The security tensions in the wake of the arrest of senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist Bassam al-Sa’adi in Judea and Samaria mainly highlights the distress in Gaza. One year after Operation Guardian of the Walls, the terrorist organizations are struggling to bring good tidings to the residents of the coastal enclave and their operatives in Judea and Samaria.
The arrest itself was an exceedingly standard operation. The Shin Bet security agency provided Sa’adi’s exact hideout in Jenin to the Border Police’s counter-terrorism unit (backed up by the Nahal Brigades reconnaissance unit), whose soldiers, disguised as Arabs, carried out the raid that also led to the arrest of one of Sa’adi’s top aides. Sa’adi was dragged out of the house on the ground—images of which were broadcast across the globe—due to the ongoing exchange of gunfire at the time (clearly audible in the captured video footage) and concerns for the safety of the troops and detainees.
To refute claims that Israel intentionally harmed him, additional photographs of Sa’adi were released following his arrest. Sa’adi was a high-ranking official in PIJ’s military network in northern Samaria, although it seems the frayed nerves in Gaza stem from the cumulative pressure Israel has recently applied against PIJ in Judea and Samaria within the framework of Operation Breakwater. PIJ’s operatives in Judea and Samaria want the group’s headquarters in Gaza to bear some of the burden and respond militarily, with the aim of deterring Israel from continuing its raid operations.
The defensive measures Israel implemented around the Gaza Strip on Tuesday reflect the situational and intelligence assessment that PIJ will try hitting an Israeli target with anti-tank or sniper fire. Israel conveyed messages to the terrorist organization—and to Hamas, which controls Gaza—that any action will be met with a powerful response, and that Hamas too will pay a price if it allows PIJ to attack Israel.
There won’t be a separation of fronts
Hamas officials rushed to clarify that they do not want an escalation, but it’s doubtful they will take steps to restrain PIJ. This is a reflection of the complex power balance between the organizations, along with the general situation they must both navigate. The combination of foot-dragging on agreements with Israel, the dire economic situation in the Strip and the terrorist groups’ failure to spark another armed uprising in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem, has led some to seek other avenues for releasing their anger by attacking Israel.
Israeli officials prepared for such a development on Tuesday, and for the IDF’s consequential response to lead to an isolated escalation that could last several days. However, a senior defense official expressed hope on Tuesday that it will be possible to conclude the event relatively quickly, and without an escalation.
“At the end of the day, this is an arrest—albeit of a senior official, but an arrest nonetheless. It’s not something that hasn’t happened hundreds of times recently and it certainly isn’t a reason for an escalation,” the official said.
Shin Bet and IDF officials intend to intensify arrest operations in Judea and Samaria—particularly amid assessments that terrorist organizations in Gaza will continue deploying terrorists from Judea and Samaria to carry out attacks inside Israel. Hamas and PIJ believe they can do this without paying a price in Gaza, but Israel has already stated explicitly that there will not be a separation of fronts. If a large attack emanates from Judea and Samaria, the terrorist headquarters in Gaza will not be immune from a response, even at the risk of igniting the southern sector.
The activity on the Palestinian terror front has taken the spotlight from the assassination of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan. This was an impressive operation in every way: The pinpoint intelligence information that undoubtedly combined human and technological sources, including real-time verification of Zawahiri’s presence at the location; operational capabilities that included avoiding collateral damage; and American determination to settle a score, even after more than two decades.
Even U.S. President Joe Biden seemed sharp and focused in his speech. The obvious (and desirable) lesson from our perspective is that determination pays off, and at the end of the road—even if it is long and painful—the good guys win and the bad guys pay the price. It seems the application of that principal to Iran is clearer than ever.
Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.