Israel, the political echelon, the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Intelligence Corps, the Southern Command and the Air Force as the main execution contractor, has quite a few positive points that can be credited to its management of Operation Shield and Arrow up to this point. Conduct and initiative that enable, as of the time of writing these lines, compliance with the purpose of the operation, which is limited in scope, as defined up to this stage. The operation has not yet ended and there is still a chance that even if Hamas and Israel are not really interested, it may expand if Hamas joins the fighting. So, the IDF’s challenge will be much more significant and thus it will be measured, when it will be much more difficult to achieve the surprise effect as it was at the beginning of this operation.
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Along with impressive operational successes, we must remember that this is the weakest enemy that Israel has to deal with, and that the very differentiation and removal of responsibility from Hamas in Gaza time and time again creates complex strategic problems over time. In such a strange situation that also arose during the last operation in our crazy neighborhood in the Middle East, it seemed that Israel really went out of its way to explain that Hamas was not involved in the shooting and to remove responsibility from it. This while Hamas, on the other hand, really went out of its way to explain that all the resistance organizations are partners in the struggle. Hamas has taken responsibility for what is happening, although it has so far not directly participated in the shooting and may have found additional ways, primarily logistical, to contribute to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PAJ) for fighting in the current round.
Rocket launches from Gaza (Photo: Reuters)
Looking back to the recent past will remind us that only about ten months ago, Israel concluded another successful operation against the Islamic Jihad, in a kind of method that has been repeating itself since the assassination of Bahaa Abu al-Ata, the commander of the GAP’s northern region, in Operation Black Belt in November 2019. This Also the first significant time when Israel realized the idea of a campaign in the Gaza Strip against the Islamic Jihad only while differentiating it, when Hamas remained on the fence and did not take part in the fighting.
The high number of successors of the same Abu al-Ata in the position of commander of the northern area who were eliminated in recent years in operations against the GAP, gives another sign that military action against the rebellious organization alone is not enough to maintain security stability and a few years of peace. This, even if we take into account the attempt at civil expansions as relief for the population, and relief alongside carrots as a gain and as a cost of loss for Hamas as well (for example, in the thousands of workers who enter Israel every day from the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing). This is also another clear reminder that the basic violent situation in front of the Gaza Strip cannot be resolved only at the military level, as long as at the political level no realistic solution can be seen at this stage on the horizon.
As in other operations in the Gaza Strip since the disengagement in 2005, including those in which Hamas also took part, this operation also proves the weakness of the terrorist organization and the great gap between the statements of threats and the real and proven capabilities of the GAP on the ground during combat. And this despite the Iranian investment in them, which has increased greatly in recent years. Even in the major operations in the Gaza Strip where Hamas fought against Israel, the GAP was always the soft underbelly and penetration of Israeli intelligence. It succeeded in harming its superiors during combat much more than against Hamas, which knows how to conduct itself in a more secretive and isolated manner and thus presents a more difficult challenge for the IDF and Shin Bet to crack during combat in the Gaza Strip. This point should be remembered in a broad perspective, when Hamas itself is militarily much weaker in its capabilities than Hezbollah in Lebanon. A sober view of the achievements and modesty are mandatory conditions that must be kept in mind in a proportional perception of the achievements in fighting until now in the last operation, since Israel’s challenges against Hezbollah and Hamas are of a different magnitude.
Alongside the strategic problems vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip and Hamas, which remain constant (and the current operation is not expected to solve them, including the issue of deterrence), the obligation required as mentioned above is to see the achievements in the fight against the GAP with modesty and proper proportionality. To the credit of the political echelon and the security system, the IDF and the Shin Bet, it can be said that the cooperation between the organizations, the high and professional level of execution of the Air Force and the good working relations between Defense Minister Yoav Galant and Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet Chief Ronan Bar and the top of the General Staff and the Southern Command – giving them in the current operation merit points that deserve to be stood for. They can also be an important model for military conflicts against stronger enemies and more significant challenges, which Israel may have to face in the future.
The previous round has not ended
From an operational-tactical point of view, it has once again been proven that those who wish to achieve operational achievements in the Gaza Strip must maintain the initiative and the principle of surprise. Indeed, this was the case in the opening blow of the current operation, when three of the senior members of the Islamic Jihad were unexpectedly eliminated. Then it also became clear that from Israel’s point of view, the round of escalation that began with the GAP firing a barrage of rockets at Israel a week before the assassination never really ended as the leadership of the Islamic Jihad mistakenly thought.
The Air Force’s ability to carry out a coordinated and timed attack in a planned operation at two o’clock in the morning, in three different apartments throughout the Strip, is not a self-evident achievement. This is a performance that requires professionalism and planning at the highest levels. It is true that the Air Force took into account that the children might be harmed in the terrorists’ apartments and an attempt was made to reduce the risk by planning in advance, which in the end was not successful. The operation itself was postponed several times due to the desire to reduce the harm to those not involved. In the elimination of Bahaa Abu al-Ata in 2019, the Air Force managed to damage the bedroom, and nevertheless prevent harm to the children who were in the apartment. This time, in the attack on the three apartments, four children were killed.
