Opinion

Israel’s preemptive offensive against Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Israel is entering an extremely sensitive security period, and targeted killings are an integral part of the tools it uses to fight and deter terrorists.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters at a ceremony in honor of PIJ commander Khaled Mansour, who was killed on the first day of Israel's "Operation Breaking Dawn," in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Aug. 8, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters at a ceremony in honor of PIJ commander Khaled Mansour, who was killed on the first day of Israel's "Operation Breaking Dawn," in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Aug. 8, 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.

According to Palestinian officials in the Gaza Strip, senior members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Damascus and Lebanon went underground following the death of a senior PIJ member in the Syrian capital on March 19. Foreign sources attributed his death to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

It appears that Israel has launched pre-emptive strikes on PIJ ahead of Ramadan (which begins on March 22) to forestall planned attacks against Israeli targets.

The senior officer killed in Damascus was Ali Ramzi Alaswad, 31, a chemical engineer who joined PIJ in 2005 and reached a senior command position.

His death came a day after PIJ Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhalah met in Beirut, Lebanon, with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to coordinate terrorist activities against Israel during Ramadan.

Alaswad was killed at the door to his house in the Qudsiya neighborhood of Damascus. Two men ambushed him in the morning near his car when he left his home, shooting him repeatedly. Alaswad was reportedly planning attacks against Israel in the coming weeks. Security officials in Israel refused to answer questions regarding his possible connection to the bombing last week at the Megiddo Junction in Israel’s north.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alluded to the Israeli policy of preempting a new intifada when he told the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, “Dozens of terrorists have been eliminated in the past month; many others have been arrested. I reiterate: whoever tries to harm Israeli citizens will pay the price. We will find the terrorists and the architects of terrorism everywhere.”

According to well-informed sources, Israel has decided to renew the targeted killing of senior members of the terrorist organizations in Syria and Lebanon that operate in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The operations are quiet and carried out without leaving Israeli fingerprints.

The close connection to Iran

Under the guidance of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations are preparing for a new wave of terrorism during Ramadan.

The Israeli security establishment is genuinely concerned about the continued growth of terrorist groups in the northern West Bank. PIJ has established nine new armed terrorist groups there, which receive financial aid and weapons from Iran.

PIJ has been leading terrorist operations in the northern West Bank since the end of the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip in May 2021 and following the escape of six terrorists from Gilboa prison (and recapture) in September 2021. Five were from PIJ.

According to senior security officials, the man responsible for establishing these terrorist groups is Akram al-Ajouri, the head of PIJ’s military wing, in coordination with the IRGC.

It was the Iranians who developed the practice of setting up new terrorist groups after the establishment of the “Jenin Battalion” as a local initiative.

Who is Akram al-Ajouri?

On Nov. 13, 2019, Israel tried to kill al-Ajouri at his home in Damascus. Al-Ajouri is a member of PIJ’s political bureau and heads its Supreme Military Council. He survived the Israeli Air Force attack on his home, but his son was killed.

In the PIJ internal elections, al-Ajouri came in second after al-Nakhalah, who was elected secretary-general. Al-Ajouri is also the head of the Shura Council and is responsible for the organization’s funds, which come mainly from Iran.

Akram al-Ajouri had close relations with Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC Quds Force, who was killed by the U.S. military in Iraq on Jan. 3, 2020.

Together with al-Nakhalah, he recently met in Tehran with Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of the IRGC, to coordinate military activities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Al-Nakhalah and the Iran connection: A gallery

In a letter to al-Ajouri, IRGC Quds Force Commander Esmail Qaani wrote in 2021: “We will soon enter Al-Aqsa Mosque with dignity and might to pray there.” Qaani vowed to continue the path of his predecessor Soleimani in supporting the Palestinian resistance, stressing, “We will not stop helping you until the fall of the usurper regime, although the threats and dangers will increase and intensify.” (Fars News, Iran)

Sheikh Bassam al-Saadi from the Jenin refugee camp helped al-Ajouri establish the new terrorist groups in the West Bank. As a result, al-Saadi, a PIJ leader, was arrested by the IDF, which led to the IDF’s major operation against PIJ in Gaza in the summer of 2021.

Al-Ajouri moves between Iran, Syria and Lebanon and maintains military ties with senior officials of the Iranian regime and Hezbollah. He has significant influence in the Gaza Strip.

According to security officials, there are several hundred armed terrorists in the Jenin area operating in several groups that mainly belong to PIJ’s battalions and Fatah. Therefore, the IDF’s arrest operations are not enough to curb the wave of terrorism, even though it has succeeded in many cases.

PIJ fears a large operation by the IDF in the Jenin area against the terrorist groups and another attempt to target al-Ajouri when there is an operational opportunity. He is now the head of the snake that operates the terrorism in the Jenin and Nablus areas.

Israel is entering an extremely sensitive security period, and targeted killings in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and abroad are an integral part of the tools it uses to fight and deter terrorists. Israel has a bank of targets at the top of the terrorist organizations—senior terrorists who plan to harm Israel’s citizens and its security forces.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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.
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