Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the target of Israel’s Operation Shield and Arrow is extensive and deadly. It is not as large as the Hamas rocket arsenal or Hezbollah’s massive stockpile, which is believed to be more than 100,000 rockets. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is an Iranian proxy and thus has Iranian backing for its rocket program.
However, it is not a large group and must operate within the confines of Gaza or the West Bank, or in places like Syria, where it is under the control of other regimes.
The Gaza front
Most of the threats by Palestinian Islamic Jihad come from Gaza. It has built up a rocket arsenal there, under the protection of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip. Over the years it has increased the range and diversity of this arsenal, extending it from short-range rockets to much longer range, with Iranian backing.
PIJ may appear to be secondary in size to Hamas, but while Hamas must work to govern the strip, PIJ can remain a lean terror machine focused only on threatening Israel and honing its weapons. Towards that end did increase its rockets over the years, but it has also used thousands of them in clashes with Israel since 2018 when Israel began a series of operations focused on PIJ.
According to a 2022 report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, PIJ possessed up to 8,000 rockets in early 2022. These included those with ranges up to 120km. “The majority of them have a range of up to 40 kilometers. PIJ’s rocket cache includes Iranian Fajr-5 rockets, with a range of 75 km; Grad rockets, with a range of up to 35-40 km; and Bader 3 rockets, with a range of 10-20 kilometers. In recent days, PIJ has fired an estimated 600 rockets at Israel.”
The group also has anti-tank missiles. it apparently has the Kornet anti-tank guided missile with a range of 5.5km. In addition, the FDD report says that it has the “Iranian Ra’ad-T ATGM, which has a firing range up to 3 km; and rocket-propelled grenades. The organization further possesses special capabilities such as the man-portable air defense systems (MANPAD) known as the SA-18 (IGLA) and the SA-7B. PIJ has a few drones, as it revealed on Quds Day in April 2022, but their quantity so far is negligible.”
PIJ used around ten percent of its rockets last year in conflict with Israel. However, it may have replenished them. There has been significant pressure on this group over the years. However, Iran is also investing in it. It’s important to note that the terror groups in Gaza continue to increase their number and range of rockets.Back in 2014, the IDF said that “Hamas, the ruling entity of the Gaza Strip, is responsible for most of the attacks on Israeli population centers. Since Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, the terrorist organization has increased the size and strength of its rocket arsenal.
Terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip currently possess around 10,000 rockets including long-range missiles such as the M-302. Hamas is in control of 6,000 of these rockets.” At the time PIJ was assessed to have numerous grad rockets but not many long or medium-range rockets. The IDF thought it had 5,500 rockets back in 2014.
Israel has launched a number of operations in response to rocket fire and threats over the years. This goes back to the big operations like Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge as well as the smaller ones like Summer Rains, Breaking Dawn, Black Belt and Guardian of the Walls. In each operation the groups like PIJ fire rockets, sometimes thousands. But they also usually maintain some of their arsenals. After Guardian of the Walls in 2021, for instance, an estimate by JINSA sad that “Hamas and PIJ retain roughly 40 percent of the rocket capabilities they had prior to [the operation].”
The report by JINSA in 2021 noted that “although Hamas and PIJ fired approximately 4,000 rockets in the recent conflict, between May 10 and May 17 only around 300 were long-range rockets….After the latest round of violence, Hamas likely retains approximately 200-300
M-75, J-80, J-90, Iranian-made Fajr-5, Syrian-made M302, and second generation M-75 rockets with ranges between 70-80 km (40-50 miles).” The report noted that PIJ also had Boraq-70 rockets with a range of 80 km. It also may have a small number of Boraq-100 and Boraq-120 rockets, which have ranges of over 100km. “Hamas had stockpiled dozens of rockets with a range of 100-160 km, or 62-100 miles, (R-160, A-120, SH-85, Iranian-made M-302, and Ayyash 250).”
The West Bank and Syria front
The setbacks PIJ suffered between 2019 and 2022 appear to have reduced some of its capabilities. It still has rockets and some drones, anti-tank missiles and perhaps even capabilities to project some threats at sea; but it likely has suffered serious setbacks over the years in Gaza and its arsenal cannot be replenished as in the past.
This means that PIJ may need to also focus on the West Bank and other fronts. Because it is an Iranian proxy it does not exist in a vacuum. PIJ fighters in the West Bank possess many small arms. These include new M-4s and M-16 variants, such as the CAR-15. In addition, their operatives likely have pistols. Recent photos of smuggled weapons show the P-320 M-18 is a favorite among smugglers.Iran may also be trying to help groups like PIJ increase their use of explosive devices. In March a man infiltrated from Lebanon and set off an IED near Megiddo junction. It’s not clear if this is linked to PIJ, but in the overall context of Iran’s expertise in IEDs, it could mean PIJ could be supplied with this kind of support.
In addition, PIJ has operatives in Lebanon and Syria. It is unclear if the Syrian regime, seeking to return to the Arab League, would want to let PIJ conduct any kind of provocations from Syria in this context. Nevertheless, the group has had members there in the past.