Israel surprised Islamic Jihad

The terror group sought to “unite the fronts” against Israel and failed miserably.

A ball of fire and smoke rises during Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis, in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 5, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
A ball of fire and smoke rises during Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis, in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 5, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Yoni Ben Menachem
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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

“Operation Breaking Dawn” aimed to thwart imminent Islamic Jihad terror attacks on Israeli targets using anti-tank missiles and sniper fire in response to the arrest of senior Islamic Jihad official, Bassam al-Sa’adi, in Jenin in the West Bank.

The 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 assumed the post held by Baha Abu al-Ata, assassinated by the IDF in 2019 during “Operation Black Belt.”

As part of “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 anti-tank missiles at roads in 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 southern 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 PIJ leadership sought to create a standoff in which 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 on 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 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-Sa’adi, the head of Islamic Jihad in northern Samaria.

Hamas sources believe Iran is crafting a new strategy for its proxies in the Middle East in light of the renewed nuclear talks with the United States. Iran is also taking into account the position of Hezbollah 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.

He talked by phone from Iran with senior Egyptian intelligence officials but did not budge from his demand that Israel immediately free al-Sa’adi, which was not in the cards. He feels very secure when Iran stands behind him. The Iranians use Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah 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.

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

For its part, Israel continues to arrest Islamic Jihad operatives in the northern West Bank, rejecting the demand to stop doing so and free al-Sa’adi.

Israel scored several significant achievements in the latest round of fighting:

  1. It succeeded in surprising Islamic Jihad, which was trying to create a new equation and direct terror attacks on Israeli border communities.
  2. It exhibited remarkable intelligence and technological capabilities.
  3. It thwarted the attacks that Islamic Jihad was planning and killed the group’s entire military leadership in Gaza, whose deaths are being covered up by PIJ to keep morale high.

The IDF succeeded in its mission to restrain Hamas from entering the fighting and 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 Gaza 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 to spark conflicts in other sectors. It failed.

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

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates