Archive for November 12, 2019

On the border of Gaza, facing Iran 

November 12, 2019

Source: On the border of Gaza, facing Iran – analysis – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

PIJ is important for Iran because the Islamic republic’s regime often argues that the terrorist group is the center of “resistance” against Israel and the US.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 NOVEMBER 12, 2019 15:08
On the border of Gaza, facing Iran - analysis

Tuesday morning saw more than 150 rockets fired from Gaza by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in response to Israel striking and killing an Islamic Jihad commander. This builds upon more than a year of escalating tensions between Israel and the militants in Gaza, which often comes in the context of Iran tensions. The question is whether this morning’s rocket fire is the storm before the calm or just a prelude to something worse.

In the past, particularly last October and November, the tensions between Islamic Jihad and Israel were seen in the context of Iran. Iran is a close ally, supplier and financial support of PIJ. It sees the terrorist group like one of its many proxies and allies in the region. In contrast to other groups, PIJ is made up of Sunni Arabs in Gaza, whereas Iran usually works solely with Shi’ite proxies such as Hezbollah.

PIJ is important for Iran because Tehran’s regime often argues that it is the center of “resistance” against Israel and the US. In order to weave a narrative of “resistance,” it must show that it is actually doing something against Israel. Since Iran doesn’t like to sacrifice its own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, it works through other groups. In Lebanon it supplies Hezbollah with precision guidance for its rocket arsenal; in Gaza it has relations with PIJ and also with Hamas.

The morning hours in Israel brought increasing barrages from Gaza, creeping north toward Tel Aviv. They aimed at Gadera and Holon and then Modi’in. But by 11:30 a.m., PIJ was hesitant to extend the range to Tel Aviv. It wants to show that it will not remain silent in the face of the killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, the commander that Israel killed in the morning. In the past, PIJ has shown that it can fire large barrages of rockets and that it has sophisticated and numerous projectiles.

I drove south from Jerusalem toward the border of Gaza on Tuesday. After Gadera, Route 4 heads toward Ashdod and Ashkelon, the two large coastal cities north of Gaza. It was there that a missile struck near the side of the road, the blast leaving a small crater around a meter long. The explosion had caused injuries, and a car drove off the road, the driver in shock. Had it impacted just a few meters away in the road, it would have been worse.

Further south, below Ashkelon, the roads became empty. The army had cordoned off part of the roads near the Gaza Strip, stopping traffic from Netiv Ha Asa’ara to Sderot. This road has been the front line of so many conflicts going back to the Gaza disengagement. Rockets fired from the Strip go over the road and head toward other parts of Israel. In the past, when Israel has built up ground forces before fighting in Gaza, it has staged them near here.

The border was quiet on Tuesday after the initial morning rocket fire – until noon. A few booms could be heard in the distance. Airplanes and drones made a cacophony in the distance. PIJ knows that if it continues, this will lead to a wider conflict. Hamas also remained outside the conflict in the morning, knowing that it, too, must calculate what comes next. It has talked about elections with the Palestinian Authority, and must gauge the possible gains and losses from a new conflict with Israel. Since March of 2018, Hamas has staged protests and fired a thousand rockets at Israel. It knows the outcome. PIJ has also fired numerous rockets.

With Syrian media reporting an airstrike in Damascus, there are wider calculations as well. However, pro-Iranian media tended to shy away from numerous accounts of the conflict in Gaza, perhaps not wanting to admit that their proxy was in trouble. In August, Israel struck a “killer drone” team near the Golan that was linked to Iran and Hezbollah. In September, Shi’ite militias in Damascus tried to fire a rocket at Israel. The tensions are clear, but Iran faces challenges in Syria and Iraq. It wants to crush anti-Iranian protests in Iraq, and is concerned that the US may stay in Iraq. Hezbollah also faces protests in Lebanon.

On the border of Gaza, near a concrete shelter that has been painted with scenes of a farm, the Iranian threat seems far away. But it is always right there. The bucolic fields, the greenhouses and the chirping of birds say that there will not be a major war. The fields have not yet been churned up by Merkava tanks as they were in 2014. The soldiers are walking nonchalantly. They’ve been up since the morning too, with the sirens. Everyone is waiting.

