in Gaza must be considered in the context of Hamas’s stated intent to destroy Israel and kill Jews, borne out in numerous attacks on Israel and particularly the barbarism of October 7, repeated previous IDF operations that left Hamas’s capabilities intact only for the group to launch more attacks, and the multifront threat Israel faces from Iran and its terror network.

Israel has the legal right and responsibility to its citizens to restore its security. We believe that eliminating Hamas’s ability to threaten Israel is a legitimate goal. The IDF’s campaign to achieve this objective may also have the collateral benefit of demonstrating to its regional adversaries Israel’s commitment to self-defense against any adversary that poses an actual or imminent threat of unlawful armed attack against it.

The IDF has carried out its mission to eliminate the Hamas threat with operational and tactical excellence and in overall compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). This occurred despite encountering a complex urban and subterranean battlefield in which almost the entirety of Gaza, including civilian infrastructure including schools, hospitals, and places of worship, had been prepared and repurposed by Hamas as fortified fighting positions. The U.S. military would benefit from studying how the IDF fought effectively in this highly complex, multi-domain environment.

Hamas, on the other hand, has intentionally and systemically violated those same laws by dragging civilians into the fight, using them to shield their personnel and assets in an attempt to compel the IDF to inflict civilian casualties so as to trigger opposition to Israel by the United States, European countries, the United Nations, and international courts as well as in public opinion. Yet, the IDF’s operational effectiveness has been jeopardized by the lack of a clear, announced strategy for a post-Hamas future for Gaza. Our military experience has taught us that tactical success is often undermined when military operations are not consistently directed toward a well-defined and understood strategic end-state.

We believe the IDF has fulfilled its legal obligations to provide humanitarian access and assistance to Gazan civilians. At the same time, we acknowledge the strategic legitimacy of Israel’s campaign has been compromised by the perception of indifference to the humanitarian suffering in Gaza. It may be understandable why many Israelis, including some families of hostages, have opposed Israel providing assistance to Gazan civilians, many of whom supported the October 7 attack, or even participated in it. However, this cannot be permitted to dictate decisions related to humanitarian obligations and policies. Fortunately, the recent increase in aid deliveries indicates a positive trend and Israel’s growing understanding that achieving strategic objectives can require exceeding minimum legal obligations.

Task Force

GEN David Rodriguez, USA (ret.)
Former Commander, U.S. Africa Command
ADM Michael Rogers, USN (ret.)
Former Commander, U.S. Cyber Command and Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Service
Gen Charles Wald, USAF (ret.)
Distinguished Fellow, JINSA; Former Deputy Commander, U.S. European Command
LtGen Dave Beydler, USMC (ret.)
Former Commander, U.S. Marine Forces Central Command
Lt Gen Tom Trask, USAF (ret.)
Former Vice Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command
COL Marc Warren, USA (ret.)
Distinguished Fellow, JINSA; Former Senior Legal Advisor, Joint Special Operations Command
LTC Geoffrey Corn, USA (ret.)
Distinguished Fellow, JINSA; Former Special Assistant for Law of War Matters, U.S. Army; George R. Killam Jr. Chair of Criminal Law and Director of the Center for Military Law and Policy at Texas Tech University School of Law


Michael Makovsky, PhD
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