Through its aggression on the Gaza Strip (GS), on 5–7/8/2022/, Israel sought to single out the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and deal a military strike against it. It also sought to disrupt the “unity of the arenas” equation, impose Judaization and settlement plans on Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank (WB), as well as tarnish the image of the resistance in GS and discredit it. The PIJ strongly confronted the Israelis, seeking to emphasize the “unity of the arenas” equation and push for the release of the two prisoners, Bassam al-Saadi and Khalil ‘Awawda, while Hamas provided it with the necessary logistical support yet without participating militarily in the confrontation.
There are many possible scenarios: first, considering the aggression a passing event; second, Israel considering this round part of a systematic strategy meant to strike the resistance and deplete the implications of the Sword of Jerusalem battle (dubbed by Israel Operation Guardian of the Walls); third scenario would be a military escalation by the resistance before the Israeli elections, where the PIJ would resume firing rockets to force the release of the two prisoners; and fourth, a regional military escalation resulting from a possible confrontation between Israel and Hizbullah which might expand to include occupied Palestine. However, the likely scenario is for Israel to deal with this aggression as a round to be followed by a lull until the Knesset elections, after which it will resume its plan of trying to weaken the resistance and subjugate GS.
Since the Sword of Jerusalem battle in May 2021, Israel has been seeking to restore its image, regain the initiative on the ground and impose its agenda on the Palestinian scene. That battle came as a surprise to Israel in terms of timing and the cohesion between the resistance in GS and the issue of Jerusalem and the people of Sheikh Jarrah. It also reflected the unity of Palestinians, especially in light of the strong Palestinian reactions in WB, including Jerusalem, the 1948 occupied territories and abroad. The battle also dealt a strong blow to the Israeli security theory and challenged the deterrence of Israel, which appeared confused and beware of the resistance reaction especially when the holy sites and al-Aqsa Mosque are at stake.
In another context, the pace of Israeli aggression on GS has accelerated in the past five years, suggesting an Israeli strategy that seeks to curb the growth of the resistance and prevent it from accumulating strength and achievements, while preventing the developments of Palestinian environments supportive of the resistance in WB.
First: Motives and Objectives
The Israeli motives and goals of this round can be summarized as follows:
1. Undermining the resistance in Gaza, discrediting it, and portraying it as powerless before its people and the Ummah (Arab and Muslim nations), or at least show that it is incapable of implementing its threats. Hence, weakening the public support and cultivate a public opinion that wants to get rid of the resistance leadership of GS.
2. Reclaiming the initiative lost in the Sword of Jerusalem battle.
3. Restoring the balance of power and deterrence after the Sword of Jerusalem battle.
4. Undermining the strategy of “unity of the arenas,” established by the Sword of Jerusalem battle and eroding the impact of the battle.
5. Strengthening the internal Israeli cohesion and enhancing confidence in the political and military leadership, in light of the internal political confusion caused by going to a fifth Knesset elections in less than four years.
6. Testing the development of resistance capabilities that have developed after the Sword of Jerusalem battle and depleting its capabilities.
7. Driving a wedge between Hamas and the PIJ, especially as Israel announced that it was strictly targeting the PIJ during this round.
8. In retaliation for the PIJ resistance performance in WB.
9. Sending an implicit message to the “axis of resistance” regarding the Israeli ability to single out its allies without other members being able to directly intervene.
The PIJ’s motives and goals included the following:
1. Devoting the “unity of the arenas” strategy.
2. Demonstrating the PIJ’s ability to stand up to aggression, inflict losses on Israel and disturb its security and economic activity.
3. Forcing Israel to stop the policy of assassinating leaders and arresting resistance symbols.
Second: Battle Management
Israel sought to manage the battle while having favorable conditions for a calculated aggression against the GS. It did not care much about the reactions to the harsh way in which the senior PIJ leader Sheikh Bassam al-Saadi was arrested. He was accused of reorganizing the movement’s cells in the WB. Although the PIJ mobilized its units to confront Israel, news leaked about Egyptian reassurances regarding al-Saadi’s health and the possibility of his release, which may have given the impression that the Israelis did not want to escalate.
However, the Israeli side was preparing for the aggression as it closed the GS crossings on 2/8/2022, declared alert on the borders with Gaza and carried out evacuation operations in the settlements surrounding the Strip. Also, the Israeli Chief of the General Staff approved, on August 4, a plan claimed to be linked to curbing the escalation in GS.
