One week before the latest round of fighting over the weekend between Israel and the Gaza-based militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a senior Israeli security official had some prescient words. Unlike Hamas, which is the bigger and stronger group that actually rules Gaza, the PIJ “was an outlier … with no governing responsibility, which would require special treatment” if it chose to escalate, he told me.
That “special treatment” came in the form of a three-day military operation that Israel began last Friday, after several days of PIJ threatening a cross-border attack from Gaza into southern Israel (this was due to the arrest of a senior PIJ leader in the West Bank at the start of the week). The ensuing hostilities — Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, PIJ rockets into Israel — went, by most analyses, quite poorly for PIJ. The group’s most senior field commanders were killed, many of its military assets were degraded, and the nearly 1,000 rockets and mortars it launched did almost no damage because of Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system.
PIJ suffered a “very serious blow that’s taken them back decades. They didn’t expect that; they were surprised by our capabilities,” a senior Israeli diplomatic source told me after a ceasefire came into effect late Sunday. Israeli intelligence was able to pinpoint and kill PIJ’s northern Gaza brigade commander in its initial airstrikes Friday; the next night, in the midst of the escalation, his counterpart in the southern Gaza brigade was also killed in an Israeli airstrike (PIJ has only two “brigades” for Gaza).
The most telling aspect, though, was that Hamas stayed out of the fray. Despite the loss of life inside Gaza, with over 40 killed and 300 wounded, including children and other civilians, Hamas left it to Israel and PIJ to fight it out. This was in line with much of the past year, since the last round of open warfare in May 2021 between Israel and Hamas. By some estimates it had been the quietest period in and around Gaza for two decades — and not by chance. [Continue reading…]