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Foreign Correspondent Assesses Situation on the Ground in Israel

Press Trust of India correspondent Harinder Mishra, left, speaks with Nazrana Ghaffar Yousafzai of VOA's Afghan Service.
Press Trust of India correspondent Harinder Mishra, left, speaks with Nazrana Ghaffar Yousafzai of VOA's Afghan Service.

Press Trust of India (PTI) correspondent Harinder Mishra is in Jerusalem where he spoke to VOA Afghan Service journalist Nazrana Ghaffar Yousafzai about the reaction among Israelis to the attacks and mass kidnapping of soldiers and civilians by Hamas.

This transcript has been condensed for clarity and brevity.

VOA: Please update us on how the situation in Israel is right now?

PTI correspondent Harinder Mishra: Right now, I'm in Jerusalem, and here the streets look completely deserted. I went shopping and, you know, even the supermarkets were completely empty. There were hardly any people there. So as far as Jerusalem is concerned yesterday, people rushed to the shelter houses and everybody was instructed to stay indoors and close to the shelter houses, which most of the people did, but let's say that since yesterday afternoon it has been calm here in Jerusalem.

But it's, again, a disturbing comfort. People look quite worried. There are hardly any people on the streets but everybody you speak to over the phone sounds quite worried. Most of the action today is in the south of Israel.

VOA: Were the Israeli people ready for such a situation, to move to shelters?

Mishra: As far as such situations are concerned, they try to be always ready and prepared for such bad eventualities. And during the last 10 days, there were frequent checks by the municipal authorities, and they were coming and looking at the shelter houses across the country. But that could also be a routine exercise which happens every now and then. And it could also be because Israeli security has been kind of focusing completely on the Iranian nuclear program, and Iran is what was talked about all the time, and the whole focus was there. So, this has come as a great surprise. It is quite unexpected, and nobody thought about Hamas launching such a major offensive from the Gaza Strip.

VOA: How do the Israelis see the intelligence failure? Has it shaken Israelis' trust in their intelligence agencies?

Mishra: I look at [it] as definitely a lot of people are questioning Israel takes a lot of pride in its intelligence apparatus, and for Hamas to launch an offensive of this scale was unheard of, [not] thought of, nobody could really imagine anything like this happening. And the truth is that I get a sense that even Hamas didn't really realize that they would have ever achieved this kind of a success in the attack that they have carried out. Probably, they were looking at abducting a few soldiers and then carrying out negotiations on releasing prisoners. And those are the kinds of things that were generally being talked about, and those were the things that generally they were looking at, that would be generally the aim. But to achieve this kind of — they see it as a success — and definitely an Israeli failure. It was unthinkable.

Israelis have been quite divided internally. There have been protests going on against the government for almost 40 weeks. But in this kind of a situation suddenly there's a talk of formation of an emergency national unity government. There is a show of unity — people, nobody is blaming anybody, but then analysts here, political analysts are asking this question quite a lot. It's very, you know, can be heard loud and clear in the media as to... is [it] possible that Iran, Iran was such a focus everybody was looking at Iran in such a way that they forgot to look at their own backyard here — that the Hamas militants could carry out such an attack.

Secondly, people are also saying that what are the... what are the preparations affected by what is going on internally within the Israeli society because if you look at it, a lot of reservists and a lot of Israeli soldiers had announced that they would be boycotting and not coming for a reserve duty and they had stopped going for reserve duty and their surveillance apparatus was said to have also been affected. This is something that was there, open, in the open. It was there in the media. It was something that was already known.

VOA: There is a strong reaction from the political leadership to it. What does it mean for Gaza and the Palestinian people?

Mishra: Look, what has happened will definitely lead to massive retaliation. It is already happening there. I have spoken to people in the Gaza Strip. There are also some Indians living in Gaza and there is no internet connectivity at the moment, [the] electricity supply has also been stopped. And if you look at it, almost 70% of Gaza's electricity supply comes from Israel. So, Israel is determined to black out completely Gaza, they can very easily do that. And the energy minister has clearly made his intent clear. Now with the security cabinet, taking a decision and declaring war against Hamas. It gives them the authority to go to any extent in order to defeat Hamas.

And in view of that, it is almost certain that people in Gaza are going to suffer a lot. Yesterday there were scenes of people hurriedly trying to buy and stockpile food stuff and all the emergency stuff at home so that they wouldn't run out of stock. So, such preparations were underway could be seen yesterday, people could have — good people — had already said even though you know, a lot of Hamas activists would be seen on the streets rejoicing with what had happened, but the common people were shaken up. So, the common people on both sides look quite shaken up actually.

Even here, nobody had imagined that 600 people could be killed in such a, such an attack, which was so certain and swift. Even you know during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 the casualties were almost one fourth of what has happened in a few hours yesterday.