Quiet achieved, but for how long?
Operation Shield and Arrow met its goals in seconds, but went on for five days.
At a joint appearance on the second day of Israel’s Operation Shield and Arrow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant proclaimed that the prime goals of the operation had already been achieved – indeed that they were achieved in what Netanyahu specified were the “first two seconds [of the operation], in the middle of the night”, when the IDF killed three Islamic Jihad commanders in three separate, simultaneous strikes.
“We wiped out the leadership” of Islamic Jihad, Gallant confirmed.
And when those first, devastating blows were followed by hundreds of attacks on sites used by Islamic Jihad for the production and storage of arms, on terror cells with anti-tank weaponry, and on rocket launch pits and the rockets therein that were ready for firing at Israel, the Defence Minister went on to claim, “The murderous organisation had no answer.”
The intelligence information and the guided missile capabilities that enabled the IDF to eliminate not only those first three prime targets, but also several other Islamic Jihad commanders over the next few days, certainly testify to the IDF’s astounding capabilities in the relentless battle against Gaza’s terror groups.
But the bitter fact is that, even with its key leaders dead, weapons stores blown up, anti-tank cells thwarted, and innumerable rocket launchers targeted, the “murderous organisation” did manage to muster an “answer” through four full days of conflict, and was still firing rocket salvos at Israel in the minutes before and after a ceasefire finally went into effect on Saturday night.
Speaking hours before the ceasefire was agreed to, Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi also stated that Israel had achieved its goals “in the first seconds” of the operation, and then acknowledged rather plaintively: “Everything that’s been going on since requires us to act because they’re firing on us.”
And Islamic Jihad, remember, is the evil little Iranian-mobilised sister to the far larger, far better equipped and far more potent terror group, Hamas, that actually rules Gaza.
With a force estimated at “only” some 10,000 and relatively limited rocket supplies, targeted constantly by the mighty IDF, Islamic Jihad nevertheless managed to keep up to half of Israel close to or inside sealed rooms and bomb shelters for five days.
Orna Mizrahi, a former deputy head of the National Security Council, asserted in a Channel 12 interview on Saturday night that the debilitating blows suffered by Islamic Jihad in the course of Operation Shield and Arrow have helped bolster Israeli deterrence – as regards both Gaza’s terror groups and the likes of Hezbollah across the northern border.
She argued that the potency of the Israeli operation – initiated at Israel’s timing, in a determined response to the 100-plus projectiles fired at Israel a week earlier after a former Islamic Jihad spokesman died while on a hunger strike in Israeli custody – has helped disabuse Israel’s enemies of the notion that Israel has been weakened by its internal divide over the government’s currently suspended judicial overhaul plans.
All of that is most certainly what the government and the security establishment would like to believe. There are also those who regard Hamas’s decision to stay out of this round of conflict, as it has stayed out of previous rounds of conflict with Islamic Jihad, as proof that it is anxious to avoid a confrontation with Israel for the time being.
Plainly, Israel did its utmost to avoid drawing Hamas into the conflict, focusing its airstrikes solely on Islamic Jihad targets, and repeatedly publicly stressing that it was solely targeting Islamic Jihad, and not Hamas.
At the same time, however, by staying out of a succession of recent Islamic Jihad-Israel conflicts – and with Israel choosing not to hold Hamas responsible for its evil sister’s actions, and choosing not to target Hamas people or assets – Gaza’s rulers have been left free and undisturbed to quietly build up their military assets for use against Israel come the day.
When will that day come? One test will be on Thursday, when the Jerusalem Day flag march is again set to parade through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City – an event that Hamas chose to target two years ago by firing rockets at Jerusalem, forcing the abandonment of the march.
The assessment in the Israeli security establishment is apparently that Thursday’s march is likely to pass without prompting another escalation of violence from Gaza. Hence the repeated promises from Jerusalem in the last few days that the march will proceed, as scheduled.
Sooner or later, however, Hamas will deem the moment right to directly confront Israel again. Its desire to eliminate the State of Israel is its raison d’etre. And leaving that murderous organisation without an answer to Israel’s military capabilities, however outstanding, constitutes a far, far tougher challenge than that posed by Islamic Jihad.
David Horovitz is founding editor of The Times of Israel.