Islamic Jihad is decapitated... but wider war with Iran and its allies goes on

As a text was being sent to thousands of reservists on Saturday night, a guided missile was launched at a secret safe-house in Gaza City, killing PIJ leader Kahled Mansour and two of his deputies


**FILE PHOTO** Portrait of Khaled Mansour pictured on December 12. 2021 , the senior commander in Saraya al-Quds, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, who was killed in an Israeli air strike in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** דיוקנו של חאלד מנצור , המפקד הבכיר בסראיה אל-קודס, הזרוע הצבאית של הג'יהאד האסלאמי, שנהרג בתקיפה אווירית ישראלית בעיר רפיח שבדרום רצועת עזה.

August 11, 2022 13:03

On Saturday night, thousands of reservists around Israel, veterans of infantry and armoured units, received texts telling them they were “four hours from call”. It was a poignant moment.

For the observant, it was just as they were starting to read megillat eicha — the scroll of Lamentations which is recited at the beginning of the Tisha b’Av fast day. Others were just about to embark on their summer holidays.

It was 30 hours into Operation Breaking Dawn and Defence Minister Benny Gantz had authorised the IDF to call-up 25,000 reservists. The number was misleading, enough troops to raise an entire reserve division, in addition to the IDF’s two standing divisions — enough to launch a wide-scale ground offensive in Gaza. But the call never came. Around 4,000 reservists were mobilised, mainly to bolster the intelligence teams and Iron Dome batteries which had been deployed in advance. But the ground troops stayed at home; or went on holiday.

As the texts were being sent, an IAF drone launched a guided missile at a secret safe-house in a residential building in Gaza City. Kahled Mansour, two of his deputies and four civilians were killed on the spot.

Mansour, the commander of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) forces in the southern half of the Gaza Strip, was the group’s last remaining senior operative in Gaza. His colleague in the north, Tayseer Jabari, had been killed on Friday afternoon. Less than three years earlier, in November 2019, the other senior PIJ commander in Gaza, Baha Abu al-Ata, was killed in a similar strike.

With its leadership in Gaza gone and the larger Islamist militant organisation, Hamas, keeping out of the fray, PIJ had little choice but to agree to a ceasefire 24 hours later.

Israel’s military planners could scarcely have hoped for a more successful operation. PIJ had been “decapitated” in the space of 30 hours and despite firing 1,100 mortar shells and rockets towards Israel, had failed to cause a single Israeli casualty.

More than two hundred PIJ rockets fell short and exploded in Gaza. Many of the others veered wildly off-course. Of those that were headed to Israeli towns, 97 percent were intercepted by Iron Dome. PIJ’s locally manufactured rockets were simply not up to scratch.

But Breaking Dawn’s success shouldn’t obscure the fact that things could have very easily gone awry. Hamas could have decided to accede to Iranian entreaties and joined battle.

Mansour and Jabari could have stayed underground instead of breaking cover to direct their fighters. An Israeli air-strike or a Palestinian rocket could have hit a major civilian target causing dozens of casualties. The reserve division would have had to be called up and Israel forced into another ground offensive in Gaza.

Just nine days before Operation Breaking Dawn began, Major General Eliezer Toledano told a group of reporters visiting his Southern Command sector that “from the moment the last operation ended, we began preparations for the next one”. He didn’t know at that point how close this operation would be, and that the arrest of a PIJ commander in the West Bank five days later would set in motion a sequence of events that would lead to the latest campaign.

Toledano said: “Hamas is a criminal government but they have some scruples. They don’t want to jeopardise what they’ve achieved over the past year. With PIJ things are a bit different.”

He was right. PIJ acted alone, preparing a missile strike on Israeli communities. Hamas made it clear they had no interest in getting caught up in the escalation.

The policy of the Bennett-Lapid government over the past year had worked: to gradually increase the economic incentives in the shape of work permits, expanded trade and infrastructure projects, ensuring that Hamas would have much more to lose. Iran’s funding of its proxy PIJ failed to achieve the desired results and it will take a long time to rebuild capabilities.

