Modest success for Israel, self-serving restraint by Hamas: Insights on Gaza flareup

Israel achieved its limited tactical objectives; public diplomacy improved and the Iron Dome astonished, but still the rockets flew; and Iran has cause for satisfaction

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).

Palestinians in Gaza fire rockets at Israel on August 5, 2022. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Palestinians in Gaza fire rockets at Israel on August 5, 2022. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

1. Limited goals, achieved

In three days of fighting, Israel achieved its vital, relatively modest declared objectives: It thwarted a “concrete” bid by Palestinian Islamic Jihad to carry out a murderous cross-border attack on soldiers and/or civilians. It eliminated key commanders of the group’s leadership, including orchestrators of previous deadly attacks. It destroyed some of Islamic Jihad’s assets in Gaza. It arrested further Islamic Jihad operatives in the West Bank. And it cut the link that the terrorist group was trying to establish between Gaza and the West Bank, whereby Islamic Jihad attempted to deter Israel from tackling its terror plans in the West Bank by threatening to target Israel from Gaza.

It did all this without Hamas entering the conflict, without triggering fighting on other fronts, and without an upsurge in violence in Jerusalem or in mixed Arab-Jewish cities.

It initiated a preemptive operation, and it managed to bring that operation to a conclusion when those declared objectives were largely achieved.

2. More effective public diplomacy

Israel maintained fairly solid diplomatic support from its allies, led by the United States.

And in the no less important field of public diplomacy, it proved almost unprecedentedly fast and effective in debunking allegations that it had killed civilians in a potentially major incident in Jabaliya on Saturday night.

After initial reports that an Israeli airstrike had killed at least seven people, four of them children, the IDF immediately indicated that this was not the case — that it had not been operating in the area and had reason to believe that the fatalities were caused by a failed Islamic Jihad rocket launch. It rapidly backed up those claims by releasing video footage that it said showed the initial rise, and then the rapid fall back to earth inside Gaza of the rocket in question.

In this screengrab from a video published by the IDF on August 7, 2022, a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip falls short in the Jabaliya refugee camp. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF also challenged Palestinian reports that it was responsible for civilian deaths in at least two other incidents, again blamed on Israeli strikes but ascribed by the IDF to failed rocket launches, though without releasing supporting materials.

Many news outlets cited the Israeli account of the Jabaliya incident, and the rapidity and credibility of the Israeli counterclaim likely impacted some international reporting on other contested incidents as well.

Official Israel can atypically pat itself a little on the back for its rapid response — in stark contrast, say, to the inglorious handling of everything from the Mavi Marmara deaths in 2010 to the destruction of the Gaza tower block housing AP and other media offices last year.

But the “success” is relative. That same video showing the Jabaliya rocket fail also showed numerous other Islamic Jihad rockets snaking their devastating way out of Gaza, aimed deep into Israel, intended to kill and maim as many Israelis as possible.

Israeli public diplomacy may have reduced, a little, the waves of international criticism leveled at Israel that accompany every round of Gaza-Israel conflict. Fairer international coverage would highlight the terror groups’ indiscriminate fire at Israeli citizens, their use of Gaza’s populace as human shields, and the foundational context that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 to the pre-1967 lines, has no civilian or military presence there, and no territorial claims. In short, every round of conflict with Gaza since Hamas seized power there from Fatah in 2007 — and that includes this preemptive round — is a consequence of Gaza-initiated aggression and/or threats.

3. Iron Dome vs. relentless rockets

Constantly improving, the astonishing Iron Dome rocket defense system intercepted almost every rocket and shell that was headed toward populated areas. About 1,100 projectiles were fired at Israel over the three days of fighting, and thanks to the combination of Iron Dome, reinforced rooms and a disciplined public, there were no Israeli fatalities.

Without Iron Dome, and the multiple other systems Israel has introduced and is perfecting to tackle short-, medium- and long-range rockets and missiles, life here, to put it simply, would be untenable. Israel would not be able to tolerate enemy attacks, and would have to follow an infinitely more aggressive strategy against its assailants — with devastating consequences.

Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interceptions in central Israel on August 6, 2022 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Nonetheless, Iron Dome and the complementary defense systems are not hermetic. They are not panaceas. And thus even relatively unsophisticated enemies, such as Islamic Jihad, are able to bring much of Israel to a halt at moments of their choosing.

Furthermore, for all the astonishing intelligence-gathering that enabled the IDF, for instance, to pinpoint Islamic Jihad’s northern commander Tayseer Jabari in his Gaza City apartment, and for all the astounding precision capabilities that enabled the IDF to wipe out that apartment without causing widespread damage — all that intel and precision bombing, in this conflict and in all preceding conflicts, have not enabled the IDF to halt incoming rocket fire from Gaza. The IDF strives endlessly to make it harder for enemies to fire — with planes and drones patrolling the Gaza skies, with strikes on rocket launchers and crews and stores — but still the rockets fly. And in the pauses between rounds of conflict, the terror groups restock and improve their rockets.

4. Hamas restraint

Israel got to start, conduct and end this round of fighting broadly as it hoped because Hamas chose not to get involved. This was not because Hamas has abandoned its strategic goal of destroying Israel, but because it does not believe it can destroy Israel right now.

Israeli officials believe Hamas chose not to get dragged into this conflict because it was deterred by last year’s Operation Guardian of the Walls, and because the outgoing coalition has offered economic carrots as well as sticks to Gaza, notably including 14,000 work permits, that Hamas does not want to lose.

A Palestinian man cleans his shop of debris following the latest three days of conflict with Israel ahead of a truce, at the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, on August 8, 2022. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Nobody should delude themselves that Hamas is becoming less of a strategic threat to Israel. If anything, the reverse is true. It chose to exercise short-term restraint when under pressure to join its ally-rival in battering the loathed Zionists, because it assessed that this better serves its long-term anti-Israel ambitions.

5. For Iran, not a bad week’s work

It has been suggested that the depleted local leadership of Islamic Jihad pushed for Sunday night’s ceasefire in defiance of its leaders abroad, including in Tehran, who wanted to fight on. Iran, which funds Islamic Jihad, does so solely in the cause of harming Israel and Israelis, and was therefore most unlikely to have been urging a halt.

Palestinian girls attend a rally in support of Islamic Jihad in Lebanon’s refugee camp of Burj al-Barajneh, south of the capital Beirut, on August 7, 2022. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

While Israel can legitimately express satisfaction with the narrow results of a modest resort to force, Iran, nonetheless, will also be feeling more than satisfied with its work. Its nuclear program is proceeding apace. And, in the meantime, its relatively small investment in a proxy terror group on Israel’s southern border brought much of southern Israel to a halt for a week — including the pre-operation lockdown and the three days of fighting — and unsettled central Israel too.

Just think what we can achieve, they will be musing in Tehran, if we unleash Hezbollah.

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