I am writing this during the closing hours of Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of our Temples and other calamities. Below you see ancient stones from the time of the Roman destruction of the Second Temple.
On Tisha B’Av we are called upon to do introspection that hopefully will bring us to a better place.
How strange it is, then, for Israel to be in battle with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) at the same time. This battle has been named Operation Breaking Dawn.
There are numerous matters I had been planning to write about, but I will put them aside. Here I want to focus succinctly on what we are currently dealing with, and send this out as promptly as possible.
It seems, somehow, as if there ought to be some spiritual insights imparted today to help us understand the juxtaposition of Tisha B’Av and battle with PIJ. I wish I had something to offer along that line; regrettably I do not. But I do have a number of pertinent observations.
The current situation can be tracked back to last Monday, August 1, when IDF forces were successful in capturing Bassam al-Sa’adi, commander of PIJ actions in Judea and Samaria, including the establishment of terror cells in the area. Israeli security forces had been after him for months. Finally, he was grabbed in a complex operation in Jenin. Reportedly, Ashraf Jeda, Sa’adi’s son-in-law, was also held because of suspected terror activity; other PIJ terrorists were killed in the action.
Israeli forces captured al-Sa’adi, you understand. He was not killed. But perhaps this was worse for PIJ, because dead he could tell no secrets. Or perhaps they truly were worried that Israel might yet kill him. At any rate, the terrorist organization expressed considerable rage, accompanied by threats of reprisal operations.
By Tuesday, in what was said to be an effort to safeguard the Israeli populace in the Gaza envelope against reprisal operations by the PIJ, the IDF sealed roads, halted train traffic south of Ashkelon, and instructed people to stay indoors. Apparently they could leave only at night, and only by foot.
There was a great deal of criticism leveled at the IDF with regard to this. One military analyst tweeted that “this is not the behavior of the strongest country in the region.”
On Thursday, MK Ben Gvir (chair, Otzma Yehudit) drove south, wanting to give strength to the communities that he called “besieged,” but was prevented from doing so. “I love our soldiers and policemen,” he declared, “but the problem is in the policy, it’s inconceivable for the Israeli government to surrender to the Islamic Jihad. If they threaten, they should be destroyed.”
This criticism resonated in many quarters and was vastly unsettling.
But then on Friday, Defense Minister Gantz held a high level security meeting in the IDF Southern Command headquarters. After commending the residents of the Gaza envelope for their incredible resilience, he announced (emphasis added):
“I came here today…in order to conduct a situational assessment, and to prepare the actions that will remove the threat on this region, in accordance with the operational considerations of the State of Israel…
“To our enemies, and specifically to the leadership of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, I would like to emphasize: Your time is up. The threat [on this region] will be removed one way or another…”
In the end, Gantz was not bluffing. And what had appeared to be the case with regard to the restrictions on the people in the Gaza envelope, was seen from a new perspective:
On that same day, the IDF eliminated Tayseer al-Jabari, who was a senior PIJ operative and commander of PIJ in north Gaza.
He had been in charge of PIJ’s rocket arsenal and coordinated attacks with Hamas. His apartment in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City was bombed, killing him and his wife.
After the assassination, the IDF let it be known that the four days during which citizens in the Gaza envelope were restricted in their movements gave the army time to prepare for al-Jabari’s assassination. They were waiting for intelligence on his whereabouts. General Ran Kochav said, “We received signed approvals for plans and waited for an operational opportunity.” The attack was said to be a “targeted preventative action to eliminate a concrete threat.”
This was great news. Not only because a terrorist leader had been eliminated, but because Israel had taken action. This is a turn-around, an enormous relief after all of the times that the IDF has claimed to have taken action in Gaza – most of the time against Hamas, when in fact all that was bombed were some empty buildings. Now we had gotten serious! This is how the strongest nation in the region behaves (and I will return to this in coming posts!).
If PIJ was angry about the capture of Bassam al-Sa’adi, it is not difficult to imagine the rage at the assassination of al-Jabari. In short order PIJ launched 100 rockets and the citizens of the Gaza envelope spent Friday night in shelters and safe rooms. Fighting had begun in earnest and numerous PIJ sites in Gaza were hit; additional terrorists were eliminated. Most of the PIJ rockets were aimed at the Gaza envelope, but some were launched beyond, including towards Modi’in and the outskirts of Jerusalem.
On Saturday, when once again visiting Southern Command headquarters, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi stated (emphasis added) “Our goal is to mortally wound Palestinian Islamic Jihad…
“This terror organization (PIJ) is now under attack. We won’t allow any organization—not here and not in the North and not in Judaea and Samaria—to harm the sovereignty of the State.”
Spoken the way the chief of staff of the strongest nation in the region should speak!!
And what do you know? Later Saturday night, the IDF eliminated another key PIJ leader: Khaled Mansour, killed in an Israeli airstrike in the city of Rafah. He was the southern Gaza counterpart of Tayseer Jabari.
