Analysis: Israel’s message – Act rather than react

Ariel Schmidberg

Head of News at i24NEWS

6 min read
Batteries of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, in the city of Ashdod, southern Israel, on August 5, 2022
AHMAD GHARABLI / AFPBatteries of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, in the city of Ashdod, southern Israel, on August 5, 2022

Gaza's Palestinian Islamic Jihad will want to fight for an 'image of victory'

The launching of the Israeli military’s Operation "Breaking Dawn" on Friday, after the elimination of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Tayseer al-Jabari, is similar to that of Operation "Black Belt” in November 2019.

That exchange of fire also followed the elimination of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) figure at the time, Baha Salim Abu al-Ata. 

Al-Jabari, who succeeded al-Ata, was eliminated in the same way two-and-a-half years later.

It was a crucial decision by Israel to initiate and not wait to retaliate, to surprise and not be caught off guard, to act and not respond.

Friday's decision followed several days of tension on Israel’s Gaza frontier, and amid fears of an attack by PIJ after its senior members were arrested in the West Bank earlier this week, prompting the group to threaten to respond forcefully – although it was in no rush to do so.

Israel used this time to prepare – both its intelligence and operationally – for the start of a military campaign.

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As PIJ issued threats, Israel’s army deployed Iron Dome antimissile batteries in the center of the country. While Gaza was debating how and when to act on its threats, Israel gathered precise information that made the elimination of al-Jabari possible.

A security assessment at the political level in Jerusalem said that the operation would last longer than a mere couple of days, but Israel has no desire to be dragged into a prolonged confrontation that would cripple the lives of citizens in the middle of summer vacation.

As tens of thousands of Israelis are traveling abroad every day, the last thing Israeli officials want to do is close the international airport.

Still, Israel is likely to face at least several days of high tensions, movement restrictions, and rocket scares.

Since the launch of the operation on Friday afternoon, Israel’s military has attacked numerous PIJ infrastructures and positions, and the Gaza militant group has responded with hundreds of rockets launched at southern Israeli communities. 

Egypt, which plays an important role in mediating peace between Israel and senior PIJ leaders, will struggle to achieve a ceasefire anytime soon.

After suffering a major loss of morale from the elimination of al-Jabari, PIJ will want to fight for an “image of victory” and will not be content to fire only at Israeli locales near the Gaza border.

Therefore, it is estimated that the Palestinian faction will attempt to fire long-range missiles at central Israeli cities – and Israel will do everything possible to thwart these attempts in advance.

Israel’s army Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, an experienced officer who is well-versed in the intelligence and operational aspects surrounding Gaza, is nearing the end of his term and very soon Defense Minister Benny Gantz is expected to announce his replacement.

Kochavi will not want to end his term with a “stain” on his reputation, so, he will do everything possible to end Operation "Breaking Dawn” as soon as he can, with maximum achievements and minimum losses.

This goal is the same for Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the new and temporary Israeli premier, who has been in office for five weeks.

Lapid is facing the biggest challenge of his life: for the first time, he finds himself with all the responsibility on his shoulders, all while in the middle of an election campaign. He knows that every decision he makes during the current operation will not only affect the lives of millions of residents in Israel and Gaza, but also the result at the polling stations.

Everything he does or fails to do will be used against him in his opponents’ election campaigns, most notably by opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Although Lapid has already spent a good number of years at the decision-making table in times of emergency, there is a stark difference between being present at cabinet meetings and bearing full responsibility for decisions that lead to actions.

Lapid must prove to Gaza’s rulers that he is not here to play games and that he has zero tolerance for threats.

Anyone who suggests that Lapid and Gantz embarked on Operation "Breaking Dawn” for political gains is mistaken, though, for a few reasons.

First, it is not their style. Second, the risk is too great. Third, in recent years, the rate of escalation and de-escalation in military operations of this kind is quite similar each time and, despite many efforts, the picture of victory is not clear for either side. 

In practice, operations tend to end in an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, with each side showing only partial achievements. 

Israel knows that it will not eliminate extremism in Gaza, and the militant groups in the Palestinian enclave know they will not wipe Israel off the map.

When both parties understand the ins and outs of reality, they would do well to strive toward ending the operation as soon as possible.

Ariel Schmidberg is the director of the i24NEWS news department.

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