End of latest Gaza fighting gives Israel new problems — and opportunities too

With Operation Shield and Arrow at an end, there are few signs that Iran's proxies are keen to lower tensions


The last few months have seen Iran increasing its attempts to “unify the fronts” against Israel, with the goal of bringing together PIJ, Hamas and groups in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere.

Following attacks over Passover, more than 100 rockets were fired in early May after Palestinian prisoner and PIJ member Khader Adnan died following a hunger strike.

Then came the IDF’s Operation Shield and Arrow, which officially ended on May 13. The five-day mission targeted senior commanders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an Iranian-backed group often seen as a proxy for Tehran.

With the hostilities brought to an end, the Israel Ministry of Defence reopened the Kerem Shalom and Erez Crossings to Gaza on May 14.

This enabled trucks to go back and forth with goods that are needed in Gaza and for workers to transit to Israel.

But days after this gesture was supposed to bring normality to the Gaza border, it appears Hamas and other groups in Gaza are determined to maintain the tension.

The excuse this week is the Jerusalem Day festivities, which celebrate the reunification of the city in the Six Day War.

Every year this is used by extremists to stoke up a tense atmosphere. In this case, Hamas has said that the “so-called Zionist flag march is part of the religious war waged by the Israeli occupation against the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque and occupied Jerusalem’s Arab identity”.

The “flag march” refers to the parade that ends in the Old City, with the marchers passing through the Damascus Gate. This entails thousands of Jews waving Israeli flags parade through the largely Muslim quarter of the Old City to reach the Kotel or Western Wall.

The march could be redirected to go through Jaffa Gate and bypass the Muslim areas by winding through the Jewish quarter and passing the Armenian and Christian quarters of the city.

It appears that Jerusalem Day is increasingly being used by Hamas and others to create controversy. They claim it requires them to “respond”, with the result that the march is seen as “causing” friction when in fact it’s entirely possible to stage a cordoned-off march without any violence.

Some observers see parallels to the “marching season” in Northern Ireland, and a symptom of deeper undercurrents of conflict.

With that in mind, it’s worth wondering what was accomplished in Israel’s recent operation. Israel carried out precision strikes against commanders of PIJ. This leaves most of the average fighters of the group intact. The IDF believes that it has negated some of the group’s rocket launching capability and “severely damaged the Islamic Jihad’s force build-up capabilities and weapon manufacturing capabilities”.

That may be true, but PIJ did fire 1,468 rockets, of which some 300 malfunctioned and fell inside the Gaza Strip, killing three Palestinian civilians.

Israel’s air defence systems intercepted rockets that crossed the border and were projected to fall in civilian areas. Nevertheless, workers near the border were injured and one Israeli was killed.

The IDF successfully used its David’s Sling air defence system, a medium-range interceptor, against a rocket fired from Gaza. This is important because the system was jointly developed with the US and is similar in some ways to the Patriot system.

Finland has procured David’s Sling and this is part of the larger context of how Israeli air defence systems and defence technology are now in high demand in Europe and elsewhere.

With the short Gaza conflict over, Israel’s political crisis slouches back to bickering over a budget and demands by the strictly Orthodox for more funding. The judicial reform, supposedly paused temporarily, will come back soon and provoke another wave of protests and crisis.

It’s unclear if groups such as Hamas or Iran’s machinations will be able to get any traction given the country’s other demands. What is clear is that the short-term distraction of the conflict in
Gaza doesn’t portend an end to these kinds of operations.

Israel has transitioned from the era of the Second Intifada to short conflicts with Gaza-based groups.

On the other hand, the dangers posed by Iran, described as an “octopus” by the previous Israeli coalition government, is the main challenge and requires the most attention.

There is an interesting aspect to the Iranian threat that links the current rise in attacks from Gaza to Iran’s supply of drones to Ukraine.

Recent reports indicate that Russia wants more drones from Tehran.

Moscow has also been trying to target western-supplied air defences that were sent to Ukraine.
Iran, similarly, sought to overwhelm Iron Dome and test Israel’s air defences by encouraging PIJ in the latest round of attacks.

What that means is that both Moscow and Tehran are pursuing a similar strategy, and Israel’s air defences are therefore more relevant than ever globally.

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