 

IDF girds for several days of fighting after 150 rockets fired at Israel

November 12, 2019

Source: IDF girds for several days of fighting after 150 rockets fired at Israel | The Times of Israel

After six hours of attacks by Islamic Jihad in response to assassination of top terrorist, army announces start of retaliatory air campaign

Smoke billows from a building in Gaza City on November 12, 2019, after an Israeli airstrike killed a commander of Palestinian militant group and prompted retaliatory rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday afternoon launched a campaign of retaliatory airstrikes against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip following approximately six hours of unanswered rocket attacks on central and southern Israel from the enclave.

The military said its airstrikes targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad underground facilities and training camps. The IDF said these underground facilities were used “for storage and manufacturing of weapons.”

These sites are seen as critical facilities for the terror group, which PIJ has invested large sums of money to construct.

IDF aircraft also bombed a group of Islamic Jihad operatives in the northern Gaza Strip as they prepared to fire rockets at Israel around 1 p.m., the military said.

One of the terrorists was killed and three others were wounded in the strike, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said.

In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israeli Air Force jets fired precision ammunition at a building in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City where PIJ senior commander Baha Abu al-Ata was located, assassinating him and killing his wife, in a joint operation by the IDF and Shin Bet security service.

According to the IDF, Abu al-Ata was the true “senior commander” of the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, having ordered the group to carry out most of the significant rocket and border attacks from the Palestinian enclave in recent months and planning to carry out more.

“[Abu al-Ata] acted in every way to sabotage attempts for calm with Hamas, and… was responsible for the majority of attacks that took place over past year,” IDF chief Aviv Kohavi said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Shortly after Abu al-Ata’s assassination, the PIJ began launching dozens of both short- and long-range rockets, firing the majority of them at the Israeli communities around Gaza and a smaller number at major cities in central Israel throughout the morning.

One man was lightly injured by a rocket attack that struck a highway near the town of Gan Yavne, and an 8-year-old girl was in serious condition after she collapsed suddenly while hiding in a bomb shelter during a rocket attack on the city of Holon. It was not immediately clear if her injury was caused by the rocket attack. In addition, several people were hospitalized with light injuries that occurred as they ran to bomb shelters.

Israel largely refrained from retaliating for the first six hours of the rocket attacks, during which an estimated 150 projectiles were fired from Gaza, with the exception of one airstrike on Tuesday morning against two PIJ members whom the IDF said were preparing to launch projectiles at Israel. At least one of them was killed and the other was injured in the strike, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

Approximately 60 incoming rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to unofficial tallies that were not immediately confirmed by the IDF.

Firefighters respond to a blaze at a factory in the town of Sderot that was caused by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)

Shortly after noon, following a meeting of the security cabinet, the IDF announced it was launching retaliatory strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in the Strip.

Notably, the Israeli military did not say it would be conducting strikes against the Hamas terror group, the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip. In general, the IDF’s modus operandi has been to attack Hamas targets in response to any violence emanating from the Strip, as it considers the terror group to be the sovereign of the enclave.

IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said Israel sent messages to Hamas, through unidentified third parties, urging the terror group to not take part in this round of fighting and that in return the IDF would not carry out strikes against it.

“We are monitoring [Hamas’s] activities and will conduct ourselves accordingly,” Conricus said.

The military said it was preparing for several days of fighting with terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday morning, the IDF Home Front Command ordered all schools and non-essential businesses closed in the following areas: the Gaza periphery; the Lachish region; the western Negev; the central Negev; and the Shfela region. The IDF also forbade gatherings of more than 100 people there.

Schools were also closed in the Dan region, including Tel Aviv, and in the Yarkon region. Businesses were temporarily ordered shut there as well, but were allowed to reopen on Tuesday morning, providing there was a bomb shelter nearby, the military said. In the Dan and Yarkon regions, the IDF forbade all public gatherings of more than 300 people.

