Shield and Arrow, cause and effect

Report on the latest attack from Gaza

June-Ofer-Bavly image
Israel's Iron Dome air-defense system fires an interceptor at rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot on May 10, 2023. Photo by Flash90.

Follow the bouncing ball: Operation Shield and Arrow, the latest in all-too-regular battle with Gaza-based terrorists, began in mid-May when Israel eliminated three top Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commanders. 

That followed PIJ launching over 100 rockets at Israel which in turn followed the hunger strike death of one of its imprisoned members.  

Iron Dome intercepted 430 PIJ rockets that would reach inhabited areas-an amazing success rate of 95%, unlike any other anti-missile system in the world. Including terrorists, 33 Gazans were killed, including 3 by PIJ rocket misfires. In addition to killing six top PIJ commanders, the operation caused serious damage to their weapons factories and depots, dealing an important blow to the PIJ and to its remaining leaders' sense of safety.

Two people in Israel--an elderly woman in Rehovot rushing to get her wheelchair-bound husband to a safe room, and a Palestinian worker--were killed. As in previous rounds, when the guns go quiet, the battle of competing narratives--both between and within the two sides--is launched.

For Israel, this major strike against PIJ will, hopefully, strengthen deterrence. However, there is no clear definition of when "deterrence" is achieved, and what timeframe constitutes "effective" deterrence. Further, experience shows that no terrorist is irreplaceable, and that rocket depots and workshops will be reconstituted quickly, rendering Israel's achievements short-term.

It is worth noting who didn't participate: Hamas. While PIJ urged Hamas, it stayed on the sidelines. Hamas is Gaza's actual, "responsible" sovereign. Declarations of solidarity apart, Hamas preferred to protect its own and stay out of it, and may have been satisfied that its main competitor was hemorrhaging weapons and leaders.

Also, Iran failed to escalate the conflict beyond Gaza. West Bank Arabs did not participate at all, not even its PIJ members. Nor did Hezbollah create any sort of challenge up north.

Still, the PIJ narrative claims victory, as tens of thousands of Israelis fled their homes and hundreds of thousands ran for shelter each time the alarm sounded. Their rockets reached as far north as Tel Aviv, almost to Jerusalem. For PIJ, this is a show of strength.

In the short term, Israel has "managed" the situation. In the long term, this round of violence joins 15 previous operations in the past 20 years against Gaza terrorists. There is no lasting deterrence, only a delay of the inevitable next round. And the terrorizing effect, the demoralization of Israelis, and even the economic cost of five days of fighting are heavy.

As for the competing views within Israel, some will say that in the long term, only a peace agreement or at least a verifiable long-term pact with Hamas will lead to real quiet from Gaza.

However, the organization is never going to change its charter, which puts the destruction of Israel as its top goal; as long as Hamas is there, there will be more violence. Israel's technological edge will ensure that its price remains "minimal."

On the other political side are those who say that in the long term, the only solution is the forceful eviction of Hamas. They advocate for IDF ground troops into Gaza and a house-to-house fight within its streets in search of every Hamas member, until the organization is dismantled.

Such an all-out war against Hamas would entail thousands of ground troops entering Gaza, at a very high cost in terms of soldiers--with no guarantee of ultimate success, and with no promise that another terror organization will not replace Hamas. It might also mean long-term occupation of Gaza by the IDF as a preventive measure--meaning we would be back, some 20 years down the line, to where we were before the 2005 Disengagement.

Ofer Bavly is a JUF Vice President and the Director General of the JUF Israel Office.

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