And yet, from this incident, one can understand in depth precisely the operational importance of legal advice, the principle of proportionality – and why it is important to pilots first of all from a value point of view, in their ability to carry out difficult and complex tasks that are part of the nature of war, in which, unfortunately, sometimes even non-involved people are killed – and it does not matter If they are children or wives of terrorists. This figure is valuable for the confidence that the pilots have in performing the missions, and also of course from a legal point of view the ability to defend them in these issues. The legal advice given also in the last act of eliminating the seniors, which took into account the possibility of harming those not involved, is an important part of the operational planning process and does not contradict it. It is no coincidence that this issue was at the center of the pilots’ protest – it is a concern of many pilots in the fight against the implications of the legal reform, and the threats that the pilots saw in it for them, if it were to pass.-
The surprise of the opening blow achieved the required operational effect and made it very difficult to provide the Islamic Jihad with the operational achievement it still so desperately seeks. This is despite the extensive rocket fire towards Israel – whose effects should not be underestimated, and the effective countermeasures of the Iron Dome, with 96% successful interceptions. The high percentage of falling rockets in the Palestinian territory, which stands at about 25%, points to the professional and operational difficulties of the GAP even in its rocket array, despite the extensive firing.-
The effective functioning of the Gaza Division in defense and in neutralizing the attempts to launch anti-tank fire against the forces on the fence or the settlements near the fence can also be noted positively. These principles may also be reflected in a future conflict with Hamas, despite the better capabilities it has than the GAP. The element of surprise threw the leadership of the Islamic Jihad off balance from the very first stage – and this should also be strived for in the campaign against Hamas in the south or Hezbollah in the north.
in the stimulus and response cycle
The IDF was able to produce the second relative surprise in the operation while on the move, out of the necessity of the reality that surprisingly developed when for 36 hours the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip did not respond by firing rockets or mortars (apart from an anti-tank squad that was killed on its way to a position by rocket fire). This is a pattern of action that has never occurred in the Gaza Strip during the round of escalation, but is very familiar to the IDF from a similar pattern of conduct by Hezbollah after an event or action attributed to Israel against it, for which it seeks to take revenge with a one-off operational activity. Until an operational opportunity is found to harm IDF forces, even in the events that have taken place in recent years, the IDF is required to maintain high alert in the face of Hezbollah’s revenge – sometimes for many weeks and even more than that.
It is hard to believe that the Islamic Jihad thought of this in advance, but during the hours of waiting for an operational opportunity, while taking advantage of the fact that Israel was ready to end the escalation after the elimination of the senior officials and was no longer active in the Strip, it seemed that in Gaza they fell in love with the idea of waiting with the response until an operational opportunity was found worthy They succeeded in putting the Israeli rear in an unbearable situation where it is actually under a special state of alert, even before a single rocket was fired from the Strip.
Damage in Gaza from the IDF attack (Photo: Reuters)
The preliminary elimination of the mortar squad, but more than that – the decision made not to wait any longer and to begin a widespread attack on the terrorist organization’s loaded launch pits, left the GAP terrorists no choice: the rocket fire into Israel began, but again not under the conditions they sought to produce – first of all After an operational achievement, and while choosing a surprising timing for the start of the shooting. To a large extent, this action – even if it was not officially defined as such by the Southern Command – was in terms of stimulation and reaction. The planned shooting at Israel was in terms of a fait accompli, but in taking additional time by the GAP Until it began, Israel might have paid additional psychological costs in the face of a small and weak terrorist organization, which has an entire country under its belt. The choice, also at this point, to be the first to act, once again returned the initiative to Israel, despite the extensive barrages of fire, for which Israel was already prepared.
The assassination of Ali Hassan Raleigh, head of the GAP’s rocket array, is also noteworthy. It is not only the matter of seniority and its importance for the organization, we have already said this many times. But with all due respect to his abilities and his senior position, there is no top official in a terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip who cannot be replaced. It should be understood: the choice to make a significant move despite a cease-fire agreement that was already in the offing, as a response to the extensive shooting of the evening hours on Wednesday, is important in itself.
It is very doubtful if the GAP expected such a reaction, when they probably planned the evening volleys as the final show of the operation as far as they were concerned. The scope of the shooting was much more extensive than they were willing to accept in Israel, and compared to previous times when Israel was content to attack infrastructure targets in the Gaza Strip – this time they chose the army and the Shin Bet to recommend to the Minister of Defense a significant move which he accepted: the execution of a significant elimination even at the possible cost of continuing the fighting, Although Israel was interested in closing the operation and not continuing it (but not under any conditions and in any way). It seems that in this case too, the Islamic Jihad officials were wrong. They again braggadocio in navigation and received another blow and no less significant than the elimination of the three seniors already in the opening blow.
Already at this stage, when it is not clear how the operation will continue from here and if a ceasefire will be reached by the end of the week, it is necessary to note the important role of the Egyptians as a reliable and serious mediator. Their efforts play an important role in the fact that so far Hamas has not entered the event. It is likely that they also understand that in the face of the GAP’s shooting in the evening on Wednesday, Israel would have had to retaliate even though both sides were already close to closing the ceasefire which they have been trying to achieve since the first hours after the assassination of the three senior officials.
Completely opposite messages
In conclusion, there are noteworthy positive points from the way the operation has been conducted up to this stage. Alongside this, it cannot be ignored that this is the third time that Israel has embarked on an operation in which it absolves Hamas of responsibility for it (despite its complete control of the Gaza Strip and despite its part in the security deterioration of recent months). The question of purpose must be asked: what exactly is Israel achieving over time, beyond those successful eliminations in this operation? After all, Hamas in a declared manner gave full backing and a green light to the Islamic Jihad to act, without paying any price for it and while Israel only asks it to sit and wait on the fence and not join the fighting. This is when she ignores the fact that the validity of the previous operations in which Hamas remained on the fence was extremely short, and in this case – less than a year since the previous operation.
Israel’s desire to avoid war in the south can be understood, when there is no political purpose in sight. However, it must also be taken into account that as soon as Israel seeks to differentiate the Islamic Jihad and repeatedly engage in confrontation only with it (while absolving Hamas of responsibility for the serious security escalation in Gaza and the West Bank in recent months), it is sending the opposite message from the one it sought to convey in this operation as well – Strengthening deterrence towards the Gaza Strip, which will allow a long-term period of peace for the residents of the south.