It was not Bassem al-Saadi’s first arrest. It was actually his eighth. But the arrest of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank has led the IDF to brace for possible rocket fire or anti-tank missiles from the Gaza Strip.
Saadi was arrested by Israeli security forces early on Tuesday morning along with his son-in-law in the West Bank city of Jenin.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said Saadi was recently working hard “to restore the Islamic Jihad’s operations, in which he was instrumental in establishing a strong military force in Samaria in general and in Jenin in particular. His presence was a significant factor in radicalizing the organization’s operatives.”
As news of his arrest spread – along with a video showing him being dragged by troops and being bitten by a military dog – crowds began to gather and clashed with IDF troops. One Palestinian teenager was killed after throwing an explosive device toward troops.
Supporters in the West Bank and Gaza voiced solidarity with Saadi, and PIJ warned that they were “ready to respond.”
The terrorist group has followed through with its threats in the past. In an attempt to lower the heat, Israel’s defense establishment released two pictures of Saadi in the Shin Bet interrogation room, his head bandaged but otherwise uninjured.
Jenin, with its refugee camp, is one of the more violent cities in the West Bank with heavily armed militants from PIJ and other terrorist groups. Dozens of Palestinians have been arrested in Jenin by the IDF as part o Operation Break the Wave, and during every arrest raid, heavily armed militants opened fire on Israeli forces, leading to Palestinian casualties.
Not only have Palestinians been arrested, but more than 30 have been killed by Israeli forces, including PIJ members in the West Bank.
So why should the eighth arrest of Saadi be any different? Why would PIJ take the risk to drag Gaza into yet another war over his arrest?
The group hasn’t fired an anti-tank-guided missile toward a civilian or rockets into Israel over the deaths of their members killed in other recent IDF raids, and Saadi was only slightly injured when he was arrested.
Nevertheless, the IDF is prepared for any eventuality, including symbolic rocket fire that might not even cross the fence.
PIJ is the second-most powerful group in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, with an arsenal of thousands of rockets and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) that have been used against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
While Hamas is wary of war with Israel and prefers to focus on the economic issues to calm the situation on the street in order to maintain its grip on the blockaded coastal enclave, PIJ does not have to deal with the fallout of its actions against Israel.
When rockets or ATGMs are fired from the Strip, the retaliation is usually directed against Hamas, as they are the rulers of the blockaded enclave and therefore are held responsible for all hostile acts.
The IDF, like Hamas, does not want another round of violence to break out in the already devastated Gaza Strip. It has another border to worry about in the North as Hezbollah continues to ramp up its threats against the Karish gas rig.
Extending the period of relative calm
In addition to attempting to lower tensions by publishing pictures of Saada, Israel is trying to extend the period of relative calm in the South by increasing the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel.
Today, about 14,000 Gazans have permission to work in Israel, and that number is expected to grow to 20,000. According to a report in Haaretz, Israel is even considering raising the figure to as high as 30,000.
However, all these moves are worth absolutely nothing when the main player is PIJ, a group that has no responsibility to care for the Palestinian civilians of the blockaded enclave or Israeli civilians that they see as legitimate military targets.
The ball is in PIJ’s court.