Israel vs Islamic Jihad – another step toward a major conflict

Shai Yakir

Head of Content, i24NEWS English | @Shai_Yakir

6 min read
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi sits in a situation room, amidst Operation "Shield and Arrow" between Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Israel.
IDF Spokesperson's UnitIDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi sits in a situation room, amidst Operation "Shield and Arrow" between Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Israel.

The message sent is that Israeli intelligence capabilities have not been weakened, but it's not a solution leading to a permanent ceasefire

Once again, another operation in Gaza has ended, and once again, a solution leading to a permanent ceasefire between Israel and the terror organizations in Gaza is nowhere in sight.

But what is in sight, and clear to everyone, is that it’s only a matter of time until the next round. Operation “Shield and Arrow” was the fourth time Israel fought only against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), with Hamas—for its own reasons—staying on the sidelines and not intervening.  

As far as Israel is concerned, these rounds are intended as a short term solution to provide a period of normal life for the residents of southern Israel, without rocket alert sirens, without having to run to shelters, and without the reality of children knowing the difference between the boom created from an interception by the Iron Dome versus the impact of a rocket.

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One of the reasons—among many—for launching Operation “Shield and Arrow” was to restore Israel’s deterrent power among its enemies. Over the last five months, a feeling has been created among Israel's enemies that the country is crumbling, as the battle over the government's proposed judicial reforms led to calls among Israeli army reservists not to report for duty, and some Israel Air Force pilots—the elite of the elite—said they wouldn't train. 

Israel's enemies interpreted this as meaning they could intensify the security challenges they pose to Israel. And the Israeli public received the impression that Israel's deterrence was being eroded, as witnessed by the weak and ineffective response to the rockets fired last month, during the Ramadan and Passover holidays, from Lebanon and Gaza by Hamas and the PIJ.

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The assassinations of key Islamic Jihad leaders, together with the IDF offensive, were intended to convey a message: “Beware, don’t test us!” directed not only at the terror organizations in Gaza, but also aimed at those watching from the outside—Iran and Hezbollah. 

In the Middle East neighborhood, when Israel goes out to play on the court , there are five kids who harass it and try to take the ball away. Two are weak (Syria and PIJ), one is of moderate strength (Hamas), and one is strong (Hezbollah). And the bully leading them all is Iran.

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Israeli policy in recent years is to beat up the weak kids in order to convey a message to Iran and Hezbollah. And Israel rarely confronts Hamas directly.

There were two major operations, Protective Edge in 2014 and Guardian of the Walls in 2020. But unlike with PIJ, following these two conflicts, the dialectical relationship between Hamas and Israel became more pragmatic. Israel understood that in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip it had to ensure that money flowed in, and following the 2014 war, Qatar started to transfer money that was distributed to Gaza’s residents.

After the 2020 operation, Israel allowed 15,000-17,000 workers a day to cross from Gaza and work in Israel, where they earn 20 times the salary they would get for the same labor in the enclave. This sparked a semi-economic boost. Hamas, on the other hand, realized that it had to take care of the welfare of the civilian population—which could explain its reluctance to intervene in the latest operation—because if you earn more money from the status quo, you have more to lose when it’s harmed.

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Against Iran and Hezbollah, Israel conducts a campaign in the shadows. Cyber-attacks, mysterious assassinations in the center of Iran, killing members of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah operatives in Syria. Israel does not take responsibility for these actions in what the military calls "the war between the wars,” in order to keep them at a warm simmer. 

"If Israel expands the campaign, we will never hesitate to provide aid whenever responsibility requires it," proclaimed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in the midst of the latest escalation. This shows that the Israeli message was received by "the strong kids" – that Israel's military and intelligence capabilities have not been weakened, and can hit the most sensitive places inside enemy territory.

IDF Spokesperson's Unit
IDF Spokesperson's UnitPalestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) locations that were destroyed in Operation "Shield and Arrow" between the PIJ in Gaza and Israel.

But, it also shows how explosive the situation can become. Operation “Shield and Arrow” was intended to hit only the PIJ. Except that in the neighborhood we live in, any localized attack can easily develop into an all-out war on several fronts.

Although Operation “Shield and Arrow” is being seen by the Israeli public as a success, and in the near future there will probably be a tense calm that is so desperately needed by the residents of southern Israel, this is just another step towards the inevitable that is approaching - the day Israel will have to make the decision to hit the strong kids on the block and initiate a direct confrontation. Because if Israel won't take this first step against Iran and Hezbollah, it could find itself marching to war at a time and place that does not suit it.

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