Israel announced late Friday the start of a military operation in the Gaza Strip with multiple strikes against targets of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, with leaders saying the actions were necessary after the group refused to withdraw – of their intentions to carry out attacks against the country.
The military said six sites were hit by fighter jets and armed drones when it launched Operation Breaking Dawn. One of the attacks killed one of PIJ’s top commanders.
The IDF also attacked the head of the anti-tank guided missile array and several squadrons preparing attacks. The military estimated that between 10 and 20 terrorist operatives had been killed in the initial wave of airstrikes.
The Hamas-run health ministry said at least 10 people had been killed, including a 5-year-old girl, and 55 others were injured.
A second wave of strikes against PIJ targets followed some time later.
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In a joint statement, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel “will not allow terrorist organizations to set the agenda in cities near the Gaza Strip and threaten the citizens of Israel.”
Earlier in the day, Gantz had warned that Israel would take action if the terrorist group did not halt its preparations for an attack. PIJ had threatened since Tuesday to attack in response to the arrest of its West Bank leader, prompting days of road closures and community blockades in areas near the border under immediate threat.
Tayseer Jabari, the commander of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in northern Gaza, in an undated photo. Jabari was targeted and killed in an Israeli airstrike on August 5, 2022. (Social Doctors)
One of the first Israeli strikes killed Tayseer Jabari. Jabari replaced Baha Abu al-Ata as the group’s commander in northern Gaza after the latter’s assassination by Israel in 2019. The PIJ confirmed Jabari’s death.
Israeli officials indicated that the operation was specifically targeting the PIJ, hoping to keep Hamas out of the conflict, as it did during a flare-up following the killing of Abu al-Ata.
A senior military official said Islamic Jihad had been preparing a major terrorist attack against Israeli civilians, with Jabari and many of his fighters planning to attack civilians near the border, the official said.
The army was expecting a large rocket launch from the Gaza Strip, he added.
The military said it had deployed the Iron Dome air defense system near Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba as it anticipated retaliation from Islamic Jihad in the form of rocket attacks. The army said a “special situation” had been declared on the home front, up to 80 kilometers from Gaza, an area that stretches as far north as Tel Aviv. A “special situation” is a legal term used in times of emergency, which gives authorities greater jurisdiction over the civilian population in order to expedite efforts to safeguard the population.
Residents of areas near the border were instructed to stay close to air raid shelters, and gatherings were restricted in areas of Lachish and the central Negev. Public bomb shelters were opened in the city of Beersheba.
Meanwhile, the IDF began calling up reservists to bolster its Southern Command, Home Front Command, Air Defense Matrix and combat troops in the event of a larger escalation. Gantz approved calling up up to 25,000 reservists, his office said.
Lapid, Gantz, alternative prime minister Naftali Bennett and senior security officials held security consultations in the evening to decide on Israel’s next steps.
IDF spokesman Ron Kochav told Channel 12 that the operation was “a targeted campaign against Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” confirming reports that the military was trying not to drag Hamas into the ongoing conflict and hoped to maintain the campaign limited in scope.
Incoming IDF Spokesman Ran Kochav speaks during a ceremony at the IDF Spokesman Unit headquarters in north Tel Aviv on June 6, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Detailing the context in which the IDF had resorted to airstrikes and the deadly targeting of PIJ’s Tayseer Jabari, Kochav said: “Jabari was responsible for the concrete threat of the last three to four days of firing anti-tank missiles and mowing down civilians Israelis or soldiers in the Gaza border area”.
Once IDF intelligence was complete and preparations had been made over the past three days, “we conducted a devastating ambush, which thwarted Jabari and members of the anti-tank cells, along with with others.”
The extraordinary intelligence information allowed a direct attack on the apartment where Jabari was located, Kochav said.
In subsequent strikes, “we struck Palestinian Islamic Jihad manned positions, including rocket-launching positions, some of which were recently used.”
Speaking to Channel 12, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said the government decided “that we are not ready to be held hostage by a terrorist group from Gaza.”
She added: “We don’t know how [conflict] will be played… but that might take some time… This might be a long round [of conflict] and a tough one.”
Israeli soldiers are seen near the border with the Gaza Strip, August 5, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
An unnamed security source told the news site Ynet that “efforts to get Islamic Jihad to drop” its intentions to carry out an attack “were exhausted.” He said that “this is why Israel has launched an assault on the group.”
– Quds News Network (@qudsn) August 5, 2022
Tensions in the Gaza Strip rose following the arrest of Bassam Saadi in Jenin on Monday night. Since then, the Israel Defense Forces have beefed up their forces and closed routes along the border due to fears of imminent anti-tank guided missile retaliation or sniper attack by Jihad islamic The precautions have largely put residents of border communities under lockdown.
“To our enemies in general and to the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad I say explicitly: ‘Your time is limited. The threat will be eliminated one way or another,’” Gantz said during a press conference at the army’s southern command in Beersheba.
Gantz said the terrorist group was holding Gazans “hostage” as the Erez crossing, used by thousands of Palestinians a day, remains closed due to its threats.
Broken glass is strewn across a street after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on August 5, 2022. (Mohammed ABED/AFP)
“Whoever steals the livelihood of 14,000 workers, causes agricultural products to rot in the foothills and causes shortages of electricity and food, first and foremost harms the residents of Gaza and bears the responsibility,” he said.
Israeli soldiers and police block the Karmiya junction near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 5, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Gantz said Israel’s defense establishment was preparing for “whatever action is necessary, on all fronts in the south, center and north. We will continue operational activity in all sectors, as long as is necessary”.
In a statement to the world, “especially” the countries involved in Gaza, Gantz said Israel was “acting with restraint” but would act with “power” in order to return civilian life in southern Israel to “full normalcy “.
“We’re not fighting to fight, but we won’t hesitate if we have to,” Gantz said.
Military chief Aviv Kohavi (right), Defense Minister Benny Gantz (center) and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar conduct an assessment at the headquarters of the IDF’s Southern Command in Beersheba on August 5, 2022 (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)
Gantz headed to meet with mayors and community leaders of villages along the border with Gaza, as anger mounted on the enclosures. In some cases, residents have not been able to leave their villages since Tuesday morning.
Also on Friday, the Walla news site reported that a UN representative had visited Saadi’s family in Jenin, as part of efforts to prevent an eruption of violence.
On Thursday, the Gaza military division was reinforced with artillery, engineering, infantry, armor and special forces.
Over the past few days, with armed drones flying over the Strip, the IDF worked to thwart attempts by Islamic Jihad squads to launch such an attack on the border.
Military chief Aviv Kohavi also visited southern Israel on Friday. On Thursday, Kohavi instructed the IDF to increase the military’s readiness for an escalation, strengthen defenses and increase intelligence efforts. He also approved plans for offensive actions, in the event of an attack by Islamic Jihad on the border.
The West Bank head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group, Bassem Saadi, is seen shortly after his arrest by Israeli troops on August 2, 2022. (Courtesy)
According to the Shin Bet, Saadi, 61, has been jailed and released by Israel seven times over the years. The Shin Bet said that in recent months, Saadi had “worked even harder to restore PIJ’s activities and was behind the creation of a major military force for the organization in [the northern West Bank] in general and in Jenin in particular”.
“His presence was an important factor in the radicalization of the organization’s operatives in the field,” the Shin Bet added.
Jenin is widely seen as a hotbed of terrorist activity. Gunmen and other attackers behind several deadly terror attacks earlier this year came from the city and its refugee camp.