A confluence of circumstances led the latest round of fighting to conclude as the most successful operation Israel has ever waged in Gaza. Palestinian Islamic Jihad suffered an unprecedentedly severe blow, while Israel emerged largely unscathed.
To borrow a sports phase, this was a blowout. Islamic Jihad lost two senior field commanders in Gaza—Tayseer Jabari and Khaled Mansour—along with numerous assets related to the manufacturing and storage of weapons, headquarters and outposts. Meanwhile, the terrorist organization failed to inflict any serious damage at all inside Israel and also failed to drag Hamas, the Arabs of Israel and eastern Jerusalem or Hezbollah in the north into the fray, leaving it alone in the fight.
There are more than a few reasons for this extraordinary accomplishment. The first and main reason is the quality of the intelligence provided by the Shin Bet, which set the table for the two assassinations that decided the fight. It’s rare to obtain intelligence information of this sort about terrorist commanders who have lived for years as targets and are aware of the dangers surrounding them. It’s even rarer for this to occur when tensions are high and during actual fighting.
Last Thursday, when the head of the Shin Bet informed the political echelon about the opportunity to eliminate Jabari, he changed Israel’s footing from a defensive to an offensive posture. The intelligence about Mansour was already the knockout punch, after which it was clear that if nothing irregular was to occur, the fight was won. From that point forward, it was just a matter of time until the Egyptians could draft a ceasefire, which Israel wanted after meeting all of its objectives.
One of these objectives was keeping Hamas out of the fray. It seems the largest armed group in Gaza and the sovereign entity there wasn’t eager to pay a price—military, economic or civilian—for Islamic Jihad’s lunacy, which all started because of an arrest in Judea and Samaria. Perhaps Hamas also had an interest in Israel taking care of this constant headache, although this will be further tested down the road by Hamas’ response to Islamic Jihad the next time it fires a rocket. In other words, Israel gave Hamas an opportunity to solidify its grip on Gaza and put a muzzle on this smaller, more extremist organization.
Another objective was to separate Judea and Samaria from Gaza. After the pummeling it received in Gaza, Islamic Jihad should think a thousand times before trying to shut down Gaza over every arrest in Judea and Samaria. This is a lesson for Hamas as well, which is also trying to blur the lines between the two sectors. The fact that the Arabs of Israel remained peaceful and the Temple Mount didn’t erupt into riots despite the thousands of Jews who visited the holy site on Tisha B’Av was particularly fortuitous, and should deter Hamas in the future.
The operation’s success was also aided by the precision capabilities of the Israeli Air Force and GOC Southern Command. Operations of this nature, which are conducted in a small and crowded area like Gaza, can easily go sideways due to tactical errors. The fact that every payload was delivered with surgical precision, together with the small number of non-combatant casualties, helped keep Hamas out of the picture and international criticism at bay. The fact that Palestinian civilian casualties were mostly caused by failed rocket launches also helped crystallize the Israeli message that one side is fighting terror and one side is harming civilians in both Israel and Gaza.
Four more points to consider: 1) The political echelon worked in complete synchronicity both internally and externally with the military echelon, sweeping away all the misconceptions about its ability to make security decisions. 2) The responsible behavior of civilians prevented unnecessary casualties on the home front. 3) The public-relations machine was effective and efficient, maximizing the accomplishments and neutralizing the landmines. 4) The Egyptian mediation, which again proved its effectiveness.
As always, the operation s success can only be assessed in the future, in terms of the degree and duration of the deterrence against Islamic Jihad and Hamas; how fast it rehabilitates itself; the internal restraint in Gaza; and the ability to keep the sectors separated. The bottom line, however, is that nothing fundamentally changed in Gaza these past few days and anyone who believes so is in for a rude awakening. Even if a period of quiet does ensure, whether prolonged or extremely temporary, without deep-rooted solutions the shooting will eventually resume.
Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.