Analysis: Fragile ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad takes hold

Rockets launched at Israel > IDF spokesperson via Twitter

A fragile ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad appeared to be holding, bringing to a close five days of conflict in Gaza and the Jewish state.

What happened

  • The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire came into force at 10pm on Saturday night. It was followed by a barrage of rockets from Gaza, and retaliatory Israeli strikes on terrorist positions in the coastal enclave.
  • While calm subsequently ensued, a rocket was launched from Gaza at the Israeli city of Ashkelon on Sunday evening. Sources close to the Palestinian terror groups said the rocket was fired due to technical malfunction. Israel struck two Hamas observation posts in response.
  • Egypt said both sides had agreed to “a commitment to stop the attacks on civilians and the destruction of homes, as well as the harm to people immediately, from the start of the ceasefire.”
  • Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said that “quiet would be answered with quiet” and Israel would do “everything that it needs to in order to defend itself”.
  • On Sunday, Israel reopened the coastal waters around Gaza and the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings, allowing some 18,000 Palestinians with permits to return to work in Israel. In Israel, road closures were lifted and schools close to the border began to reopen.

A recap

Israel launched Operational Shield and Arrow last week, coming in the wake of months of terror attacks and counter-terrorism operations. The latest violence was sparked by the death of Khader Adnan, a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, following an 86-day hunger strike. He had been arrested in the West Bank in February and charged with suspected membership of a terrorist organisation, support for a terrorist organisation, and incitement. In response, PIJ launched more than 350 rockets from Gaza at Israel, targeting major urban centres, including Tel Aviv. Last Tuesday, Israeli airstrikes targeted Khalil Bahtini, PIJ’s commander in northern Gaza; Jihad Shanem, a PIJ military council official; and Tareq Izz ed-Din, who directed PIJ activity in the West Bank.

The statistics

On Sunday evening, the Israel Defence Force released statistics on the operation:

  • Palestinian terrorist groups launched 1,468 rockets and mortars at Israel during the five-day conflict. Of these, about one in five fell short in the Gaza Strip, 2.6 percent landed in the sea, and more than 75 percent crossed the border into Israel.
  • The Iron Dome defence system, which is only utilised to intercept rockets and mortars headed towards populated areas, shot down 430 rockets, while the new David’s Sling air defence system was mobilised against two rockets, one of which was targeting Tel Aviv.
  • The IDF also said it carried out strikes against 422 PIJ targets in Gaza, including eight military sites, 19 command centres, 12 weapons manufacturing sites, 122 rocket launchers, 63 mortar launching sites, 10 squads launching rockets and mortars.
  • In all, Israel says, it carried out 21 targeted killings, including six senior members of PIJ. These included: Iyad al-Hassani, director of operations; Ali Ghassan Ghali, rocket unit commander; and Ahmad Abu Deka, rocket unit deputy commander.

The victims

  • The health ministry in Gaza said 33 Palestinians were killed during the fighting. Israel says 10 were civilians, most of whom were members of the families of the PIJ commanders killed last Tuesday. Israel says a further four Palestinian civilians died due to misfiring rockets. Palestinian media reports that Tamim Daud, a Palestinian child, died due to a heart attack brought on by the fighting.
  • Thanks to the Iron Dome, Israel civilian casualties were limited. They included 80-year-old Inga Avramyan, who died when a missile hit her apartment in the city of Rehovot. Her grandson said she was killed trying to help her paralysed husband reach a shelter; he was slightly injured. “I don’t know what my grandfather will do without her. She was his whole life. There was a love between them that you don’t see every day,” the couple’s grandson told Channel 12 News. The IDF said the Iron Dome malfunctioned and failed to shoot down the rocket which killed Avramyan.
  • Abdullah Abu Jaba, a Palestinian labourer from Gaza, was killed on Saturday when an agricultural building site near the southern border town of Shokeda was hit by a missile fired from Gaza. Abu Jaba was 34 and married with six children, all under the age of 12. His brother was seriously injured in the rocket attack. Israel said on Sunday that Abu Jaba would be recognised as a victim of terrorism, entitling his family to state benefits.

PIJ: Hamas’ Iran-backed frenemy 

In a televised statement following the ceasefire, PIJ’s leader, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, thanked Iran, Hezbollah, Qatar and Egypt, but pointedly left out Hamas. By contrast, Hamas, which – as during recent conflicts between PIJ and Israel – largely stood on the sidelines, praised its rival terror group, and adopted a slightly more collaborative role with PIJ during the fighting, running a Joint Operations Room.

  • Like Hamas, PIJ was founded in the 1980s to resist Israel’s occupation of Gaza.
  • The radical Islamist movement’s founder, Fathi Shikaki, was inspired by the Iranian revolution, and sought to attract Palestinian nationalists who disliked the PLO’s secularism and those ultra-religious Palestinians who were disillusioned by the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood movement.
  • Like Hamas, it rejected the Oslo peace process and instead engaged in bloody terrorist attacks, targeting restaurants, shopping malls and bus stations.
  • PIJ is funded by Iran, and Tehran also supplies it with rockets, anti-tank weapons, and mortar shells. Iran also backs and supplies Hamas, although relations between the two became strained during the Syrian civil war, when Tehran helped keep Bashar al-Assad’s regime afloat.
  • While PIJ is solely focused on – and thrives from – military confrontation with Israel, Hamas is subject to more complex considerations, due to its responsibilities running Gaza and its recognition of the high costs of conflict with Israel – costs which have frequently made it the butt of Palestinian public anger.
  • Israeli analysts believe Hamas was comfortable largely sitting out last week’s conflict. “It’s quite pleased with the blows Islamic Jihad suffered from Israel,” Kobi Michael of the Institute of National Security Studies, suggested, “because it weakens Islamic Jihad and gives Hamas more quiet and freedom of action within the Gaza Strip.”
  • But PIJ “may become a problem for Hamas,” argued Mukhamar Abu Saada, a professor of political science professor at Azhar University in Gaza City. “Islamic Jihad has become a strong competitor in terms of confrontation with Israel … they are the ones leading the confrontation with Israel four times since 2019, not Hamas.” He added: “It could constitute a threat to Hamas and its popularity among Palestinians who support military action.”

What happens next

The current ceasefire may well last, but – tragically for the people of Israel and Palestine – probably not for long. “So quiet will now reign — until the next inevitable round of fighting, which may come sooner than later, once Islamic Jihad replaces its slain leaders, restocks its rockets, and prepares for battle,” suggested Emmanuel Fabian, the Times of Israel’s military correspondent.