Israel’s assessment of the recent flareup in Gaza was framed in terms of a “surgical operation” whose stated objective was to target the upper echelons of the Islamic Jihad group.
According to this assessment, the operation lasted approximately 55 hours, during which the Iron Dome missile shield was deployed, reportedly achieving a 97 per cent success rate at intercepting about 1,000 missiles.
The rate seems to surpass the system’s performance in the previous war, which lasted 11 days and during which some 4,000 missiles were intercepted, though the margin of success is not that significant.
At the same time, the Israeli Interior Ministry did not observe a significant change in the actions of the Al-Quds Brigades in Gaza. While they did not use what might be classed as strategic missiles, despite the short duration of the operation they did graduate their targeting.
In the opening phase of the operation, the Al-Quds Brigades targeted settlements within an approximately 10 km range from Gaza (Sofa, Niram, Neroz, Kissufim, Netvot, and Sderot) using mortars, Grad missiles, and Al-Qassem missiles.
They then quickly proceeded to a second phase as three other brigades – the National Resistance, the Mujahideen, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs – joined in what they termed the “Unified Fields” operation. This broadened the scope to around 80 km, targeting sites such as Lazion, Bat Yam, Tel Aviv, Holon, Ashkelon, Betsol, Ben Gurion Airport, and Beersheba, as well as, in a qualitative shift, West Jerusalem.
In these strikes, the Brigades deployed Badr missiles and the Buraq missile, especially the latest upgrade which has a range of 120 km and can carry warheads weighing up to 300 kg.
According to Israeli reports, some of the missiles fell inside Gaza causing further casualties. However, other sources maintain that the claims are an attempt by Israel to evade responsibility for civilian deaths and perhaps also to downplay the military capacities of the Palestinian factions.
Despite the enormous disparity between the Israeli and Palestinian military capacities, the latter nevertheless triggered a nationwide military emergency in Israel. However, Israel was the initiator of this engagement, and relative military capacities were not the most crucial factor.
The intelligence factor appears to have played the pivotal role. Before launching the operation, the Israeli Defence Forces must have had the ability to pinpoint and take out three top Islamic Jihad leaders as well as strike a range of military and logistical facilities belonging to the movement.
This throws into relief another crucial aspect of the operation, namely that it targeted a single faction in Gaza, Islamic Jihad. The military capacities of the Hamas group are considerably greater than those of Islamic Jihad, and it appears that Israel planned the operation in order to keep Hamas out of the battle.
The brief duration of the operation, the focus on Islamic Jihad targets, and the move to conclude a ceasefire as soon as possible were calculated to avoid pushing Hamas to enter the battle, which would have expanded both the scope and timeframe of the confrontation.
This exchange of missile fire between Israel and Islamic Jihad may present a unique opportunity for the Gazan factions to assess their performance in terms of intelligence and preparedness for surprise attacks.
While the Palestinian factions demonstrated a remarkable rapid-response capacity, to which testifies the sheer volume of missiles they fired into Israel (around 100 in the opening phase), it is important to bear in mind the interception capabilities of the Israeli Iron Dome interception system.
In other words, while many missiles fired from Gaza will not have reached a target in Israel, nearly all missiles fired by Israel into Gaza will have struck either a military or a civilian target.
Hamas, the de facto ruler of Gaza, will undoubtedly be reassessing its options carefully in the light of this experience. If Israel launches another surprise attack, whether against Islamic Jihad or another faction, the current truce would collapse and the fighting could escalate.
Accordingly, it might not be in Hamas’ interests to weaken Islamic Jihad.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.