Increased tension with Palestinian Islamic Jihad not yet over

Archive photo of rockets fired out of Gaza at Israel. Credit: IDF Spokesman Unit

A report by Israel’s Channel 10 this morning contains indications that Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the second largest terrorist faction in Gaza, remains determined to respond in some way to the destruction of its terrorist tunnel by Israel last week.

A reminder: In a major breakthrough in Israel’s anti-tunnel capabilities, the IDF’s Southern Command destroyed the tunnel, after using new technology to detect and track it. The tunnel snaked its way under  the Gaza  – Israel border, into Israeli territory, towards the southern village of Kissufim.

The Channel 10 report quoted PIJ senior member Khaled Al-Batash as saying that the terror organization’s response “is ready.”

PIJ’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, will work with Hamas’s armed wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, in coordinating the response, Al-Batash stated.

In what is both a threat to be taken seriously, and an exercise in psychological warfare, Al-Batash said that “people have gotten used to responses like firing a lot of rockets 30 minutes after the incident. But the occupation has to understand that we have various options and that we can use all of them. The resistance [PIJ] has not only rockets, but also other tools, like our ‘Nuhba’ forces, or other forms of resistance.”

Nuhba is a reference to elite, highly armed terrorist cells that are designed to conduct cross-border raids from Gaza on military or civilian targets in Israel.

PIJ also maintains a terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank. It could try to order a cell to conduct a bombing or shooting attack inside Israel or against Israeli targets in the West Bank. The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, works around the clock, on a massive scale, to foil such plots.

PIJ’s command center is located in Damascus, and this group is in direct communications with Iran, which could be encouraging it to launch attacks.

Room for miscalculation

Al-Batash’s statement, that PIJ will work with Hamas to coordinate its response, could directly implicate Hamas in any fallout from a future PIJ attack. 

PIJ will likely seek to strike a delicate balance, in which it saves face by retaliating for the tunnel destruction, but avoids large-scale Israeli counter-action that will upset Hamas. A major escalation would jeorpadize Hamas’s plans to move ahead with the Hamas – Fatah unity government.

However, PIJ could miscalculate.

So far, Israeli deterrence, together with the political constraints that Hamas is now under, have joined forces to prevent PIJ from directly escalating the security situation in the Gaza Strip.

Aside from these security calculations, it is important to keep in mind that PIJ’s tunnel was a clear breach of Israeli sovereignty and security.

The idea that PIJ ‘must’ retaliate against Israeli self-defense action only holds water in the world of face-saving measures by Gazan armed factions. Beyond that, it holds no moral coherence.

Further reading:

My latest article for Israel’s terror tunnel discovery spotlights the ‘real proxy of Iran’ in Gaza

Please also check out this article, in which I am interviewed about the latest situation in Gaza.