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Israel Surprised the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza

 
Filed under: Jerusalem

Israel Surprised the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza
PIJ leader Ziad al-Nakhalah (unmasked left) and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (President.ir)
  • Fearing an imminent terrorist attack in early August, Israel shut down the Israeli communities along the Gaza border for four days. On August 5, 2022, Israel seized the initiative and struck a pre-emptive blow against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad centers and leaders in Gaza. After three days of fighting, a ceasefire was declared late on August 7, 2022.
  • Israel’s Breaking Dawn operation aimed to thwart imminent Islamic Jihad terror attacks on Israeli targets using antitank missiles and sniper fire in response to the arrest of senior Islamic Jihad official Bassam al-Saadi in Jenin in the West Bank.
  • Islamic Jihad had sought to change the rules of the game and create a new linkage equation between the IDF’s arrest of its operatives in the West Bank and continued quiet along the Gaza border. The Islamic Jihad leadership sought to create a standoff whereby any harm to its operatives in the West Bank, their arrest, or the endangerment of the lives of security prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons, would spark an escalation at the Gaza border.
  • The Israeli political echelon decided to launch the operation once it was clear that diplomatic efforts to restrain Islamic Jihad had failed. The terror group was at an advanced stage of preparations for attacks along the border. In the end, the ceasefire was achieved through Egypt’s efforts.
  • Iran orchestrated everything that happened inside and along the Gaza borders. Ziad al-Nakhalah, the Islamic Jihad leader, visited Tehran’s leaders and ran the campaign in coordination with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
  • Israel succeeded in surprising Islamic Jihad using remarkable intelligence and technological capabilities. Israel thwarted the attacks that Islamic Jihad was planning and killed the group’s entire senior military leadership in Gaza. Rehabilitating the IDF’s deterrence against Islamic Jihad is very important.

Fearing an imminent terrorist attack in early August, Israel declared four days of restrictions and a shutdown of the Israeli communities along the Gaza border. On Friday, August 5, 2022, Israel seized the initiative and struck a preemptive blow against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad centers and leaders in Gaza.

The Breaking Dawn operation aimed to thwart imminent Islamic Jihad terror attacks on Israeli targets using antitank missiles and sniper fire in response to the arrest of senior Islamic Jihad official, Bassam al-Saadi, in Jenin in the West Bank.

Those attacks from Gaza were planned by Tayseer al-Jabari, commander of the northern wing of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, in coordination with the group’s leadership in Lebanon.

Al-Jabari was a senior terrorist who had assumed the post held by Baha Abu al-Ata, assassinated by the IDF in 2019 in Operation Black Belt.

As part of the IDF’s Operation Breaking Dawn, the Israeli air force struck Al-Jabari’s apartment in the Palestine Tower in the heart of Gaza City, along with two other terror cells planning to fire antitank missiles at roads in the Israeli border communities.

The attack killed Al-Jabari and several other senior Islamic Jihad field commanders. Later in the campaign, Israeli jets killed Al-Jabari’s counterpart in south Gaza, Khaled Mansour.

Israel managed to surprise Islamic Jihad, which did not expect the attack. PIJ had sought to change the rules of the game and create a new linkage equation between the IDF’s arrest of its operatives in the West Bank and continued quiet along the Gaza border. In May 2021, Hamas created a similar link between the situation in eastern Jerusalem related to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Israeli Flag March, and, on the other side of the equation, the situation in Gaza, leading to rocket fire at Jerusalem and Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad leadership sought to create a standoff whereby any harm to the organization’s operatives in the West Bank, their arrest, or the endangerment of the lives of security prisoners on hunger strikes in Israeli prisons would spark an escalation at the Gaza border.

The Israeli political echelon decided to launch the operation once it was clear that the efforts by Egypt and Hamas to restrain Islamic Jihad had failed. Instead, the terror group was at an advanced stage of preparations for attacks along the border. 