Apparently, the PIJ leadership did not take full precautionary measures to protect its leadership, which made it easier for Israel to assassinate Taysir al-Jaabari, al-Quds Brigades commander in northern GS. The PIJ declared the battle of the “unity of the arenas” and demanded the release of Bassam al-Saadi and Khalil ‘Awawda, and it managed to launch more than a thousand missiles in two and a half days, 5–7/8/2022. The resistance’s rockets caused about 222 direct damages on the Israeli side, including 84 in Ashkelon, 66 in Sderot and 72 in other cities. As a result of the aggression, 47 Palestinians were killed, including Khaled Mansour, al-Quds Brigades commander in southern GS, and more than 300 were wounded.
Israel seemed to be comfortable with singling the PIJ out and assassinating its most prominent military leaders in GS. In conjunction with its aggression on Gaza, it continued to target Jerusalem and escalated its infringement on al-Aqsa Mosque, while furthering its efforts to separate the Jerusalem issue, and proceed with its Judaization plan. In other words, it sought to separate between the arenas.
Israel was able to predict Hamas’s reactions in light of the movement’s unwillingness to enter directly in the military confrontation. For the latter has considered the conditions unfavorable for waging a war that would serve the resistance, besides the lack of popular atmosphere that was not interested in a new war.
The Israeli side took advantage of that, trying to undermine the image and credibility of the resistance and to perpetuate the separation of the arenas. Throughout the battle, it continued to drive a wedge between the PIJ and Hamas.
The PIJ proved its high performance in confronting the Israeli side, which failed to stop resistance missiles until the ceasefire was declared. It obtained a pledge from the Egyptian mediator to work for the release of the two prisoners, al-Saadi and ‘Awawda. While some blamed Hamas for not participating militarily in the battle, others blamed the PIJ for unilaterally taking the decision to confront Israel without prior consultation with the resistance leadership in GS or the Joint Operations Room. In any case, Hamas provided logistical support for the PIJ in its response to the aggression. Obviously, the statements of the Hamas and PIJ leaders that emphasized their unity, the political and military cooperation, and the joint leadership meetings, contributed to blocking Israel’s attempts to manipulate potential disputes.
Third: Possible Scenarios
1. Stalemate and continuation of the status quo
This scenario means Israel is satisfied with what it claims to have achieved during this round, especially changing the image which emerged during and after the Sword of Jerusalem battle, and the PIJ is satisfied with what it says it has achieved while benefiting from the experience in preparation for future confrontations that may be imminent.
2. Israeli war of attrition against the Palestinian resistance
This means that Israel deals with this aggression as a round within a systematic strategy that seeks to drag the Palestinian resistance repeatedly into successive asymmetric battles. This strategy is meant to prevent the Palestinian resistance from accumulating strength, while keeping it preoccupied with the ramifications of the Israeli aggression on the human side or on structures and buildings, in addition to discrediting the resistance. It also embeds an attempt to create popular environment and conditions that pressure the resistance and pave the way for the Ramallah based Palestinian Authority (PA) to administer GS.
3. Renewed confrontations between the PIJ and Israel
Israel might repudiate Egyptian mediator’s promise regarding the release of the two prisoners, Bassam al-Saadi and Khalil ‘Awawda. This may anger the PIJ and push it into a new confrontation with Israel to preserve the unity of the arenas and dedicate the movement’s commitment to release the two prisoners.
4. Renewed confrontation due to a regional event
What is meant here specifically is a confrontation with the Lebanese Hizbullah against the backdrop of the gas production line (the Karish gas field), and thus the participation of the Palestinian resistance in the “unity of the fronts” equation, an expansion of the “unity of the arenas” equation adopted in 2021 in the Sword of Jerusalem battle.
5. Renewed confrontation due to the resistance’s decision to employ the upcoming Israeli elections
Since Knesset elections, which are less than three months away, are very important to Israel, and considering the heated events in Palestine and with Lebanon, the threat of confrontation on the eve of the Israeli elections will confuse the Israeli government’s calculations and put it in trouble with the opposition which is preparing to win the elections and return to power. Thus, the Palestinian resistance can take advantage of the Israeli elections to export the crisis to Israel.
6. Large-scale relocation of the resistance action to WB
This means the Palestinian resistance would be able to break the restrictions surrounding it in WB, taking advantage of the popular support for the resistance, especially after the assassination of Ibrahim al-Nabulsi and his companions, and the martyrs preceding them, as well as the military operations in Jenin and Nablus.
