The prevailing assessment in the defense and security establishment is that while Israel has restored deterrence against terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip for the short term, in the absence of any advancement towards a long-term peace deal, the calm restored on Monday will not hold for more than a few weeks.
Although no Israeli officials are saying so, Remembrance Day and Independence Day, as well as next week’s Eurovision song competition extravaganza, were main considerations in Israel’s decision to hold back, and the defense establishment was working under instructions not to cross any lines that might worsen the escalation.
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In the past few weeks, Israel Defense Forces in the area were operating under warnings that Palestinian Islamic Jihad might attempt to carry out a large-scale terrorist attack near the border fence. Defense officials believed the rogue group wanted to take advantage of the days leading up to the Eurovision competition.
The incident that set off the recent few days of intense conflict took place on Friday, when PIJ sniper fire wounded an IDF officer and a female soldier. In response, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi decided to dial up the Israeli response and attack a manned Hamas outpost that was not on the border itself. This prompted the organization to respond in an “eye for an eye” manner.
It appears that Hamas sought a response that was more limited in scope, such as a sniper attack or an anti-tank missile, but PIJ, which does not always obey Hamas, starting firing on Israel without coordinating with Hamas. Following the Israeli response to the rocket fire, in which the IDF attacked Hamas as well as PIJ, Hamas decided to fire its own rockets—heavy barrages for every major Israeli retaliatory strike.
That is how some 690 rockets and mortars wound up being launched at Israel in under 48 hours. Actually, the number is higher because not all the rockets fired made it over the border fence. Most of them landed in unpopulated areas, and Israel’s anti-missile defenses intercepted nearly 250 of them. The soldiers who operate those systems displayed impressive capabilities, but a few dozen still landed in populated areas, killing four Israelis, wounding many others and causing considerable damage.
This time, the terrorist organizations were using more firepower, and rockets that had a range of up to 25 miles, as well as the new Badr model, which carries a heavy load of explosives. These rockets are not high-quality, and the ones that made it over the border were intercepted by Israel’s missile defenses. Hamas and PIJ were warned not to fire at the greater Tel Aviv area to avoid an especially harsh Israeli response that could drag both sides into a full-scale conflict.
Israeli officials think that Hamas wanted an immediate ceasefire so it can get back to working on an agreement that will improve the economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza, but the defense establishment wanted to go far enough so that PIJ wouldn’t want to escalate things with Israel, either.
Of the 350 or so retaliatory strikes the IDF carried out in Gaza—more aggressively than in the past—a few dozens were aimed at PIJ targets. The 29 casualties in Gaza due to the strikes included 10 PIJ operatives. The defense establishment says that the purpose was to “bend” the terrorist group, but not break it.
This time, Israel used tools it has not taken out of its belt for a while, including the first targeted killing it has carried out in years. Actually, there were two—one was a financier who played a major role in bringing Iranian funds to Gaza terrorist organizations, and the second was a Hamas drone operator.
No one in Israel is promising that the current calm that will last more than a few weeks, but the reigning belief is that the risk of PIJ firing on Tel Aviv during the Eurovision competition has dropped, if not disappeared. The IDF believes it must maintain and increase deterrence when it comes to the rogue group.
Israel is also refusing to disclose the details of the ceasefire agreement with Hamas, but apparently it did not include any new benefits. As of 4:30 a.m. on Monday, both sides stopped firing.
Either way, if no political understandings are reached, it’s only a question of time before the next round of escalation, and it won’t be very long before it happens. Battles like this pick up where they left off, so it’s likely that the next escalation will be even more violent.