Iran Is Pulling the Strings behind the Scenes

Iran is orchestrating everything that happens along the Gaza border. Hamas sources in Gaza say it is no coincidence that Ziad al-Nakhalah, the leader of Islamic Jihad, went straight from Beirut, where he has his headquarters, to Tehran for talks with the Iranian leadership immediately after the arrest of Al-Saadi, the head of Islamic Jihad in northern Samaria.

All Tied Up with the Nuclear Talks

Hamas sources believe Iran is crafting a new strategy for its proxies in the Middle East in light of the renewed nuclear talks. They say Iran is also taking into account the position of Hizbullah and its threats regarding the dispute over the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon.

Al-Nakhalah met in Tehran with General Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, among others, to coordinate PIJ’s moves. Salami promised that Israel “would pay a heavy price” for the operation in Gaza.  Al-Nakhalah was warmly received in Tehran, meeting President Ebrahim Raisi and other senior officials there.

Al-Nakhalah talked by phone from Iran with senior Egyptian intelligence officials but did not budge from his demand that Israel immediately frees Al-Saadi – which was not in the cards.

Al-Nakhalah feels very secure when Iran stands behind him. The Iranians use Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah to exert pressure and challenge the new Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid.

Al-Nakhalah, for his part, has a proven record of success. He rehabilitated Islamic Jihad and led it to military achievements. He managed the crisis with Israel without clashing with Hamas, even though the latter’s interests are entirely different. Hamas, at present, does not want another round of warfare with Israel at the Gaza border.

Was Hamas Going to Join the Fighting?

Israel and Egypt made great efforts to stop Hamas from joining Islamic Jihad in the rocket attacks on Israel. The IDF avoided attacking Hamas targets in Gaza and focused on attacking Islamic Jihad targets instead.

Hamas had several good reasons to keep things quiet in Gaza:

  1. Hamas wants to continue rehabilitating Gaza from the damages of the last war. A few weeks ago, it asked Egypt to speed up the renovations of the homes that were hit during the war.
  2. Hamas wants to hold onto the humanitarian favors granted it by Israel: allowing goods to enter and exit Gaza and permitting 14,000 Gazans to work in Israel.
  3. Hamas has still not finished rehabilitating the tunnel network and the rocket-manufacturing facilities damaged in the latest war.
  4. Hamas wants to keep receiving its monthly $30 million grant from Qatar.
  5. Hamas is the sovereign in Gaza. It is the largest organization and does not want Islamic Jihad, its political rival, to win points in the Palestinian street.

Israel’s Achievements

Israel continues to arrest Islamic Jihad operatives in the northern West Bank, rejecting the demand to stop doing so and to free Bassam al-Saadi.

Israel scored several significant achievements:

  1. It succeeded in surprising Islamic Jihad, which was trying to create a new equation and direct terror attacks on Israeli border communities.
  2. Israel exhibited remarkable intelligence and technological capabilities.
  3. Israel thwarted the attacks that Islamic Jihad was planning and killed the group’s entire military leadership in Gaza, including Tayseer al-Jabari, commander of the northern region, Khaled Mansour, commander of the southern region, and other senior leaders, whose deaths the group is covering up to keep morale high.
A PIJ-published poster showing three senior Islamic Jihad officers who were killed
A PIJ-published poster showing three senior Islamic Jihad officers who were killed. Commander Khaled Mansour (right), commander Rafat al-Zamli (center), and commander Ziyad al-Madlal (left).

The IDF succeeded in its mission to restrain Hamas from entering the fighting and to ramp up the military pressure on Islamic Jihad until it agreed to a ceasefire. PIJ’s tragic rocket failures that resulted in the death of Gaza civilians, including children, shook PIJ’s confidence and the Gazan public’s support.

The Israeli defense establishment was ready for violent outbreaks on the Temple Mount, in eastern Jerusalem, in the Israeli Arab sector, and in the mixed cities in support of PIJ’s rocket campaign. Israel’s internal-defense capability must not be demobilized.

Islamic Jihad has dubbed the military clash with Israel “Uniting the Fronts,” trying – and failing – to spark conflicts in other sectors.

Rehabilitating the IDF’s deterrence against Islamic Jihad was very important, and Israel must not ease the military pressure on the group in the West Bank or Gaza.