At the root of the latest Gaza-Israel flareup, implacable rejection of Israel

The Shin Bet chief said Israel ‘closed a circle’ with the killing of three notorious Islamic Jihad commanders. But our enemies are intent on keeping it open

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

An Israel soldier blocks a road near the border with Gaza, southern Israel, on May 10, 2023. (Flash90)
An Israel soldier blocks a road near the border with Gaza, southern Israel, on May 10, 2023. (Flash90)

This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier on Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

As I was writing this article, sirens began blaring in southern Israel, followed by barrages of rockets extending into central Israel — the start of the promised response from Gaza terror groups to Israel’s killing of three notorious Islamic Jihad terror chiefs, and 10 civilians, in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

As you read this, the IDF’s spokesman Daniel Hagari acknowledged a few hours ago, “anything” could be happening — by which he meant that further escalation could be avoided, or that we could be drawn into deeper violence, including an Iranian-inspired conflict on multiple fronts, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned at a press conference with security chiefs on Tuesday night.

At its root, the current faceoff between Israel and its people’s army, on the one hand, and the Gaza terror groups and their vicious allies and sponsors, on the other, reflects the still-widespread rejection in our region — rejection currently led by the ayatollahs in Tehran — of Israel’s very right to exist, of the Jewish nation’s right to restored sovereignty in its ancient homeland.

The latest round of this ongoing struggle, which has accompanied our revived modern state since even before its establishment 75 years ago, began last week, when Khader Adnan, a former spokesman of Islamic Jihad, died in Israeli custody, ahead of his prosecution for inciting terrorism and other charges, after an 86-day hunger strike.

Within the framework of an equation that Iran and the terror groups it sponsors across our borders are trying to establish, whereby anything that happens in Israel that displeases them is utilized as a pretext to attack Israeli civilians, Islamic Jihad responded to the death of West Bank-based activist Adnan with a daylong barrage of rockets and mortar shells fired at Israel from Gaza. Those attacks, “indiscriminate fire at Israeli citizens,” constituted a direct challenge to Israel’s right to its land, as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant summarized Tuesday night.

The decision to unleash what has been named as Operation Shield and Arrow, apparently long in the planning, was made in the wake of that barrage last week, and carried out as soon as conditions were ripe. If it had been possible to target the three terror commanders without harming noncombatants, IDF chief Herzi Halevi stressed on Tuesday, then the IDF would of course have done so. But terrorism, he noted, “hides in populated areas” — placing Palestinian civilians in harm’s way as it strives to kill and maim Israeli civilians.

From left: Islamic Jihad commanders that the IDF said it killed in Gaza, May 9, 2023: Khalil Bahtini, Tareq Izz ed-Din, and Jihad Ghanem (IDF Spokesman)

With the IDF’s initial, 20-second strike on the three Islamic Jihad chiefs, said Gallant curtly, “all the goals” of the operation had been achieved. There need be no escalation or further fire. “The Palestinian Islamic Jihad leadership in Gaza was slain.”

Added Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, “a circle was closed” with the elimination of Jihad Ghanem, one of the trio, who he said orchestrated the notorious murders 19 years ago of Tali Hatuel, an Israeli mother, eight months pregnant, and her four daughters in Gaza. Bar stressed that “closing the circle” is a central imperative for the security services, sending the message to potential terrorists of the inescapable consequences of their actions, bolstering Israeli deterrence, and providing some comfort to the families of victims. “The family remembers,” said Bar, “and the Shin Bet does not forget.”

Tali Hatuel and her daughters (Used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

What happens next

What happens next, Gallant stressed Tuesday night, was up to Islamic Jihad and its Gaza-controlling big terrorist brother Hamas.

But that, of course, has been the case where Gaza is concerned since 2005, when the Israeli government “disengaged” from the Strip, uprooting the settlements there, forcibly evacuating their residents, and withdrawing the IDF to the pre-1967, ostensibly undisputed lines.

Israel’s departure could have ushered in a new and positive era for the people of the Gaza Strip, no longer under Israeli control, and for Israel alongside it. Such an era, in turn, could have gradually bolstered confidence inside Israel in the potential for substantive negotiations on the wider Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But instead, the reverse happened. After a very brief honeymoon period, in which some external investment began to flow into the Strip, Hamas seized power from the Palestinian Authority’s main Fatah faction, and turned the Strip into a quasi-terror-state. And it has been repeatedly targeting Israel, despite the full withdrawal, ever since — underlining that 75-year-plus message from our implacable enemies that opposition to Israel is not about our presence in areas captured in the 1967 war, but about our very existence, in any territory. It is a rejection, that is, of Israel itself in any configuration.

Maximizing resilience

As Netanyahu noted Tuesday night, in the insistent struggle to protect Israel from those who would destroy it, “We are all standing in this battle together — as brothers.”

As was the case in the last such flareup, less than three weeks ago, which included the worst barrage of rockets from Lebanon since the 2006 war, it is a safe bet that all of Israel’s active reservists, Air Force pilots among them, heeded the IDF’s call to present themselves for service this week — even though some of them are at the heart of the widespread opposition to the hardline policies of Netanyahu’s government, and especially his planned legislation to subjugate the judicial system.

From left: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief Herzi Halevi, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar at a May 9 press conference (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

That legislation has been suspended for more than six weeks now, with government and opposition negotiators, under the auspices of President Herzog, seeking an alternative, constructive framework for judicial reform — and perhaps even trying to work their way toward a constitution for Israel, a consensual framework to define and entrench this divided nation’s core values and principles and pave a more harmonious internal path ahead.

We really don’t need reminders from our enemies that they reject Israel in any shape or form, and that we need to maximize our internal cohesion and resilience in the relentless struggle to outflank them. But Gaza’s terror groups are providing that reminder, nonetheless, ruining their own people’s lives and battering at ours, thoroughly hostile to an Israel that has no presence in the Strip and makes no claims upon it.

Anything can happen — in the next few minutes, hours and days. And Gallant, for one, expressed little doubt Tuesday night about what would. Brace for “rocket fire in areas near and far, with considerable power,” he warned the nation.

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