Elijah J. Magnier
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid intended to show that he couldn’t bear the insult to the “Sword of Jerusalem” inflicted on his political opponent, former Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, last year. Lapid started his short term in office by killing “Palestinian Islamic Jihad” (PIJ) field commanders and creating the electoral conditions for Knesset‘s forthcoming elections. Subsequently, he evaluated it as unproductive and damaging to continue the battle he had initially triggered for fear of the losses it could inflict on his party and the Israelis. Israel considers that it has achieved multiple goals and will not be harmed by giving promises to regional and international mediators to stop the battle, especially since it does not respect its agreements or commitments.
Israel did not err in its assessment to challenge the PIJ on the battlefield to show it is not afraid of war in preparation to offer concessions to the Lebanese Hezbollah. However, the Israeli Prime Minister has neglected a critical angle: Israel – which considers itself to be the best and most powerful army in the Middle East with vast military and technological capabilities – has expressed its fear that Hamas would be involved. It would be fighting against a small organisation that failed to cripple after almost three days of fighting.
What were the Israeli and the “Palestinian Islamic Jihad” gains and losses?
Israel’s battle against the PIJ in Gaza caused 43 people killed, of which 16 children and 320 were wounded. Israel succeeded in isolating the “Hamas” movement from the battle with the PIJ and its considerable military power to avoid an all-out war with more than one Palestinian group and kill high-ranking PIJ leaders. Hamas leaders were confronted with the option of an open war if it intervened or a small battle that did not cost the Gaza Strip much, as happened in 2021 during the eleven days of the Battle of the “Sword of Jerusalem”. Israel is aware that Gaza has not recovered from the last war, that food and health security are at their lowest levels, the infrastructure has been damaged and destroyed housing units have not been fully built until today (only 50%), and that the unemployment level has reached 65%.
Therefore, Israel considers itself tactically victorious, ending the battle in only a few days to avoid further human or material losses. Had the war continued longer, the Israeli economy would have suffered dearly, and millions of Israelis in the Gaza Strip would have spent more days in their shelters. Gaza Strip has been subjected to hundreds of rocket attacks during the past few days. The Islamic Jihad’s rockets surrounded the area with a radius of 65 km into ghost towns and forced its residents to flee. Israel said it could not protect the settlements and ordered people to evacuate their homes.
Israel took the initiative to initiate the aggression. It assassinated the PIJ leaders responsible for the military command in the north (Taysir al-Jabari) and the south (Khaled Mansour) of the Gaza Strip. Israel believed the PIJ incapable of sustaining a painful blow and may hesitate to respond militarily. Nevertheless, after 55 hours of fighting, Israel showed signs of weakness and lack of readiness to withstand a long battle and rushed to ask Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations for a truce.
Israel has depleted the bank of targets with no more objectives to hit on the first day of the battle, failing to destroy the PIS command and control centre and making sure it is not provoking Hamas or targeting other objectives than the PIJ. It is widely known that the assassination policy never succeeded in crippling any resistance group. Therefore, it was in the interests of the Israeli Prime Minister to end the battle and bestow promises to the Egyptian mediator, even if Tel Aviv is well known for not maintaining its guarantees.
Egypt was already negotiating with Israel and the PIJ a few days before the battle began to lift the siege on Gaza and calm the tension following the kidnapping of PIJ leader Sheikh Ghassan al-Saadi in Jenin camp early last week. During the negotiations, Israel deceived Egypt by assassinating al-Jaabari triggering the PIS retaliation.