It was the first time that the IDF ordered a closure of schools and businesses in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area since the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

Israelis inspect a house in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on November 12, 2019, following a rocket attack from Gaza City in retaliation for an Israeli strike that killed a commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Though there have been relatively few injuries caused by the rocket attacks, several projectiles have caused damage to homes and roads in southern Israel.

A rocket struck a factory in the town of Sderot, northeast of Gaza, causing a large fire that threatened to collapse the building, the local fire department said.

Another rocket hit a home in the southern town of Netivot, causing a large amount of damage, police said. One also hit the roof of a home in the Eshkol region of southern Israel while the family was taking cover in the bomb shelter. There were no injuries.

A rocket struck the Route 4 highway near the Gan Yavne Junction, lightly injuring a man and causing significant damage to the road and several cars. Police sappers were called to the scene to remove the projectile.

Several rockets also struck elsewhere in the town of Sderot, northeast of the Gaza Strip, causing light property damage; one hit the city of Ashdod, damaging a car; and one struck a street in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion.

A mortar shell fired from the Gaza Strip landed in an open field in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel, sparking a fire, a regional spokesperson said.

Hospitals and other emergency services were put on high alert in light of the ongoing rocket attacks.

Palestinians inspect the damaged house of Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu Al-Ata after an Israeli attack in Gaza City, on November 12, 2019.(MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The Ben Gurion International Airport was not affected by the closures, though some flight paths appeared to have been changed. “Ben Gurion Airport is working as usual with no changes to the flight schedule,” a spokesman for the Israeli Airports Authority said.

The military said it had sent a number of warnings to Abu al-Ata — through unidentified mediators — to call off his operations, but they went unheeded.

“We tried to send a message to Abu al-Ata and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that we are aware of his actions and to persuade him to stop these attacks. Obviously, these warnings were not successful,” said IDF spokesman Conricus.

He said the assassination did not signify “a return to previous policies of what has been termed in the media ‘targeted killings.’”

“We conducted the attack because there were no other choice,” he said.

Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu al-Ata (Israel Defense Forces)

The timing of the IAF strike — in the midst of heated political debate as prime minister-designate Benny Gantz works to form a coalition — drew immediate criticism from opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who questioned the need to conduct a targeted assassination at this time.

Conricus said the IDF asked for permission from Netanyahu, who serves as both prime and defense minister, as well as the security cabinet to carry out the assassination operation over a week ago and was waiting for the right time to act.

“Over the last week, we have been waiting for the opportune moment to conduct the surgical strike,” he said.

The army spokesman said the military saw its chance on Tuesday morning when Abu al-Ata was relatively isolated and the risk to Gazan civilians was less.

“The missiles were fired from fighter jets with the intention of not bringing down the entire building, but just the floor where he was located,” Conricus said.

Palestinians inspect the damaged house of Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu Al-Ata after an Israeli attack in Gaza city, on November 12, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

He said he was aware of the reports of additional casualties in the strike, but could not comment on the matter.

Conricus said the military did not believe that Abu al-Ata was acting on the orders of Iran, which backs the PIJ, but was “more a local terrorist who acted unchecked.”

Israeli military officials hinted at having Abu al-Ata on their kill list in recent weeks, leaking his name and picture to the media in what was widely seen as a tacit threat.

The targeted killing of a Palestinian leader in Gaza is a rare event.

In May, during the most serious flareup in recent years, when Palestinian terrorists fired more than 700 rockets into Israel, the IAF killed Hamed Hamdan al-Khodari, who it said was responsible for funneling money from Iran to Gaza terror groups.

Israel and Gaza have engaged in several sporadic rounds of violence over the last two years as the sides attempted to reach a long-term ceasefire.

