Israel and PIJ Showdown Calms. But Expect Future Conflict

FThe Aug. 7 Egyptian-brokered Gaza truce between Israel and militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, (PIJ), appears to have largely held, pausing another round violence, which has left dozens dead and rockets flying three miles from Jerusalem. However, three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli shootout that took place on August 9 as part of a military operation against militants in West Bank. This latest fatal showdown between Israel & tPIJ could be a sign of future conflict.

It’s never easy to pinpoint exactly when and why a flare-up in fighting between Israel and Palestinians begins. Between March and now, 53 Palestinians including Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist from Al Jazeera in Palestine, have been murdered. A spate of Palestinian attacks on Israel in the same time period resulted in at least 19 deaths.

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Israeli officials began to worry that PIJ might be preparing for further violence in West Bank. On Aug. 1, Israeli police arrested Bassem al-Saadi, PIJ’s leader in the West Bank, in the city of Jenin, home to two of the attackers who had killed Israelis. The militant group started issuing threats right away. This was not al-Saadi’s first arrest, but tensions spiked further when a video was released showing the force used to subdue him and an Israeli police dog biting him.

On Aug. 5, Israel attacked Gaza, killing a top PIJ commander. In response, the militant group fired dozens more rockets at Israeli territory. Israel continued its airstrikes against Gaza on Aug. 6. PIJ significantly increased the number rockets that it launched, but no Israeli injuries or deaths have been reported. On August 7, violence continued with at least 46 Palestinian deaths, 16 of them children and four females. Gaza’s Health Ministry says that 360 Palestinians were also wounded. Officials from Israel claim that their strike killed several senior PIJ officials and damaged both tunnels and weapon storage sites. Following reports that Gaza hospitals had been overwhelmed by a steady stream of injured people, Israel declared a cease-fire.

Hamas, the party that governed Gaza following 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, remained largely silent as Israel stated its intention to strike the more moderate PIJ. But given the death toll, it’s far from easy for Hamas to remain above the fray. PIJ also has the incentive to cause conflicts in order to increase its popularity with Palestinians both Gazans and West Bank.

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Israel’s next election is scheduled for November, adding to the pressure for further escalation. Yair Lapid, the interim Prime Minister, has good reasons to be as uncompromising as possible. He does not have the same military experience as many Israelis, so he will be facing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Finally, there’s the Iran angle. PIJ has close ties with Iran, and it’s possible that Iran’s government will again encourage the Palestinian militant group to create more trouble for Israel to improve Iran’s bargaining power as diplomats in Vienna continue to try to hash out a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Before the cease-fire, PIJ’s secretary general issued threats of attack against Israel during a visit to Tehran. On that trip, he met with both Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, and a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

A burst attack and counterattack by the Israeli-Palestinian forces killed many and injured thousands of Palestinians just 15 months prior. There have been several military clashes since the Israeli forces retreated from Gaza 17 year ago today. These wildfires are still being sparked by the 15 year-long Israeli-led blocade. Even though the cease-fire is still in effect, there’s always the possibility that the next war could be more devastating.

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