The IDF launched Operation Breaking Dawn against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip on Friday evening, striking multiple targets belonging to the group and killed close to a dozen terrorist operatives including the head of the group in the northern part of the enclave. By late Friday night, over 100 rockets had been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved a draft call up order of up to 25,000 soldiers in reserve duty for operational purposes and the IDF began calling up reservists in the Southern Command, Air Defense Units, the Homefront Command and combat troops and officers.
"The goal of this operation is the elimination of a concrete threat against the citizens of Israel and the civilians living adjacent to the Gaza Strip," Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.
Dozens of targets across the Gaza Strip were hit, with casualties including the head of the group’s northern command Tayseer al-Jabari.
Jabari replaced Baha abu al-Ata who was killed in an IAF strike in 2019. Jabari, who was also responsible for coordination between the group and Hamas, was killed at 4.16 PM in his apartment in Shuja'iyya. According to the IDF, he commanded over the launching of hundreds of rockets during Operation Guardian of the Walls last year, including anti-tank-guided missile attacks.
The IDF said that it had received a specific warning that Jabari was planning an attack against Israeli targets before the arrest of another Islamic Jihad terror leader - Bassem Saadi - earlier in the week in a raid in the West Bank.
In addition, IAF jets and drones targeted two cells that were on the way to carry out anti-tank missile attacks, killing at least 12 Islamic Jihad operatives. Military bases and buildings used by operatives were also targeted.
IDF warplanes have attacked a site in the Gaza Strip which manufactured materials used in the production of rockets as well as striking many Islamic Jihad sites manufacturing weapons, launching positions and military sites.
The Islamic Jihad said it fired at IDF aircraft. None were reported hit.
A rocket that was sent from Gaza landed in an open area near Sderot that is under construction. There was light damage that was caused and no injuries were reported.
IDF fighter jets attacked another production site used by the Islamic Jihad for the production of rockets as well as the production of mortar bombs. The IDF continues to attack terror sites of the Islamic Jihad throughout the Gaza Strip.
According to reports in Gaza, several civilians were killed including a 5-year-old girl and at least 55 more were injured.
"The enemy has begun a war against our people and against us and we will defend ourselves and our people," Islamic Jihad said in a statement.
The group’s leader Ziad Nahalka, who is based in Damascus, said that "the enemy should expect fighting. Our military wing will stand abreast of all other resistance factions in our struggle against Israeli aggression. This campaign is no holds barred and Tel Aviv will also taste the wrath of the rockets of the resistance."
A senior IDF officer said that the military was targeting Islamic Jihad and was trying to avoid civilian casualties and damage, but that the IDF was ready for the situation to escalate and stressed that Israeli civilians must adhere all instructions from the Home Front Command.
“We couldn't allow Islamic Jihad to carry out an attack, it backfired on them,” he said, adding that “there will be [rocket] barrages, there may also be casualties, all this is clear and this should also be told to the public.”
Following the targeted killings, which were carried out by jets and armed drones, the IDF warned that the group would likely respond with rocket fire toward the Israeli home front. The military has therefore placed Iron Dome batteries in the area of Jerusalem, Beersheba and others in order to intercept any projectile fired by the group.
“No one will be surprised if there are rocket barrages,” the senior officer said. “We are in an operation that won't take several hours, rather it will take time. We have not said our last word, we have more to do.”
The IDF said it hopes Hamas will stay out of the fighting, and that the terror group ruling the Strip is currently sitting on the fence over whether to join in any fighting that may break out.
Earlier on Friday afternoon, it allowed fuel into Gaza to prevent a total shutdown of the sole power plant in the Strip, which already operates on a limited capacity. Without the plant, Gaza would be dependent on external power largely from Israel which provides 120 megawatts daily.
Residents of the Gaza envelope were asked to remain indoors and all large gatherings were canceled. The National Emergency Authority in the Defense Ministry said that it has activated a plan dubbed “civilian safe distance” which allows any regional authority to help residents of the area evacuate their homes to accommodation facilities, should any wish to do so.
