Operation Breaking Dawn: A success, but not a solution - editorial

If agreements, even informal ones, are to stand, they need to be honored. Israel can’t afford to let Hamas’s inaction against Islamic Jihad slide by unnoticed – that would send the wrong message.

Left to Right: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and  IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi visit the IDF southern command during Operation Breaking Dawn. (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Left to Right: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi visit the IDF southern command during Operation Breaking Dawn.
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)

Israel’s three-day military campaign that ended Sunday night, Operation Breaking Dawn, was about as perfect a military campaign as one could hope for.

Within some 54 hours of fighting, the IDF managed to eliminate Islamic Jihad’s top military brass in Gaza and significantly degrade the terrorist organization’s military capabilities without suffering the loss of a single Israeli soldier or civilian.

In addition, it did all of the above with limited civilian casualties on the other side (more Palestinian civilians were killed by errant Islamic Jihad fire than by Israeli attacks), without drawing other actors into the battle (Hamas, Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli Arabs) and without causing itself any diplomatic damage.

The campaign was brief and began by completely surprising the enemy; the intelligence was astounding; the precision of the attacks was breathtaking. In addition, the effectiveness of the Iron Dome improved dramatically since the last Gaza flare-up in 2021, this time succeeding in knocking down 96% of the rockets that were heading toward Israeli population centers. Somebody is learning the lessons from previous rounds of fighting and making the necessary adjustments.

Breaking Dawn was obviously not an operation that just unfolded overnight. Rather, this campaign against the Iranian-funded and armed Islamic Jihad – which was steadily getting stronger in Gaza and the West Bank – was well thought through and planned months in advance.

 Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi visit the IDF Southern Command during Operation Breaking Dawn, August 7, 2022 (credit: ELAD MALKA/DEFENSE MINISTRY) Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi visit the IDF Southern Command during Operation Breaking Dawn, August 7, 2022 (credit: ELAD MALKA/DEFENSE MINISTRY)

With all the success of the campaign, however, Israelis should not be confused. Although Israel delivered a stinging blow to Islamic Jihad, it did not solve the Gaza problem.

The Gaza Strip on Tuesday remains the same intractable problem, led by the same terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction (Hamas), as it did before the operation was launched on Friday. All that changed was that Islamic Jihad was significantly downgraded – and Israel’s determination not to be dictated to was on full display.

Some may look at Hamas’s decision this time to stay out of the fighting as an indication that the organization is softening somewhat. That’s an illusion. Hamas likes to call the shots, likes to decide when and where to attack, and does not like to be dragged into a battle not of its choosing – which is exactly what Islamic Jihad tried to do.

The good news

On the one hand, Hamas’s decision to stay out of the fighting demonstrated a degree of pragmatism. It knew that if it would get involved, Israel would deliver yet another blow to its military capabilities. It also knew that if it would get involved, its efforts at economic recovery – facilitated by aid from Egypt and Qatar, as well as by an easing of restrictions by Israel following last year’s Operation Guardian of the Walls – would be jeopardized.

These Israeli steps included allowing necessary material into Gaza for reconstruction and – most importantly – the granting of permits to Gazans to work inside the Jewish state. Israel has granted some 14,000 permits, and before Friday’s campaign there was talk of increasing that number to 20,000. The importance of those workers to Gaza’s devastated economy is enormous.

All of that risked being forfeited had Hamas joined in the fighting. That Hamas decided to remain on the sidelines demonstrates that it understood it had what to lose. 

The bad news

That’s the good news. The bad news is that following Operation Guardian of the Walls, the understanding reached via the Egyptians was that Israel would ease up its restrictions on Gaza and allow in Gazan workers, as long as Hamas took security control of the Gaza Strip and ensured that no rockets would be fired on Israel.

In that, it failed. Whether because it was unable or unwilling, the terror group ruling the coastal enclave did not rein in Islamic Jihad, as it was supposed to do under the agreement.

Hamas will obviously be expecting a “prize” from Israel – perhaps in the form of an increased number of worker permits.

But before agreeing, Israel needs to make crystal clear that while it was well and good for Hamas not to join the recent battle alongside Islamic jihad, it was unacceptable that they allowed that terror organization to first threaten and then fire over a thousand rockets at Israel.

If agreements, even informal ones, are to stand, they need to be honored. Israel can’t afford to let Hamas’s inaction against Islamic Jihad slide by unnoticed – that would send the completely wrong message after an otherwise immensely successful operation.