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IDF Strikes Back at Palestinian Jihad
Is Israel preparing for a longer campaign in Gaza?
By Hugh Fitzgerald
In the first week in August, roads in southern Israel were closed, summer vacation activities for children were held close to bomb shelters, communities adjacent to the Gaza fence were under lockdown, and the train from Ashkelon to Netivot was suspended, following the arrest overnight on August 3, in Jenin, of the senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in Samaria, Bassam al-Saadi, and his son in law. Al-Saadi was the main PIJ figure in the West Bank, in charge of relations with Iran, and in training PIJ recruits in acts of terrorism. Israel had learned of his part in planning upcoming terror attacks and decided to haul him in before he could launch his attacks.
After al-Saadi’s arrest, all the PIJ had to do was threaten retaliation for that arrest, and the lives of tens of thousands of Israelis living in the South were disrupted. PIJ’s secretary-general Ziad al-Nakhala, who was being welcomed in Tehran on August 3 by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, was gleeful. His organization was able to shut down a large part of the “Zionist entity” just by issuing a threat. “Israel is weak,” he reportedly boasted.
Although the initial expectation was that the precautions taken by Israel in the South would last only a few hours and would then be lifted, that was not to be, and the high state of alert continued. Residents complained that because of the arrest of one terrorist leader in Samaria, their lives were turned upside down for days. The residents of Israeli towns near the border with Gaza were forced to stay at home, or in shelters, even before any rockets had been launched by PIJ. A “special situation” was declared in the 80-kilometer zone stretching from the Gazan border into central Israel. Iron Dome anti-missile defense batteries were deployed throughout the country.
The PIJ gloated that even without firing a shot it had “terrorized” Israelis all along the Gazan border, and even as far as central Israel. As the lockdown in Israel along the border continued for three days, without any response from the IDF, the PIJ assumed it had faced down Israel.
But the PIJ leaders did not count on the ability, and determination, of the IDF to deal them a crushing blow. The IDF in response to PIJ’s threats launched a preemptive attack – the opening salvo in what Israel called Operation Breaking Dawn, on Friday, July 5. It targeted two anti-tank squads, as well as the commander of PIJ’s northern region, Tayseer Jabari, who had been behind a string of recent projectile attacks on Israel, according to the IDF. The Israelis destroyed the anti-tank squads. And they not only killed the PIJ commander for northern Gaza, Tayseer Jabari, in that strike, but also killed 15 of his fellow terrorists and wounded at least 55.
Jabari was the successor of former PIJ commander Baha Abu Al-Ata, who had been assassinated by Israel during “Operation Black Belt” in November 2019, which saw PIJ and Israel engage in a three-day conflict as Hamas remained on the sidelines.
After the killing of Tayabi and fifteen of his PIJ collaborators, the PIJ fired more than 100 rockets into Israel. They did little damage, with almost all having been intercepted and destroyed by Iron Dome anti-missile batteries, or landing harmlessly in open fields.. A total of three Israelis were lightly wounded from these rocket barrages. Several of the PIJ rockets fell short, and landed in Gaza, where they wounded Palestinian civilians. “IDF launches Gaza op after detecting Islamic Jihad attack squads approaching border,” by Yaakov Lappin, JNS, August 5, 2022:
…Since Aug. 2, the IDF has kept swaths of the western Negev under tight security, limiting road and rail travel and keeping gatherings small. This, as it monitored PIJ attack squads—including anti-tank, sniper, and shooting cells—moving close to the border.
The IDF had been receiving concrete intelligence that PIJ was interested in conducting revenge attacks for Monday’s arrest of PIJ senior member Basaam Al-Sa’adi in Jenin. The options included rocket fire on the Israeli home front, anti-tank fire or sniper fire. Israeli forces worked to prevent all of those options from being realized in the past week….
Meanwhile, the IDF has called up 25,000 reserve troops….
PIJ’s leaders, so boastful a few days ago of how they had “frightened” the Israelis with their threats of attacks, must now be worried sick. Will they end up like Baha Abu Al-Ata, or Tayseer Jabari? The calling up of Israeli reserves means the IDF has no intention of stopping its attacks, but is preparing for a longer campaign in Gaza against the PIJ.
But what about Hamas? So far it has failed to show solidarity with the PIJ. Not a single Hamas rocket has yet been fired into Israel from Gaza. The IDF has made clear it has no intention of attacking Hamas; as long as that terror group remains quiet, it will be left alone. In 2019, during “Operation Black Belt,” a three-day conflict between the IDF and PIJ, Hamas stood on the sidelines. After all, Hamas has long seen the PIJ as its trouble-making hot-headed rival. The PIJ can afford to be more aggressive toward Israel than Hamas because it does not have the responsibilities of rule, among which is the need to maintain quiet in Gaza for long periods. Last April, after the IDF killed three PIJ terrorists in Jenin, the PIJ was ready to launch large-scale attacks from Gaza, but was persuaded by Hamas not to do so. For now, Hamas wants quiet in Gaza, though it has no objections to anti-Israel attacks in the West Bank. It no doubt wants Israel to make quick work of the PIJ — its rival — in Gaza, so that the Strip returns to a relative calm and the PIJ will have been dealt punishing blows.
The longer that Operation Breaking Dawn continues, however, the more embarrassing it will be for Hamas to remain outside the fray; the PIJ can present itself — in contradistinction to a reluctant Hamas — as the “true and only resistance” force In Gaza. Hamas may at that point decide that it has to join the PIJ in the fight against the IDF, in order to protect its image and retain the support of the Gazans. If the war goes on for more than a week or two, it may be impossible for Hamas to remain above the fray. We know how this will end, as these Gazan conflicts always do, with Israel victorious. But how many casualties each side manages to inflict, and what roles are played by the PIJ, Hamas, and the PA, are yet to be determined.