Due to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)’s threat to attack areas in Israel’s southern region, the decision to launch “Operation Breaking Dawn” in Gaza this month was unavoidable.
The operation was intended to thwart PIJ terrorism, exact a price for the attempt to attack Israel, deter PIJ from doing so in the future and damage the organization’s military capabilities. Other goals were to keep Hamas from joining the fight and to foster division among Gaza’s terror factions.
The Israel Defense Forces enjoyed several successes due to its aggressive and proactive stance, which focused on achieving quality objectives. In this context, the IDF often uses two techniques: The first is a “staggered” attack, in which it gradually raises the quality of the targets it strikes. The second is called “inverted-staggered,” in which the IDF launches numerous immediate attacks on quality targets, such as eliminating senior terrorists and demolishing high-rise buildings.
“Operation Breaking Dawn” saw the IDF follow the second strategy, attacking high-quality targets for the first two days. This was unusual compared to past operations and made possible by the conflict’s brief duration. Along with taking out PIJ’s northern commander Tayseer Jabari at the start of the operation, the IDF successfully stopped anti-tank launcher teams that the PIJ had deployed on the border. PIJ’s southern commander Khaled Mansour and his deputy Hitab Amasi were slain the following day. Rafat Saleh, commander of PIJ’s rocket system, was also killed. In addition, a PIJ-affiliated terror tunnel was demolished.
However, the IDF considerably lessened the intensity of its attacks on the third and final day of the operation, concentrating on attempts to take out rocket launchers and the terrorists operating them. The IDF probably should not have done so. A full-on assault throughout would have been more effective.
The IDF raised the percentage of rockets intercepted from Gaza by the Iron Dome defense system. Iron Dome had a 97% success rate—a new record. The key reason for this was upgrades to the algorithms employed by Iron Dome, as well as improvements in its control system, radar and interceptor missiles.
Israel also scored a media victory. Through cooperation between the Air Force, the Shin Bet, the IDF spokesperson and the Public Diplomacy Directorate, Israel was able to avoid a major international media crisis in the aftermath of the Jabalia incident, in which six children were killed and dozens injured. The joint effort quickly proved via visual evidence that the Jabalia tragedy was caused by a failed PIJ rocket launch. Later, more footage of unsuccessful rocket launches that injured unarmed Gazans was made public. Due to Israel’s prompt and effective response to the Jabalia incident, the international press was reluctant to blame Israel for the tragedy.
“Operation Breaking Dawn” dealt a severe blow to the PIJ’s terrorist capabilities by the elimination of its senior leadership. This has sown confusion in the ranks and created a leadership vacuum that will take time to fill. “Succession wars” within the organization are now a possibility.
The operation is expected to strengthen Israeli deterrence against the PIJ in the Gaza Strip, and Judea and Samaria. It will also likely do so against Hamas. Israel’s decision to launch a preemptive military operation due to threats to Israeli targets, rather than as a response to an actual attack, made Israel appear unpredictable and difficult to anticipate strategically. Moreover, the successful elimination of the PIJ leadership signals to senior Hamas officials that they may be next in line. The improvements to Iron Dome also showed Hamas that its missile capabilities are now substantially less effective.
“Breaking Dawn” may strengthen Israel’s deterrence against Hezbollah as well. The Iran-backed terrorist organization has been threatening in recent months to attack Israel if it produces gas from the Karish gas field reservoir before Israel and Lebanon reach an agreement on maritime borders. After “Breaking Dawn,” Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah may think twice before commencing hostilities.
Israel’s decision to wind down the operation after three days may have been a mistake, however. It is true that by continuing the operation, there was a chance that Hamas might join the fighting. However, it is also plausible that Hamas would have continued to refrain from action as long as Israel concentrated solely on PIJ targets. Hamas is not interested in a confrontation with Israel at this time and prefers to focus on enhancing its military capabilities, stabilizing the economic situation and consolidating its control over Gaza.
The PIJ did make a few gains despite suffering severe damage. It was able to maintain a continuous rate of fire throughout, including after a truce was declared, despite the IDF’s powerful attacks. They also increased their rate of fire over previous operations.
This has the potential to improve the image of PIJ in Gaza, making it appear to be the most prominent “resistance force,” thus diminishing Hamas. Therefore, Israel should assert that Hamas remains the sovereign in the Gaza Strip, is responsible for any violent actions emanating from it, and is obligated to prevent terrorist organizations from launching attacks.
Dr. Omer Dostri is a specialist in strategy and Israeli national security.
This is an edited version of an article originally published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.