But it wasn’t an entire loss for the Iranians. Israel was distracted during a crucial week of the talks over resumption of the nuclear agreement. Another distraction could come from the north, where a much more powerful Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, is threatening to attack the Karish offshore platform, which is scheduled to go online next month and to start supplying natural gas from a disputed sector of the eastern Mediterranean.

This round was a resounding win for Israel, but it remains part of a much wider ongoing war.


The rockets from Gaza also jeopardised the primaries that took place in Israel’s two most historic parties. Likud and Labour were planning to postpone the internal elections for the candidates lists but the ceasefire on Sunday night allowed them to be held as scheduled.

According to the polls, Likud expected to win at least thirty seats in the new Knesset. Its primaries were on Wednesday and we’ll delve into the results next week.

Labour once won (as part of the “Alignment” list) 56 seats, the closest any party has ever come to winning a Knesset majority. But that was back in 1969 and since then it’s been downhill all the way.

This election, if the polls are anything to go by, Labour will do well to repeat last year’s performance — seven seats. Which made Tuesday’s primaries all the more desperate, as 34 candidates vied for just a handful of realistic spots on the list.

The primaries’ big winner, Na’ama Lazimi, who will take second spot on the list behind Labour leader Meirav Michaeli, is at 36 years old Labour’s last shot at resurrecting its future. Only a year in the Knesset, she already leads the group of dissidents in the coalition which successfully passed legislation boosting the national minimum wage to 40 shekels an hour.

At a parlour meeting with party members in Jerusalem late one evening two weeks ago, despite the obvious campaign trail exhaustion Ms Lazimi charmed her audience with stories of her childhood memories of the party branch in her small hometown of Migdal Ha’emek, and how her father, who was branch chair, would hold meetings to support the Oslo Process.

But her current pitch doesn’t include peace plans to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Instead she focuses on working conditions and benefits. Her short political career includes a stint as former party leader Shelly Yachimovich’s parliamentary assistant and serving on the Haifa city council, before getting to the Knesset. Her stump speech and answers to members’ questions was heavy on passion for social democracy. Conspicuous by its absence was any mention of Labour’s current leader, Michaeli.

The contrast between the two women is striking. Ms Michaeli is a former broadcaster, a pillar of the Tel Aviv media community, whose main ticket has been women’s rights.

Despite her success in bringing Labour back from the dead in the previous election, she has so far failed to reach beyond Labour’s shrinking urban hinterland.

Ms Lazimi, who didn’t receive the leader’s backing in these primaries, represents Labour’s dream of breaking into the Mizrahi working-class neighbourhoods that traditionally vote Likud. Former leader Amir Peretz came from Sderot and embodied that dream as well but he failed to deliver at the polls – and on top of that joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition and nearly pushed Labour into oblivion.

Both women are agreed Labour must never join another Netanyahu coalition and that merging their candidates list with that of left-wing Meretz, to ensure both parties cross the electoral threshold on 1 November, would be a mistake. But their policy priorities and visions for Labour are very different.

Three weeks ago, Ms Michaeli was reelected leader with a whopping 82 percent of the vote. Now the party membership has chosen Ms Lazimi as effectively her number-two and leader-in-waiting.

In the short term, it’s good news for Labour. It will have two effective campaigners and persuasive communicators in this election, who should be able to guarantee the party makes it over the line on 1 November. But guaranteeing survival is not a blueprint for reviving Labour’s prospects of ever becoming a party of power again. Here as well, they have different attitudes.

Ms Michaeli likes to talk about grand strategies of making it back to the top table. Ms Lazimi, who unlike the party leader was actually a Labour activist the last time the party held power over 20 years ago, is much more focused on what it can achieve now as a small party.

In the not too distant future they will be fighting each other for the leadership and Labour members will have to decide which vision is more compelling.

August 11, 2022 13:03

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