I am writing this during the late afternoon of 7 October 2023 and last night, my time, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other groups launched a coordinated attack into the state of Israel that included rockets, boats, paragliders, motorcycles, trucks, explosives, wire cutters, and many other tools and techniques of infiltration and assault. I am a regular listener and consumer of the Generation Jihad podcast and recommend this episode released hours after the attack began for the best discussion of what happened.
I want to make four small points, one large one, and a prediction regarding what is happening and will be happening over the next several days.
My large point is this: this was not a Black Swan. It was a Gray Rhino. If you are not familiar with these terms, let me do a brief summary. Black Swan was a term made popular by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. He offers three main characteristics of Black Swan events:
A gray rhino, on the other hand, is something that is known and expected, but also has a major effect. All too often, the problems that create the greatest destruction in our lives and for our countries are gray rhinos, not black swans: World War II, COVID-19, collapse of the Afghan national government in 2021, the rise of ISIS, and this attack into Israel on 6 October 2023 fifty years after another gray rhino in the same area; the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
Today’s attack was a gray rhino because Hamas has been posting videos of their training and they have mounted numerous minor movements against the security perimeter around the Gaza Strip for months and years.
Usually, our opponents tell us what they are going to do before they do it. This was certainly the case here. The events of today and in the days to come should stand as a stark warning about the importance of studying what the enemy says and understanding the enemy’s thinking and perspective.
This is part of what I call the narrative space. It is crucial that one does a narrative net assessment of any opponent. I think the greatest example of a net assessment comes from Sun Tzu at the end of his chapter ten when he says “know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total.” In each case of knowing this involves understanding strengths and weaknesses. Those strengths and weaknesses then get compared with those of the enemy, the weather, and/or the terrain. This net assessment is more than a cognitive approach. It must also include, as recommended by Sun Tzu, the environment, the experience, and the associated cognition.
Everyone needs to understand the narrative space of the opponent immediately in front as well as the opponent at a distance. Iran certainly is supporting these activities, and may be, in some way, seeking to coordinate them. If I am right, then all Western forces in the Middle East need to study and be concerned with what was demonstrated today and what happens in the next several days as similar efforts may be taken toward them.
Now for my prediction.
Depending on how long this lasts and how many Israeli civilians are killed, the Israeli retaliation may generate an effect similar to that achieved by the response to the 1968 Tet Offensive in January of that year. Most people forget or never knew that what we refer to as Tet was really three separate events that happened over the course of much of 1968. Each event was smaller than what preceded it. The response to the three large-scale and disparate attacks and efforts across South Vietnam by the South Vietnamese security personnel and the American forces stationed in South Vietnam effectively destroyed what was commonly referred to as the Viet Cong: the insurgent South Vietnamese allied with North Vietnam. They were killed and captured in huge numbers, and they didn’t really recover after 1968.
I believe that it may be possible that Hamas and other groups will have so profoundly enraged the Israelis that they may hunt down as many fighters as they can and capture or kill a generation’s worth of such people. Hamas may no longer be an effective fighting force following what happens.
I offer this prediction as just that. I am no prophet and many of my COVID predictions proved to be faulty. Regardless, I wanted to get this thinking out there so as to generate the thinking of others.
I will end with my first small point. This is in the earliest stages and may not evolve at all as I have suggested.
 Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. Samuel B. Griffith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), 129.
Brian L. Steed is an applied historian,