 

Israel Under Fire

November 12, 2019

 

 

The Threat of The Islamic Jihad in Gaza

November 12, 2019

 

 

Israel/Gaza Escalation: Netanyahu & IDF Chief of Staff Statement 

November 12, 2019

 

 

Israel is at war with Islamic Jihad. Tehran weighs opening northern fronts as punishment for Al-Atta killing – DEBKAfile

November 12, 2019

Source: Israel is at war with Islamic Jihad. Tehran weighs opening northern fronts as punishment for Al-Atta killing – DEBKAfile

By two targeted assassinations in Gaza and Damascus, Israel on Tuesday, Nov. 12, went to war against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Baha Abu Al-Atta, chief of the northern Gaza command, was killed in an IDF bombing raid on his home in Gaza city; Akram Al-Ajouri’s home in the Maze district of Damascus was struck by two rockets.

Some sources say he escaped; others that he was injured. Al Ajouri was the liaison officer between the Palestinian Jihad in Gaza and the Iranian Al-Qods Brigades and its chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The Islamic Jihad’s first response was a wide-ranging rocket barrage against key towns in central and southern Israel, including Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gedera, Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv, after announcing that “there were no borders.” Iron Dome downed some 20, including the rockets targeting Tel Aviv.

DEBKAfile: The IDF initially relayed messages to Gaza City that the slaying of Abu Al-Atta did not portend a new wave of targeted assassinations against Palestinian terrorist leaders, in the hope of persuading Hamas to stay out of it and let Jihad act on its own. This was intended to avert a major conflagration. This hope was largely unfounded because it is not in the power of Hamas or Egypt or even Israel to determine how far this incident escalates but Tehran.  DEBKAfile’s sources report that when Israel’s security cabinet was convening in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning, so too were senior officials in Tehran, Damascus and Beirut. They were discussing whether to punish Israel by opening a second or third front in the north.
The Palestinian Jihad also maintains armed forces in Syria and Lebanon, who may be conscripted in both countries for strikes against northern and central Israel in solidarity with their brothers in Gaza. The Gaza headquarters initially reacted to the death of its leader by announcing that their retaliation “would have no borders.” Then, after firing some 50 rockets, Jihad stated that as yet “unprecedented retaliation” was still to come, suggesting that Israel faced attacks from additional borders.

Any Egyptian or UN efforts to mediate de-escalation would be irrelevant in these circumstances since neither has access to this extremist Palestinian terrorist group or its Iranian masters. And Hamas can hardly afford to stand aside in the event of a multi-front conflict erupting and is likely to be drawn into backing a fellow Palestinian terrorist organization.

 

Netanyahu: Gaza Operation will take time; We will hit anyone who hits us 

November 12, 2019

Source: Netanyahu: Gaza Operation will take time; We will hit anyone who hits us – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

Watch as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi address the current escalation with Gaza.

BY JERUSALEM POST STAFF
 NOVEMBER 12, 2019 12:48
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and head of Shin Bet Nadav Argama

Israel will target anyone who tries to attack the State of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Tuesday, hours after the IDF assassinated a top Islamic Jihad commander in the Gaza Strip and as dozens of rockets were being fired across the country.

Netanyahu was joined at the press conference by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Nadav Argaman. Missing was newly-installed Defense Minister Naftali Bennett who officially took up the role an hour before the press conference.

“Terrorists think they can hit civilians and hide behind civilians,” the prime minister said. “We showed that we can hit the terrorist with minimal damage to civilians. Anyone who thinks they can hit our civilians and get away with it is wrong. If you hit us we will hit you.”

Kochavi said that Al-Atta was the person who tried to undermine Israel’s efforts to reach a ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “In recent days he was working to perpetrate attacks against Israel,” he said. “We tried to thwart his efforts in different ways without success and we then recommended a targeted killing.”

Kochavi added: “We are not interested in an escalation but we are ready – on the ground, in the air and at sea.”

Argaman said that the killing of Al-Atta was done at the best time from an operational perspective. Netanyahu called Al-Atta a “ticking bomb” and said that the cabinet had approved the operation to kill him about 10 days ago.

Early Tuesday morning, Israel struck a home in the Gaza Strip, killing Bahaa Abu Al-Atta, a top Islamic Jihad field commander, responsible for recent rocket fire against Israel and said to have been in the midst of planning a series of attacks against the Jewish state.