Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip are on the brink of war.
By Erin Viner
Israel launched a surprise attack on Gaza overnight, killing the three PIJ senior commanders.
The strikes came exactly one week after the Iranian-proxy group fired 104 rockets and mortar shells at Israel’s southern communities. In a relatively limited response at that time, Israeli Air Force (IAF) fighter jets launched two waves of 16 aerial strikes on targets operated by the PIJ and the Islamist Hamas rulers of the Palestinian enclave.
At 2:14 AM this morning, the IDF announced the start of Operation Shield and Arrow against the Gaza terrorists. The top PIJ leaders killed were:
* Northern Gaza Division Commanding Officer Khalil al-Bahtini, 44, a member of the PIJ Military Council. As part of his role, he oversaw rocket fire against Israel and multiple terrorist attacks launched from Gaza, as well as the coordination and planning of terror attacks against Israeli civilians – including suicide missions, roadside bombings and rocket launches dating back the late 1990s.
* Tareq Izzeldin, 49, a Gaza-based intermediary with PIJ operatives in the West Bank, who also directed and coordinated terror attacks in Judea and Samaria, assisted in the transfer of funds and incitement against Israelis. He was serving a life sentence in Israeli prison for terror-related activities, by freed as part of the Gilad Shalit Prisoner Exchange in 2011.
* Jihad Ghannam, 62, Secretary of the PIJ Military Council and head of the group’s southern sector. He coordinated the transfer of funds and munitions between the PIJ and Hamas and helped plan and carry out countless terror attacks against Israelis in Judea, Samaria and abroad.
At 3:56 AM, the IDF announced that it began striking 10 weapon manufacturing sites and military compounds belonging to the PIJ. A short time later, IDF helicopters and fighter jets targeted weapon manufacturing sites, including rocket production workshops in Khan Yunis. In addition, fighter jets targeted a site used for manufacturing concrete for building terrorist tunnels.
Furthermore, six military compounds belonging to the Islamic Jihad were targeted, most of them were used as weapon warehouses and logistic infrastructures belonging to the terrorist organization. A PIJ military post in southern Gaza was also struck.
Additionally, this afternoon at 5:36 PM, an IDF aircraft struck a terrorist squad carrying anti-tank guided missiles in the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.
Nine additional relatives of the three terror leaders were inadvertently killed during the operation. An Israeli military spokesman said the army is looking into reports of civilian deaths but had no immediate comment. “We’re aware of some collateral and we’ll learn more as the day goes ahead,” he told a briefing with reporters.
The military said 40 jets took part in “precise” strikes. “It was a convergence of intelligence, timing and weather,” said a military spokesperson.
“This attack is the result of joint work, both qualitative and precise, of the IDF and the Israel Security Agency. Everything begins with Intelligence, of the Intelligence Directorate branch which provides precise and qualitative intelligence. Following the processing of intelligence, fieldwork is necessary to identify the operatives, including their points of residence,” IDF Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told the army’s Galei Tzahal Radio Station.
2.3 million Palestinians live in the 365 square kilometer (140 square mile) Gaza Strip.
“We are speaking about Gaza, which is the most densely populated territory in the world,” said Adm. Hagari, explaining that the ISA conducted “very qualitative work” to pinpoint the terrorists’ locations in conjunction with “professional and in-depth planning of the Air Force” operating on simultaneous “live-time-intelligence.”
The Israeli security establishment had been prepared to conduct the retaliatory surgical strikes since last week but that weather conditions forced a delay, added Adm. Hagari, who went on to emphasize that the overnight activities mark the start of Operation Shield and Arrow and that Israel will act as needed dependent on current situation assessments.
PIJ Spokesperson Tareq Selmi said Israel’s “crime will not pass unpunished,” threatening, “The bombardment will be met by bombardment and the attack will be met by an attack.”
Throughout last night and today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have held ongoing comprehensive security briefings, in addition to issuance of a series of recommendations by the Security Cabinet.
While it remains too early to assess the gravity and scope which hostilities from Gaza would ultimately cause, senior defense officials told TV7 that Israel’s security establishment will use all of the tools at its disposal to ensure the safety of Israel’s civilian community.
Any major escalation could hinge on whether Hamas joins the violence – which would in turn make the Islamist leader targets for assassination, Israeli Security Cabinet Minister Israel Katz told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, who lives abroad in Turkey and Qatar, said in a statement: “Assassination of leaders will not bring the occupation security but more resistance.”
In another sign Israel is preparing for a further flare-up, its Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said he would return early from a visit to India after meeting with his counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The State of Israel proved that it settles scores with anyone who threatens or harms it. With Intelligence and security capability, we struck the head of the snake of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza,” stated Jerusalem’s top diplomat.
In anticipation of rocket fire in response to the killings, the IDF Homefront Command urged citizens living in towns within 40 km (25 miles) of Gaza to stay near their bomb shelters from last night until at least 6 PM tomorrow.
The Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit of the Israeli Defense Ministry, announced that crossings from Israel into Gaza will remain closed until further notice.
Hours after the Gaza operation, IDF, ISA and Border Police Special Operations units conducted counter-terror raids in the West Bank districts of Judea and Samaria.
Several riots erupted during the operations, including shooting and the hurling of explosives at the troops, who responded with crowd dispersal means. A total of 8 suspected terror operatives were successfully apprehended and multiple illegal munitions were seized. The wanted suspects were transferred to security forces for further questioning. No IDF injuries were reported.