The rival goals of Palestinian militant groups may ensure an Egypt-mediated ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group in Gaza holds firm, a Middle East security expert has said.
The three-day flare-up of violence this week resulted in the deaths of 44 Palestinians, half of whom were civilians and 15 children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Another 350 were estimated to have been injured.
Israel’s prime minister Yair Lapid has also been accused of escalating the conflict for political benefit, ahead of the country’s upcoming elections in November.
Dr Eyal Mayroz, a senior lecturer at University of Sydney in Middle East peace and conflict, said the lack of alignment in goals of the PIJ and Hamas, who rule Gaza, meant there was no support for a prolonged war.
“Their operation was hinged on their effort to get Hamas involved, but they held out,” he said.
“The relationship between the Islamic Jihad and Hamas is ‘we share the struggle against the Israeli occupation’, but it is also one of rivalry. Hamas doesn’t like the Jihad’s escalating the situation, which is opposite to Hamas’ interests. Hamas does not have an interest.”
Following threats made last Tuesday to attack Israel following the arrest of West Bank Commander Bassem al-Saadi, Israel launched operation Breaking Dawn on August 5, striking buildings and infrastructure with missiles and killing militant leaders Tayseer Jabari and Khaled Mansour.
In the tit-for-tat game going on between Israel and the Palestinian military factions for decades now, there is rarely a situation in which Israel would do something like that… without the other side feeling the need to retaliate.
But Dr Mayroz said Israel’s response may have been stoked by political pressures rather than security fears.
“I would say (Prime Minister) Lapid is in an intensive situation, where he has to prove himself, where there is an ongoing struggle with the opposition led by (Benjamin) Netanyahu, who see Lapid as someone with no experience, he is not a soldier, he cannot be trusted,” he told Central News.
“This is a very powerful election drive to undercut this argument.”
Israel’s turbulent political climate is not a recent development: four Knesset (Israel’s parliamentary body) snap elections have been held in only three years, with the fifth in November following the removal of previous Prime Minister Netanyahu, who had led the country since 2009. He is currently indicted on charges of fraud and bribery, while remaining as leader of the Opposition.
Dr Mayroz said the fragility of the government’s standing may have been motivation enough for Lapid to take decisive action.
Following threats from the PIJ, which has carried out attacks within Israel for 40 years, Lapid responded with lockdowns, road closures, and then air strikes on Gaza.
— Omar Ghraieb🇵🇸 (@Omar_Gaza) August 7, 2022
“The question was then ‘What can Israel do?’ Do they wait for the attack and retaliate, or do a pre-emptive attack? The decision was made for a pre-emptive attack,” said Dr Mayroz.
In response, over 400 rockets have been launched by the PIJ, most intercepted by Israel’s air defence system, the Iron Dome.
“In the tit-for-tat game that is going on between Israel and the Palestinian military factions for decades now, there is rarely a situation in which Israel would do something like that – targeted killing, or arrest of a high-level militant – without the other side feeling the need to retaliate in a way to protect their image, their morale,” Dr Mayroz added. “There’s a balance of fear there.”
Gideon Levy, a journalist at Haaretz in Tel Aviv, called the people of Gaza ‘sacrificial pawns’ in a political power play.
Israel blamed militants for some of the civilian deaths, claiming a misfired rocket had hit an apartment building.
Deadly air raids were not only “illegal, but irresponsible”.
“Of the civilians and the children that were killed, Israel seems to have evidence to support its argument that they were actually killed by Islamic Jihad rockets rather than Israeli fire,” Dr Mayroz said.
The PIJ is a small group in comparison to Hamas, but possess a large number of small arms, rockets, and other weapons.
Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, clashes and short wars between Israel and armed militant groups have regularly broken out. The past week has been the most violent between the two since an 11-day clash in May last year.
The United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, Francesca Albanez, condemned Israel’s attacks and called for accountability, saying the deadly air raids were not only “illegal, but irresponsible”.
The US and UK have stood by Israel’s right to defend itself against ‘terrorist’ groups.
Main image of Yair Lapid by the Brookings Institution/Flickr.