It’s not easy to apologize, so I’ll get this over quickly. In last week’s column, I complained that the decision by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to lock down communities close to Gaza following Palestinian Islamic Jihad threats to avenge the arrest of Bassam al-Saadi in Jenin on August 2, was a victory for the terrorists.
Well, we now know why the residents of the South were held as virtual hostages. It was a smart move based on pinpoint intelligence. The security forces were lulling the terrorists in Gaza into complacency, waiting for them to surface and make a move – so that the IDF could knock them out.
The three-day Israeli campaign now known as “Operation Breaking Dawn” took a lot of people by surprise when it began on Friday afternoon. Strategically, those surprised included the Islamic Jihad leaders. Instead of getting away with murder, the top figures in the terrorist organization were eliminated one after the other in precision operations. Islamic Jihad’s top commander in the northern Gaza Strip, Tayseer al-Jabari, and its southern division commander, Khaled Mansour, can now find out what really awaits jihadi martyrs in the Afterlife. And they have plenty of company, as a list of some 15 terrorist leaders were sent to join them, one after another, including Rafat al-Zamli, the head of the organization’s rocket unit. This seriously depleted its top ranks and affected Islamic Jihad’s immediate ability to operate.
The sort of intelligence and capabilities that enabled the IDF to kill a terrorist hiding in an apartment without destroying the entire building is praiseworthy and carries its own message of deterrence. Add to that the amazing strength of the Iron Dome system which succeeded in intercepting some 97% of the rockets that were heading toward Israeli towns. And remember that Israel is still working on the even more efficient and less expensive Iron Beam laser system which could be yet another game changer in the future.
This demonstration of military and technological prowess sends a powerful message to foes and potential friends. Israel and the Abraham Accords framework have much to offer when it comes to tackling common enemies, namely the nearly-nuclear Iran and the terrorist organizations it sponsors.
Israeli wartime success on the battlefield and in the media
Modern wars are not fought only on the ground. They are conducted also in cyberspace, via social media, as well as in the traditional media. Here, too, Israel was more successful than in recent defensive operations. A swift, well-coordinated response went far to mitigate the potential media minefield. When Palestinians published distressing footage of a destroyed Gazan home in Jabalya where four children lost their lives, Israel quickly pointed out who was responsible. In her native no-nonsense British English, Karen Hajioff, the prime minister’s international spokeswoman, pointed out that the deaths were the result of an Islamic Jihad rocket that fell short and landed in Gaza.
“There is video documenting the entire thing,” she declared, producing, the footage.
“Islamic Jihad is killing Palestinian children in Gaza. One in four rockets fired from Gaza towards Israel – lands inside the Gaza Strip,” she continued. “Iran’s proxies – including Islamic Jihad – have a long history of hiding behind civilians to target Israeli civilians. The world should be outraged at this terrorist group targeting innocent Israelis and killing innocent Gazans.”
The IDF also released footage showing how the planned airstrike targeting Mansour was aborted more than once because there were civilians in the vicinity.
According to several Israeli sources, more Gazan civilians were killed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets than by Israeli strikes. Sadly, that is unlikely to stop the terrorists from trying again in the future.
We have already seen more than once the cynical Palestinian use of the local population as human shields, even storing weapons, building terror tunnels and firing rockets from close to or under hospitals and schools. Dead children become PR props in the fight for support and sympathy in a world that doesn’t understand the context of the violence: Hint, an organization that calls itself Islamic Jihad is not seeking world peace, and it is not a social protest movement driven by the desire to better conditions for the local populace.
Many pundits were voicing optimism due to the fact that Hamas chose not to join Islamic Jihad in the fighting, although that might be for its own reasons: to weaken a rival terrorist organization; because Hamas hasn’t yet recovered from the blow it received in last May’s 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls; to continue to enjoy support from Qatar; maintain relations with Egypt; and benefit from the humanitarian measures taken by Israel.
In any case, it’s not over until the bodies of the two IDF soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, killed during a UN-sponsored ceasefire in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge – and two civilians being held captive by Hamas, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, are returned. Poignantly, the Goldin family was holding a protest march to the Gaza border that was halted by last week’s lockdown and operation.
Another year, another IDF operation in Gaza
OPERATION BREAKING Dawn was one of the so many operations in recent years that the average Israeli finds it hard to keep up with the names. (Who remembers Operation Black Belt in 2019, for example?) But citizens have a standard operating procedure. Jokes from previous mini-wars were recycled: I was bombarded on Whatsapp with the message: “The main thing is that the Jihad missiles don’t hit my mother-in-law’s home... 18 Hasharon Street, entrance 2, apartment 6, second floor, Tel Aviv, the brown door to the right of the elevator.” The joke fell flatter than the rockets.
Although most of the rocket fire was concentrated on the South, with some on Tel Aviv and the center, people across the country made sure to wear pajamas in bed in case they needed to rush to the stairwell or communal shelter during a incoming-rocket siren. And there was an understanding that COVID-positive neighbors should put on a mask and join everyone else in a safe area.
While there were no direct fatalities as a result of the Palestinian rockets, I saw one report of a fatal heart attack during a siren and, despite the jokes and famous Israeli resilience, never underestimate what lies behind the diagnosis of someone who has to be treated for shock. And we should never become inured to the sight of newborns being rushed to shelters in hospital maternity units, accompanied by Jewish and Arab parents and staff.
Some 1,175 rockets were launched at Israel during the three-day campaign. Tisha Be’av on Saturday night-Sunday, the day mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, had a special feel about it this year. But here we are, which is more than can be said for the Babylonians and the Romans.
It was the right decision to allow Jews to ascend the Temple Mount on the fast day; some 2,200 did so. Hamas last year tried to tie Jerusalem to Gaza by firing rockets on the capital on Jerusalem Day; had Israel caved into Islamic Jihad threats this week, I wouldn’t have had to later apologize for describing it as a victory for terrorism.
Israel's war on terrorism is ongoing
Operation Breaking Dawn is over, but the war on terrorism is ongoing. On Tuesday, the IDF killed Ibrahim al-Nabulsi in Nablus, a terrorist with a rich background in attacks, despite his youth. He was killed with two others in yet another operation backed by good intelligence. No Israeli forces were hurt during the incident, or almost none: A Counter Terrorism Canine Unit dog was killed. Prime Minister Lapid was among those who eulogized the fallen dog, issuing a statement saying: “Zili – beloved and professional – was a member of the unit. The unit – soldiers and canine handlers – will miss him; he had repeatedly accompanied them on operations.”
May Zili be the last dog of war to fall in action. And may Operation Breaking Dawn be followed by quiet, sunny summer days.