Local Tensions

It seemed to have started with the Israeli Defense Forces arresting the local head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Jenin. That was on Thursday. The PIJ is a pseudo-political Islamist terror group based mostly in the Gaza strip. They immediately demanded the release of their leader, and backed it up with threats of attacking Israeli cars and trains with anti-tank missiles from their side of the Gaza fence. Israel took the threat seriously and restricted travel on the roads within missile range of the fence. These restrictions were still in place when we shut down for the Sabbath. Being orthodox Jews, we don’t watch TV on Saturday, or turn on or off any electrical appliances.

Mid afternoon on Saturday our rest was disturbed by the local air raid siren. “Broooar Terrorist Penetration Brooar”. This was repeated several times. We interpreted it to mean that terrorist had come through the fence that surrounds our community and posed a real, and imminent, danger to us. We knew that the PIJ had operating cells in the villages of the West Bank near where we live. My wife and I closed down the house, locked all the doors and windows, and retired to our “secure room”. We took along a couple of baseball bats and kitchen knives. This is a routine with which most Israelis living near potential terrorist threats are familiar. It wasn’t something that could cause panic. After a couple of hours our dog began barking like crazy and we heard a soft knocking on the front door. “Who’s There?” was answered by a neighbor. She was a sort of air raid warden and was going door to door to tell everyone the emergency had ended. It was just a youngster from the region who had caused the alarm.

Once three stars had appeared (the religious sign that the Sabbath was over) we were able to turn on the TV and hear what was happening. Israel was tired of having part of the population in the south being held hostage. The army was freed to act to remove the threat. And they did so with remarkable precision. In the past, Israel had always warned civilians of imminent strikes on structures know to be used by terrorist organizations for training, storage of munitions, building rockets, or command centers. All of those are legitimate targets. Civilians are warned to remain clear, often by a personal phone call to their apartment. This time, the limitations were even more stringent. Only PIJ targets were to be hit. Installations belonging to Hamas (another terrorist organization that is also the de facto ruler of the Gaza strip) were to be spared. As long as Hamas refrained from joining actively, this would remain a guiding principle.

I probably shouldn’t have to mention it, but this kind of surgical precision warfare, with an emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties, is extremely difficult to carry out. It is certainly not happening in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

When Israel began destroying the anti-tank rocket teams and observation posts that the PIJ had placed along the fence the PIJ felt it had to respond. They did so in their traditional manner, by launching rockets and firing mortars at Israeli towns and cities with the specific aim of causing civilian casualties. During the period up to the current cease-fire PIJ teams launched about 1000 rockets directed towards Israel. These rockets are not very accurate, and the quality control over the local manufacturing sites in the Gaza strip is, at best, poor. About a fifth of those launched never made it across the Gaza fence. Two of them actually fell inside highly populated areas inside the strip. These caused the deaths of several of the 44 Palestinians killed during this “spasm of violence”, including all of the children that the PIJ says were victims of Israeli attacks.

Israeli did kill some PIJ ‘fighters’, including three of the most senior commanders of the PIJ para-military forces. They were eliminated by precision strikes that were put together in a very short time, especially considering that the individuals had to be positively identified. The US took years to hunt down Al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda. Those PIJ para-military forces, by the way, number about 8000 in total. Some of them are located in West Bank towns and villages from which the Israeli forces have arrested nearly 100 in an ongoing operation. It was one of those arrests that triggered this confrontation. A lot of the details I’ve mentioned may not have made their way into the international media. Floods and forest fires, as well the conflict in Ukraine, cause more damage and kill more people. That tends to make our local conflict a lesser news item.

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