Israel has little consideration for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. It believes it is made up of a group of Palestinian refugee camps where it is easy to isolate and target, killing the Palestinian resistance leaders to break their will and starve the population when necessary. Therefore, Tel Aviv looks down on the Gaza Strip but is happy to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, with whom it maintains relatively stable relationships.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stands firmly against Palestinian armed resistance and cooperates with Israel on the security level, rejecting Palestinian unity with Gaza or new elections to remove him from the power he has been holding for 17 years. The Palestinian Authority has never recovered one inch of its territory since the Madrid Summit or the Oslo agreement. On the contrary, Israel is slowly gnawing more Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The Israeli repetitive and continuous violations of human rights and international laws would not have been possible without the West’s unconditional support and the narrative repeated by western leaders that Tel Aviv “has the right to defend itself”. Western countries provide unreserved material, military and intelligence assistance to Israel, allowing it to isolate millions inside the Gaza Strip and carve out land to construct illegal settlements without opposition. This is what helps the rulers of Tel Aviv to disregard the Palestinians’ rights and besiege them by land, air and sea. Israel closes the only two crossings from and to Gaza any time the Israeli political leaders decide to do so. Tel Aviv resorts to mediation when in trouble and when it fails to register a quick victory which Israeli leaders need in their elections or to support their popularity at the expense of Palestinian lives.
With the last battle, Israel drew some of the world’s attention when the west was preoccupied with the war against Russia and preparing for another battle with China. Israel’s message could also be directed toward the nuclear agreement with Iran, considered unsuitable and against Israel’s interest. Israel hopes to send a blow to Iran’s ally, the “Islamic Jihad” in Gaza, with a message to the west that the possibility of weakening Tehran without submitting to it for fear of its nuclear program is feasible. Nevertheless, the battle strengthened the PIJ that confronted Israel without Hamas and boosted its popularity in Gaza. Iran received the PIJ Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhala, days before the assassination of his field commander in Gaza, Taysir al-Jaabari.
Finally, the current leaders of Israel showed their voters that they do not hesitate to engage in a battle when there is a benefit to national security, even if the assassination of al-Jaabari changed very little in the PIJ capabilities. Therefore, accepting the agreement with Lebanon for fear of the threat of the powerful Hezbollah (equipped with 150,000 missiles and armed drones) does not mean the cowardice of the Israeli leaders. Instead, it would be an assessment of the situation unaffecting Israel’s interests, especially if war is avoided and provided that any decision by the Israeli government does not appear to stem from the reluctance of Israeli officials to confront Hezbollah.
As for Islamic Jihad, it established that, despite its small size, it could hit 330 missiles a day (360 were launched daily during last year’s confrontation by all Palestinian groups, including Hamas) and cause paralysis in Israel for days. The PIJ struck the Israeli consciousness to insinuate that it was unsafe to stay in occupied territory and that the geography it occupies by the name of Palestine is not a place to live in.
The PIJ missiles conveyed to the Israelis that no place is secure even to the next generation. Israel’s claim that it has restored deterrence following the “Sword of Jerusalem” battle confirmed its incapacity to protect the settlers even after seventy years of occupation. The PIJ managed to lift the siege and sanctions on Gaza and open its crossings, restoring full fuel flow.
The Palestinian resistance showed that the Palestinian cause is not limited to Gaza but has a national dimension. The PIJ requested the release of prisoner Khalil Al-Awadeh (from the West Bank), confirming the bond linking all Palestinian fronts. It also asked Israel to release Sheikh Ghassan al-Saadi, a PIJ arrested in the Jenin Palestinian camp while Egypt was negotiating a truce between Israel and the PIJ.
Thus, Israel went out after the mediators to stop a military confrontation with a small faction. Israel’s enemies and allies are watching and evaluating the level Israel has reached in comparison to its enemies, who will dare to challenge it in the future. This confirms that Israel is a society built on an army whose creed is war and fighting, not peace, and the theft of Palestinian lands, not coexistence. The killing of civilians relentlessly is permitted because the international community is complicit and oblivious. It is one of those battles that ends sooner or later with a ceasefire (but not with a durable peace) until the time for the next battle comes. Israel’s military performance indicates that a war with Hezbollah is unlikely to occur, and an Israeli war in Iran is unthinkable. The fragility of the Israeli domestic front prevents Israel from confronting any powerful enemy at any time in the future.