Israel’s surprise attack on Gaza extended into its fourth day on Friday with the Palestinian death toll rising to 33.
Efforts toward a ceasefire remained at an impasse on Friday, with Israel quitting – at least temporarily – Egyptian-led talks after the resistance group Islamic Jihad fired rockets from Gaza reaching the Jerusalem area after a 13-hour lull.
As Friday came to a close, the Israeli military was bracing for the launching of long-range rockets from Gaza following the assassination of a sixth Islamic Jihad leader since Tuesday.
Islamic Jihad in Gaza appears to be taking a slow burn approach to the latest escalation that was begun by Israel, but which the resistance insists will end on its own terms.
This tactical innovation, whether by necessity or design, appears to be keeping the Israeli side guessing amid behind-the-scenes international pressure to end the latest round of cross-boundary fire.
While making statements about the unity of the resistance in Gaza, Hamas continues to watch from the sidelines, despite calls from some frustrated people in Gaza to join the fight.
A primary factor for Hamas’ reluctance is likely its awareness that its involvement would trigger an escalation that would be even more difficult to climb down from, when it was not seeking an escalation in the first place.
Hamas is also surely sensitive to the reality that Gaza’s already beleaguered health care system is struggling to cope with the current number of casualties and the severe humanitarian impact of Israel’s closure of the territory’s main crossings.
Israel also appears keen to avoid Hamas joining the fray, with its military spokesperson saying on Friday that the Islamist political party “is not involved in fighting, does not provide logistical assistance. We are focusing on [Islamic] Jihad.”
This is a marked change of tune from Israel, which usually insists that Hamas is responsible for everything that happens in Gaza.
Palestinian resistance groups – which have repeatedly emphasized their unity of strategy and decision making – may be calculating that they can make concrete achievements, compelling Israel to make concessions in exchange for a ceasefire – without an even more costly broader conflict.
The escalation was initiated by Israel but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to see no way out of the mess of his own creation.
Netanyahu is unable to meet both the demands of his extreme-right public security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, on the one hand, and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, on the other.
The resistance group is demanding an end to the renewed policy of assassinating resistance leaders – revived by Netanyahu in capitulation to Ben-Gvir in order to preserve his fragile ruling coalition.
Islamic Jihad’s conditions for a ceasefire also include the transfer of the body of Khader Adnan, the Palestinian political prisoner who died earlier this month after a lengthy hunger strike, and the cancelation of Israel’s annual ultra-nationalist “Flag March” in Jerusalem next week.
Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, held a live address this week, saying that Israel had achieved its military objectives in Gaza.
But that message must ring hollow to the Israeli public after being promised a devastating blow to the resistance’s capability with each episode of direct confrontation, occurring on an ever more frequent basis, only for armed groups in Gaza to fire greater numbers of projectiles with increased range during the next round.
As Amos Harel, a columnist for the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz, asked: “Israel has carried out no fewer than 15 military operations in the Gaza Strip since disengaging from it in 2005. What have all these campaigns, from First Rain to Guardian of the Walls, achieved?”
Harel added that “the Israeli public doesn’t appear to be buying [Netanyahu’s] hyperbolic excitement … If the operations were really all that successful, we wouldn’t need them once a year on average, with the time between them becoming shorter in the past few years.”
Similarly, Alon Pinkas, a former senior diplomat, queried, “how many times can you inflict ‘an unprecedented blow from which they may never recover’ on these terror organizations, only to do it again 18 months later?”
Israel undoubtedly retains immense military power to cause death and destruction. But as these commentators appear to accept, its ability to impose its political will by force is eroding amid a rapidly changing regional and geopolitical environment.
In a televised speech on Friday, Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of the formidable Lebanese resistance organization Hizballah, praised the performance and unity of Palestinian resistance in the current confrontation.
“Netanyahu cannot lie to Israeli society by saying that he has restored deterrence, as the resistance in Gaza stands strong, and it has thwarted the enemy’s goal of restoring deterrence,” Nasrallah said.
“The battle of Gaza is important and its effects are not limited to the Strip, but rather extend to the entire region,” Nasrallah added.
He said that Hizballah is in constant contact with the Palestinian resistance and “will not hesitate to provide assistance at any time when such responsibility is imposed.”
Those comments are likely to rattle nerves among Israel’s leaders.
While Israel is unwilling to accept the demands of the resistance, it has in recent days repeatedly signaled its eagerness for an end to the escalation it started – albeit with a truce on its own terms.
A key reason for that was articulated by defense minister Yoav Gallant last month: the likelihood that a major escalation in one arena would quickly spread into a multi-front war.
“This is the end of the era of limited conflicts,” Gallant said. “We are facing a new security era in which there may be a real threat to all arenas at the same time.”
For Tel Aviv, the biggest threat is Hizballah, which humiliated the Israeli army when it invaded Lebanon in 2006.
Hizballah, like Palestinian armed resistance groups, is supported by an increasingly confident and technologically capable Iran.
“Iran is the driving force in the convergence of the arenas,” Gallant said. “It transfers resources, ideology, knowledge and training” to the resistance organizations, he added.