Fourth: The Determinants of the Scenarios
A set of determinants are likely to influence the enhancement or weakening of potential scenarios in the short and long term. The most important of these determinants are the following:
1. The role and direct impact of the Joint Operations Room and the restoration of its position in the decision-making of war or truce.
2. The development of the Hamas–PIJ relations after the last round of confrontation, based on the outcomes of their meetings.
3. Israeli behavior towards the Palestinian resistance and the management of conflict, where there would be either inaction and contentment with what has happened, short-term attrition, or systematic escalation.
4. The development of relations in the region, especially when considering Arab countries’ inclination to normalize relations with Israel and build commercial and economic relations with it, which may lead to the establishment of a security structure headed by Israel against the axis of resistance.
5. The development of events with the Lebanese Hizbullah against the backdrop of disputes over the gas production line (the Karish gas field), and the possibility of an armed confrontation between the two sides; thus, the possibility of an escalation of the situation in the Palestinian territories.
6. The upcoming Israeli elections in November 2022 and the extent of the Palestinian resistance’s interest of using it to pressure Israel.
7. The impact of the battle on the fighting ability of the PIJ, on one hand, and its ability to arrange its combat cadres and replace military equipment, on the other hand.
8. Further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in GS and the inability of Hamas to fulfill the necessary obligations, especially in light of attempts to revive the “We Want to Live” campaign directed against Hamas and its administration in Gaza in particular.
9. The high rate of resistance action in several areas of WB.
10. The role of the Egyptian mediator and the degree of pressure on the resistance in GS to impose a state of calm.
Fifth: Weighing Between Scenarios
The above determinants and factors are expected to interact with the possible scenarios as follows:
1. The Joint Operations Room will rearrange its position drawing lessons from the previous confrontation. It is unlikely for the PIJ to unilaterally enter any new battle, which means strengthening the scenario of not being drawn into a new confrontation soon, especially in light of Israel’s need to cool the atmosphere in preparation for holding its general elections, and in light of the response of Hamas and the resistance to the humanitarian requirements in the GS.
2. The relationship between Hamas and the PIJ will not be affected at the level of resistance action, as the leaderships of the two movements have a solid base of unity of vision and purpose, and strong brotherly relations, and as the two parties are determined to prevent the Israelis from taking advantages of any differences.
3. The Israelis will continue to seek to exhaust the Palestinian resistance over short and close periods, according to the prevailing political situation in Israel. However, it is unlikely for Israel to initiate new battles before the Knesset elections.
4. The Israeli need to hold general elections will play a major role in restoring calm, unless the Palestinian resistance decides to push for lifting the siege or concluding a prisoner exchange deal. However, until now it doesn’t seem the case.
5. The possibility of establishing a new regional security structure led by Israel does not seem looming. Therefore, the scenario of confrontation due to a regional event seems unlikely, unless there are Lebanese developments that would lead to confrontation with Hizbullah, and consequently the Palestinian resistance would intervene in fulfillment of the “unity of the arenas” concept. This seems to involve complex calculations, especially when recalling that Hizbullah, for the past years, did not directly participate in the GS wars.
6. Field developments and many statements of Hamas and PIJ leaders indicate that, amidst increasing popular rage WB resistance is escalating. For there are recurring assassinations of Palestinian resistance fighters, and the Israeli forces are still committing violations in Jerusalem and further tightening their grip on WB.
7. The role of the Egyptian mediator will be confined to putting pressure on the Palestinian resistance without any corresponding pressure on the Israel.
Sixth: The Most Probable
Based on the above determinants, the chances of the continuation of the status quo in the next few months seems most likely, due to many considerations related to the resistance and Israel. However, after the elections, Israel is expected to pursue its strategy of weakening the resistance, separating the arenas, singling out Jerusalem, and pushing for more pressure on GS to subdue it and pave the way for the return of the PA to administer the Strip.
1. Handling resistance action according to a central vision and effective strategy that takes into account the capabilities and circumstances of each arena. Also, it is essential to consider that any military confrontation should be according to specific criteria and based on a central decision rather than a mere response to events.
2. The resistance must exploit the element of surprise to its advantage, impose the time and place, and avoid being drawn into confrontations according to Israeli terms.
3. The importance of coordination between the resistance factions in confrontations, and blocking the Israeli attempts to single out any of the resistance factions.
4. Developing and activating coordination frameworks between the resistance factions, and the need to adhere to the decisions of the Joint Operations Room.
5. Controlling the media of Palestinian resistance factions, ensuring that statements are consistent and realistic, and ensuring the credibility of resistance action.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. Wael El Mabhouh for authoring the original text upon which this strategic assessment was based..