Israel averted much bigger war with Gaza

Israeli police in Ashdod inspect the damage left by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on Monday

Israeli police in Ashdod inspect the damage left by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on Monday

As the ceasefire took hold between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza this week, the streets of the Strip began to fill with people heading to a victory parade organised by Islamic Jihad.

However, given that the primary aim of the terror group- the main mover behind the hundreds of rockets fired into Israel over the previous four days - was to hurt Israel, not to liberate Palestine, they signally failed.

Israel's Iron Dome defence system produced remarkable results. Around 85 per cent of the missiles fired were intercepted in mid-air - altogether, more than 60 rockets. As a result, no Israeli civilians were killed and only three seriously injured.

But the propaganda victory may well have belonged to Islamic Jihad.

The reports that circulated the globe about the stand-off, while documenting the high number of casualties on the Palestinian side, regularly failed to mention the barrage of rockets faced by Israel. Even the UN Security Council failed to condemn the missile attacks from Gaza while condemning Israel for its operation.

Almost universally absent was an explanation as to why Israel decided to take the fight to Gaza in the first place.

Last Friday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's advisers told him that "an operational window" had opened up which could allow the IDF to take out Zuhair al-Qaissi, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) - a Palestinian terrorist organisation based in Gaza.

Israeli officials say that al-Qaissi was at the time planning an attack on Israel from the Sinai border, similar to the one that took place last August killing six Israeli civilians and two soldiers. The attack also threatened to damage the fragile Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

On Friday at midday, Mr Netanyahu consulted his Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, and the IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Benni Gantz. The assessment they gave Mr Netanyahu was that hitting al-Qaissi would lead to rocket fire from Gaza on cities and villages in southern Israel, which in turn might require further retaliation and escalation.

On the other hand, the military chiefs warned that if the terrorists were to be allowed to leave Gaza for the Sinai, and from there cross the border to Israel, an even bigger escalation, possibly involving Egypt, was on the cards.

Mr Netanyahu authorised the attack and on Friday afternoon an Israeli jet attacked al-Qaissi's car, killing him and one of his aides. The IDF assessment turned out to be accurate. In the round of fighting that followed, more than 200 rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza by the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad, with some help from the PRC.

Several factors made this round of fighting different to previous Gaza skirmishes.

No Israelis were killed this time around, even though for four days more than a million were living in a state of emergency, with schools shut down, public events cancelled and property damaged.

Senior IDF officers and Ministry of Defence officials said that the effectiveness of Iron Dome also had a strategic value. "If we had had more casualties, it would have changed our calculus and might have pushed us towards a broader operation in Gaza," said one. "Nobody wants that right now."

The Muslim Brotherhood's control of the Egyptian parliament also made a difference. Israel feared that any further escalation in Gaza could harm the peace agreement and force the military rulers in Egypt to expel the Israeli Ambassador.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, did not take any part in the fighting and also wanted to avoid an escalation. The terror group is dealing with an internal crisis and trying to regroup after its leadership left Damascus in order to distance itself from the Assad regime. It was Hamas who approached the Egyptians and asked them to mediate a new ceasefire.

The final factor that made things different this time was that, out of 26 Palestinians killed in the fighting, only four were civilians.

Senior Israeli officials see the latest round as a success. Israel demonstrated military superiority and hurt Islamic Jihad and PRC, and it found an "exit point" that prevented escalation. Nevertheless, they admit, when it comes to Gaza, success is a very fragile concept and the next round is only a matter of time.

● Anti-Israel activist Khulood Badawi posted on Twitter photographs of a wounded child who, she claimed, was killed by Israeli air strikes. In fact, the child died in an accident six years ago. Ms Badawi, according to Honest Reporting, is a UN worker. A contact list shows her as an information and media co-ordinator for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The fake post was spotted by Israeli Twitter user Avi Mayer.

Last updated: 3:32pm, March 15 2012