The same fear appears to be motivating US pressure on Israel to bring the current escalation to an end.
“The Biden administration is concerned that the fighting in Gaza will expand into a multi-front conflict including missiles being launched at Israel from Lebanon or Syria, as happened last month,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported on Thursday.
The last 20 years have proven that there is no military solution for Israel in Gaza, and that it has been foolish to dismiss Hamas’ repeated offers of a long-term truce conditioned on lifting the siege imposed on the territory and other terms.
Indeed, Islamic Jihad has fired nearly 1,000 rockets into Israel in response to the assassination of three of its leaders early Tuesday, with air raid sirens sending residents into shelters in Tel Aviv and the Jerusalem area, as well as in communities closer to Gaza.The Israeli military said on Friday that fewer than half of the 750 rockets that crossed Gaza’s boundary were intercepted by its missile defense system. Nearly 200 rockets fell short inside Gaza, according to the military, which said that it hit some 250 “sites belonging to Islamic Jihad,” though residential buildings once again appear to be a primary target.
Iyad al-Hassani, an Islamic Jihad military commander killed in an Israeli strike on a residential building in Gaza City on Friday, is the sixth prominent figure from the group to be assassinated since Tuesday.
Al-Hassani had reportedly replaced Khalil al-Bahtini, who was killed along with his wife and their 4-year-old daughter in Israel’s surprise bombing early Tuesday. Two sisters aged 17 and 19 who lived in a neighboring home were killed in the same strike as the al-Bahtini family.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said on Friday afternoon Gaza time that six Palestinians were killed in the territory that day, all of them members of armed groups.
The rights group said that of the 31 Palestinians killed since Tuesday morning up to the time of its report, 15 were civilians, including six children and four women. Some of those killed likely include those injured as a result of projectiles fired from Gaza that fell short of their targets in Israel.
The UN agency UNRWA said that at least 11 of those killed since Tuesday were refugees.
More than 100 Palestinians in Gaza have been injured, including 32 children and 17 women.
An 80-year-old woman killed by Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza on Thursday is Israel’s sole fatality thus far. Israel said that the woman died after a technical failure caused its missile interception system to miss the rocket that struck her home in Rehovot near Tel Aviv.
Following the assassination of Islamic Jihad leader Ahmad Abu Daqqa in Khan Younis Thursday afternoon, Israeli shelling east of Gaza City killed Hussein Yousif Dalloul, 23, and Muhammad Suleiman Dader, 31 – both members of the armed resistance.On Thursday evening, an Israeli missile killed another Palestinian – 22-year-old Abdelhalim Jawdat al-Najjar, east of Jabaliya in northern Gaza. Another man, Elayyan Ata Abu Wadi, 38, died early Friday from injuries sustained in the same strike.
Resistance member Udai Riyad al-Louh, 25, was killed in an Israeli drone strike in central Gaza that same night.Israel has destroyed 13 homes since early Tuesday and damaged hundreds more, according to Al Mezan, a human rights group based in Gaza.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian impact of Israel’s closure of Gaza’s crossings grew ever more dire, with patients unable to access medical treatment outside the territory and the Strip’s sole power plant further reducing supply of electricity due to a halt in fuel imports.The ban on the entry of fuel to Gaza threatens to shut down the power plant entirely, “jeopardizing the continued provision of basic services such as medical care and the supply of drinking water to families,” Al Mezan said.
Even with the power plant functioning at a limited capacity, health services in Gaza “have been struggling to cope with the influx of injuries amid chronic shortages of essential medicines and supplies” due to Israel’s 16-year blockade, the UK charity Medical Aid for Palestinians said on Friday.
The charity added that Israel’s closure of Erez checkpoint in northern Gaza since Tuesday has prevented nearly 450 patients, most of them being treated for cancer, from accessing hospitals in Israel and the West Bank.
“Twenty-seven of the patients are in need of life-saving treatment,” Medical Aid for Palestinians said.
Some patients are missing appointments for medical care unavailable in Gaza following years of permit delays by Israeli authorities.On Thursday, Al Mezan, along with three human rights groups based in Israel, appealed to the Israeli authorities to stop harming Gaza’s civilian population and immediately reopen the Erez and Kerem Shalom checkpoints, allowing the movement of people and goods.
“As Kerem Shalom remains closed, basic necessities have not entered Gaza for three days in a row,” the groups stated.
“Israel has flagrantly breached international law by attacking civilians and homes, preventing the movement of people, including medical patients, and blocking the supply of essential goods, giving rise to a suspicion of war crimes,” they added.
“This has been done with almost blanket impunity.”
Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor and Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada.
- May 2023 attack on Gaza
- Islamic Jihad
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Yoav Gallant
- Amos Harel
- Alon Pinkas
- Hasan Nasrallah
- Iyad al-Hassani
- Hussein Yousif Dalloul
- Muhammad Suleiman Dader
- Abdelhalim Jawdat al-Najjar
- Elayyan Ata Abu Wadi
- Udai Riyad al-Louh
- Gaza health care system
- Gaza power plant