The head of the military’s Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Oded Basiuk, then said that according to “all available information,” Israel had now killed the entire PIJ top brass.
Hamas, during this entire time, remained very quiet. It was thought that if this terrorist group joined the fighting, matters would intensify. But it seems to me that the Hamas leaders have far too much sense to have attempted that. They are, without a doubt, all in deep hiding, mumbling “My God, the Israelis have stopped talking and have started acting.”
In addition to the advantages to be had with regard to enormous weakening of Palestinian Islamic Jihad – one of the most volatile of the terrorists groups in Gaza, directly supported by Iran – there is this secondary advantage of deterrence power with regard to Hamas.
I would say, as well, that a message has been sent to Iran.
Since Friday, PIJ launched about 600 rockets towards Israel, although some fell short and landed in Gaza. Over 95% of the rockets headed towards inhabited areas were stopped by Iron Dome. Some 100 buildings in Israel have been damaged but there were no casualties, with the exception of one person wounded.
It’s difficult to report on the number of Arab casualties caused by Israel (perhaps 35, many of them terrorists) because a good number of PIJ rockets missed their mark and killed citizens in Gaza. Most notable here is the charge that Israel had killed four children, when in fact the IDF had video footage of the PIJ rocket that was responsible.
Please, do make note of this and send out corrections where necessary.
Egypt, as is par for the course, moved in quickly to negotiate a ceasefire. Israel was ready to accept: Lapid declared that “goals have been achieved, there’s no benefit in continuing the mission.” (According to the Shin Bet, “most goals” and I’d love to know what else the IDF had hoped to do.)
Second-hand reports had it that PIJ had also accepted. But that was not quite the case. They were demanding the release of two terrorists, one of them being Bassam al-Sa’adi – the PIJ leader caught in Jenin. Egypt made an effort to secure their release, while declaring it would be difficult.
Difficult? This was a joke. Can you imagine our releasing the terrorist leader whose capture started this entire incident? Israel’s answer was a resounding, no. No terms.
After a handful of stops and starts, with various earlier times announced, there was finally agreement that a ceasefire would begin at 11:30.
The National Public Diplomacy Directorate put out a notice at 11:00 PM confirming the ceasefire and cautioning: “If the ceasefire is violated, the State of Israel maintains the right to respond strongly. We will not allow any disruption to the lives of the citizens of the State of Israel.”
Naturally, in the time leading up to 11:30 the PIJ launched a barrage of rockets. It’s fairly routine for the Gaza terror groups – a way of figuratively getting in that last word before a ceasefire.
There will be a great deal more to say in coming days, but here I wish to touch upon just a few matters.
The first is with regard to the announcement by Binyamin Netanyahu, head of the opposition, who came out fully in support of what the government was doing in Gaza and was invited by Lapid to meet at military headquarters in Tel Aviv. The two spoke for well over an hour.
Said Netanyahu: “We are in the midst of battle. I of course fully support the government, the IDF, the security forces. I also [commend] the residents of the south for their firm stand and ask them to continue to observe the directives of the Home Front Command which save lives.
“I received a detailed update, I listened carefully and I gave some advice from my experience not only regarding the current situation but also regarding various areas and I think that these tips can be very useful for Israel’s security.”
This is precisely how it should be at such a time, but it’s encouraging still to see how it played out here. Will this affect politics down the road? Possibly. It’s one of the things we will be looking at.
Then it is important to consider who criticized us during our action to defend our citizens. All this, as well, will require a closer look in days ahead.
United Nations (UN) Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland declared himself “deeply concerned by the ongoing escalation between Palestinian militants and Israel, including the targeted killing of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader inside Gaza.”
No surprise, but disgusting in any event.
Then there are the Israeli Arabs who sit in our Knesset. Members of Ra’am, and of the Joint List (in the opposition). I mention in particular Ayman Odeh and the despicable Ahmed Tibi, who actually tweeted a criticism of the IDF for killing three children in Gaza even after the IDF had put out evidence to the contrary. (He later took it down.) There are some exceedingly serious issues at the heart of this behavior – this unwillingness to support one’s own government fighting to protect its citizens.
The fact that Israel is the most moral of armies becomes irrelevant when there is a readiness to criticize for political purposes. Thus, I cannot close without mentioning, as is always the case when there are hostilities with terrorist elements in Gaza, that Israel took pains to warn civilians. Shabak (Israeli Security) coordinators put out messages to civilians in areas near PIJ installations, warning them away before attacks would begin.
On at least one occasion, an attack was aborted because of information about civilians in the area.
I began with mention of Tisha B’Av and will close with yet another mention. It is a cause for rejoicing that some 2,200 Jews visited the Har Habayit (Temple Mount) today.
Crowds waiting to go up early this morning.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner.