Early on October 7, the Islamist group Hamas fired more than 2,000 rockets into Israel, striking Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem. An hour later, almost 3,000 Hamas fighters crossed from the Gaza Strip on motorcycles, on hang gliders, and even by sea—penetrating more than 30 kilometers into Israel. They stormed 22 towns and military bases, along with a music festival in the desert near the Gaza-Israel border, attacking people indiscriminately—killing some 700 on the streets, in homes, and at gatherings, and taking another 200 hostage.

The result is the most intense conflict in Israel and Palestine since 1973. Neither Israel’s intelligence services nor its military appears to have had any idea the assault was coming; Hamas either eluded or disabled the country’s high-tech defense systems during the raid. The operation was meanwhile unprecedented for Hamas, which had never ventured so far into Israeli territory, taken so many hostages, or incurred such a response from Israel. What were they thinking?

Steven Cook is a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations. Cook sees the strategy behind the Hamas attack as being to devastate Israel by forcing it into a long, draining struggle that turns global public opinion against it—and toward Hamas’s version of the Palestinian cause. The consequences are inherently chaotic: Israel is now set on extinguishing Hamas; that will mean reoccupying the Gaza Strip; which will in turn mean serious risks—not only for Israelis but for Palestinians and the stability of the entire region. But, Cook says, this chaos ultimately means profound uncertainty—about Israel’s counter-strategy in Gaza and about how it will affect Palestinians there and in the West Bank.

Michael Bluhm: What would you say we actually know at this point, and what would you say we don’t know, about Hamas’s expectations for these attacks?

Matt Moloney

Steven Cook: It’s one of the biggest questions here, particularly given the huge asymmetry in power between Hamas and Israel—and, as you say, Israel’s likely devastating response. A lot of people are talking about Hamas wanting to trap the Israelis by sucking them into Gaza. And that’s part of it. But I think there are at least two other things going on.

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