Similar to his predecessor Baha Abu al-Ata, who didn’t heed Israel’s warnings and Hamas’ pleas, Tayseer Jabari—Islamic Jihad’s commander in northern Gaza—paid with his life over the weekend for his arrogance and overconfidence in trying to dictate restrictions on Israel’s activities in Judea and Samaria.
Other Islamic Jihad field commanders—some with direct involvement in the specific threat against Israel’s southern residents last week—were also killed in the masterful operation carried out by the IDF and Shin Bet. It’s not the first time a terrorist group erred in assessing the limits of Israel’s patience, although it’s safe to assume that, for the time being, Islamic Jihad is busy planning for the upcoming days of battle instead of learning this lesson.
The fact that Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhala learned about the Israeli offensive while in Tehran was more than symbolic. Speaking from the Iranian capital, he threatened to respond “in full force” to the Israeli “aggression.” Judging by these declarations, the length, intensity, geographic scope and actors involved in “this round of fighting” will depend mainly on the emerging dynamic. It seems Hamas isn’t eager to enter the fray, but in light of the pressure it is under from Islamic Jihad and some of the public, it’s not a foregone conclusion that it will remain on the sidelines.
How should Israel proceed?
First, it must activate all of its defenses in an effort to prevent loss of life. This objective is important for two reasons: To save the lives of our citizens and to render our enemy gainless, leaving him bloodied and battered at the end of this round without anything to show for it.
Second, Israel must pummel the enemy’s commanders and capabilities. To minimize the length of the fighting, the proposal was that Israel would employ maximum force from the outset. A campaign of gradually escalating intensity would likely prolong the campaign more than desired. As for hitting terrorist commanders, this also applies to those who have found refuge abroad.
Third, Israel must close Gaza’s fishing zones and halt the entrance of goods and materials to Gaza from Israel and Egypt—aside from vital humanitarian supplies—to amplify the pressure on Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
Fourth, Israel should focus on Islamic Jihad and also be ready to hit Hamas hard. Hamas should strongly question whether joining the fight is worthwhile. If it decides to join regardless, Israel must target its commanders and destroy its terror towers in the very first wave.
Fifth, even as it is fighting in Gaza, Israel must maintain a menacing posture in the north. It’s important to make sure we aren’t caught off guard on the northern front, and we should reiterate the price that Israel will exact if anyone from that sector decides to join the fight.
Sixth, Israel must be vigilant and respond quickly and aggressively to any nationalistic violence inside Israel. A “domestic arena” influenced by the conflict in Gaza or incitement regarding the Temple Mount must not be allowed.
Seventh, Israel must continue and even intensify its preventative raids in Judea and Samaria, not just because of the obvious need to prevent terrorist attacks from this sector, but also to neuter Islamic Jihad’s influence there.
Although Israel launched this operation without a choice, it can turn it into an opportunity to bolster deterrence and at least somewhat alter the equation in terms of its approach to Gaza.
Meir Ben Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security in Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021. Prior to that, for 25 years he held senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak).