TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Jewish Americans in Tampa Bay and across the country are anxious to see what happens next in the latest chapter of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, provoked by the deadly surprise attacks by the Hamas terrorist organization starting early Saturday morning on the Jewish day of rest.  

“So many people are being affected who are truly innocent bystanders, literally on both sides,” said Jeffrey Berger, president of the board of the Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation.

Berger and Maxine Kaufman, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Florida Gulf Coast, said Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas terrorist attacks.

“And we know that the Hamas is attacking civilians, not just military targets, and that’s unspeakable,” Berger said.

Mayor Jane Castor also voiced her sympathy to the Jewish community.

“We are devastated for Israel and our Jewish community – and stand in solidarity against the terrorist attack that occurred this weekend,” Castor said. “I have been in touch with our Jewish community leaders to relay that we have heightened security at all synagogues and Jewish community centers. We will remain vigilant in our support of Israel and in keeping our Tampa community safe.” 

The series of terrorist attacks that some are calling Israel’s version of 9/11 took place took place at the end of the Sukkot holiday before the Simchat Torah holiday, one of the most festive days in the Jewish calendar.

General (Ret.) Frank McKenzie worked closely with leaders from the Israel Defense Forces while serving as commander of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa.

“If the Israelis have to go into Gaza, they will have to look very carefully at collateral damage considerations,” McKenzie said. “Now of course Hamas hasn’t looked at that at all firing rockets at Israel.”

Now working as the Executive Director of the University of South Florida’s Global and National Security Institute, McKenzie said Hamas capturing hostages will also complicate matters for Israel.

“They’ll seek to play this for high drama,” he said. “They’ll seek to get as many hostages as they can to secret them in places where it will be very hard for Israeli special operations forces to find them.”

On Saturday morning, Israel was caught off guard by the barrage of rockets fired from Gaza and militants invading communities in Southern Israel by land, sea, and air.

“You know a lot of things look ugly when you see at very beginning,” General McKenzie said. “But I have high confidence in Israel’s ability to defend itself.”

CENTCOM released a statement Saturday afternoon about the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.

“USCENTCOM is closely tracking the situation surrounding the appalling terrorist attack by Hamas against the people of Israel,” the statement said. “We stand with Israel and extend our condolences for the lives lost in these attacks. USCENTCOM remains in communication with our counterparts.” 

With the uncertainty of what will happen next in the Middle East, the local Jewish federations in the Bay Area have been in contact with law enforcement, including the FBI and local sheriff’s offices.

“They’ve stepped up patrols and are certainly aware of what’s happening and how it can affect our local communities here as well,” Berger said.