The IDF has also declared a “special situation” in the home front up to 80km from the Gaza Strip, including Tel Aviv, that there could be a risk of rocket fire. Major cities in central and southern Israel opened up their bomb shelters, including Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Rishon Lezion.
Residents of the Gaza envelope were asked to remain close to shelters should there be any rocket fire. The IDF has also declared a “special situation” for the home front up to 80km from the Gaza Strip, including Tel Aviv, that there could be a risk of rocket fire.
“The IDF continues to operate against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization with the aim of restoring security to the civilians in the State of Israel,” the IDF said in a statement.
Earlier in the day Lapid said that Israel 'won't allow terrorist organizations to set the agenda in the Gaza Strip and threaten the citizens of the State of Israel. Anyone who wants to harm Israel must know that we will get to them. Security forces will act against the Islamic Jihad terrorists to remove the threat from the citizens of Israel."
Gantz said that the goal is to protect Israeli communities and citizens. "We will not allow anyone to threaten or harm the citizens of Israel. Whoever tries - will be hurt."
Lapid, alternate PM Naftali Bennett and Gantz held a security assessment at the Kirya in Tel Aviv at 6:30.
Earlier in the day, Gantz warned that the threat posed by the group would be dealt with during a visit to the IDF’s Southern Command.
“To our enemies, and specifically to the leadership of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, I would like to emphasize: your time is up. The threat [on this region] will be removed one way or another,” the defense minister said.
During his visit, he held a situational assessment with IDF Chief of Staff Kohavi, head of the southern Command Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Toledano, Commander of the Gaza Division Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Aloni and the head of the Shin Bet Ronen Bar.
“The situation in which several terrorists (some of which are not even located in this area), hold the Gazan people hostage - will backfire,” Gantz warned.
Israel closed the Erez crossing on Tuesday, blocking 14,000 Gazans who have permits to enter Israel to work.
“Those who harm the ability of 14,000 workers to make a living, who cause produce to sit and spoil at crossing points, and who lead to electricity and food shortages - hurt the people of Gaza first and foremost, and will have to take responsibility [for this suffering],”he said.
Islamic Jihad leader visited Iran
Nahalka was in Tehran on Thursday and met with Iran’s President Ibrahim Raisi. Tehran funds and equips the Gaza-based terror group.
Gantz said that security forces are preparing for all scenarios, on all fronts including in the north and the center of the country and that the IDF will continue its operational activity in all sectors as needed.
“We do not seek conflict, yet we will not hesitate to defend our citizens, if required,” he said, adding that “the State of Israel and the IDF will continue its operations, knowing the responsibility we bear on our shoulders - to defend the communities and citizens of Israel’s south. And to defend the citizens of the entire State of Israel.”
During his visit to the south, Gantz also met with the heads of regional authorities, several of whom have criticized the restrictions imposed on the area by the IDF.
Stating that the resilience of the residents of the Gaza envelope have shown throughout the years “deserves our appreciation,” Gantz said that the defense establishment’s mission is to ensure that the tension ends and life returns to normal.
“I say to the residents of the area - we stand with you and we will take all the measures required in order to defend you, in a manner that is both decisive and responsible, and that meets the operational considerations set to bring about the desired results,” the defense minister said.
Road restrictions in southern Israel remained in place for the fourth day over concerns of an attack by Islamic Jihad after Israeli security forces arrested Bassem Saadi, a senior leader of the group in the West Bank overnight on Monday.
The IDF closed roads near the Strip on Tuesday and on Wednesday, it called up 100 reservists to bolster the Gaza Division to assist in securing the area and keep civilians out of areas that could be targeted by PIJ. The IDF also suspended leave in some of the combat units and has placed its Iron Dome missile defense batteries on alert for any rocket fire.
Troops in the Southern Command and Gaza Division have been ordered to thwart any hostile activity if identified, such as an Islamic Jihad cell readying to fire rockets, mortars or anti-tank missiles. Armed drones flown by the Israel Air Force have also been prepared to strike armed cells.
The terrorist group has in the past fired anti-tank guided missiles toward Israeli vehicles, both civilian and military.