On Tuesday, Israeli forces killed three Palestinians during a raid on a house in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, including Ibrahim Al-Nabulsi, a commander of Al-Aqsa Brigades, Fatah’s armed wing.
Al-Nabulsi is one of the Israeli army’s most-wanted men in the West Bank city. Fatah is the main constituent party of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and officially affiliated to President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Israeli occupation forces entered Nablus around 7am, surrounded the old city, and engaged in a heavy gunfight with fighters entrenched in the area,” Amin Abu Warda, a local journalist and resident of Nablus, was quoted as saying.
The Israeli attack on Nablus came less than 24 hours after a mediated ceasefire in Gaza came into force. Observers believe that though the raid in Nablus might not be a direct breach to the Egypt-mediated ceasefire, it could ignite another spiral of violence.
Israel had launched a series of surprise strikes in Gaza, targeting three leaders of the Quds Brigade, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza. They included Taysir Al-Jabari, commander of the movement’s north Gaza brigade, Abdullah Qaddoum, commander of the antitank missile unit, and Khaled Mansour, commander of the south Gaza brigade. Israel also struck Islamic Jihad military infrastructure. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the Israeli raids resulted in the deaths of 45 Palestinians, including 15 children and four women, and 360 injuries.
After a three-day-long military confrontation, Egyptian mediators succeeded in brokering a truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad in Gaza that began on 7 August.
Cairo, in an official statement, said that it would continue efforts to restore calm and secure the release of Palestinian detainee Khalil Al-Awawda so he can receive medical treatment. Al-Awawda had been on hunger strike for more than 100 days. He ended the strike only after receiving word he would be released, a decision which Israel almost immediately rescinded. Egypt is also seeking the release of Islamic Jihad commander Bassam Al-Saadi.
Israel has asked for more time to consider the released of the detainees. Some observers in Gaza believe the sustainability of the ceasefire agreement will remain pending until the issue is resolved.
An Egyptian source close to the mediation told Al-Ahram Weekly that Egypt has obtained reassurances from Israel that it will not re-escalate against Gaza or Islamic Jihad.
Addressing an emergency Security Council session on violence between Israel and Islamic Jihad, Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Osama Abdel-Khalek said: “Egypt will never abandon its historic responsibilities vis-à-vis the Palestinian people or its efforts [to build] a better future in which peace, security, and stability prevail in the Middle East.”
Monday’s emergency session was held at the request of China, France, Ireland, Norway, and the UAE. It was originally scheduled to take place behind closed doors, but following pressure from the Palestinian Mission to the UN, China — which currently chairs the Security Council — opened the session to the public.
In mediating an end to the latest Israeli attacks on Gaza, Cairo was attempting to salvage the truce in place between Israel and the Palestinian factions, led by Hamas, since last year.
Israel’s violations of truce, and its targeting of Islamic Jihad, appear to be part of a divide and conquer against the two largest Palestinian resistance factions, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, something to which Islamic Jihad’s Secretary-General Ziad Al-Nakhala alluded when he reaffirmed the solidarity between the two movements.
Mohamed Shalah, spokesman for Islamic Jihad’s military wing, told the Weekly that his movement had the ability to counter Israel’s strategy and has “lived up to its duty to remain steadfast while fighting a battle of attrition against Israel”.
Egyptian officials say they have informed the Israelis that Hamas will not stay on the sidelines for long. It is unclear, however, whether this was Cairo’s own assessment or a verbatim message from Hamas delivered through Egyptian mediators.
Political analyst Jacky Khoury told the Weekly that Israeli security and intelligence agencies are touting the attacks on Islamic Jihad commanders in their homes and hideouts as an intelligence coup. But the strikes also appear to have had a political motive. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Minister of Defence Benny Gantz will both have been looking to score political points ahead of the forthcoming elections.
Islamic Jihad, for its part, claims it has thrown Israel’s military calculations into disarray.
“The movement can manage this battle with the occupation for months. It has the resources with which it can reply to Israel,” said Shalah. He argued that with the Quds Brigades’ missiles the movement had been able to achieve a “balance of terror” with Israel, disrupting operations at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and daily life in areas close to Gaza where residents were forced to temporarily leave their homes for central Israel.
The Israeli attacks were to coincide with a visit by Al-Nakhala to Iran, and during a meeting with Al-Nakhala, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hussein Salami warned that Israel would pay for the crimes it has committed in Gaza.
While Al-Nakhala downplayed any connection between his visit and the Israeli operation, describing his trip to Iran as routine, Israel seemed determined to underscore a link, with Israeli media likening the targeting of senior Islamic Jihad leaders to Israeli operations against IRGC officials and scientists involved in the Iranian nuclear programme.
While Al-Nakhala has vowed his organisation will wage a battle against Israel “with no red lines”, echoing recent Hizbullah statements, some observers argue that Iran is actually working to restrain any Islamic Jihad reaction. Tehran has a number of reasons to do so, not least its hope to see negotiations in Vienna over the resumption of the Iranian nuclear agreement make progress.
There is also speculation that the Israeli operation may be part of an attempt to halt the spread of Islamic Jihad from Gaza into the West Bank. Israeli authorities recently arrested Bassam Al-Saadi, leader of the Jenin branch movement, on charges of planning military attacks against Israel.
“Israeli is trying to uproot the Islamic Jihad movement by arresting its political leaders, such as Sheikh Bassam Al-Saadi, and assassinating its military leaders,” said Shalah.
The Islamic Jihad military spokesman went on to underscore the movement’s determination to free Al-Saadi.
While Israeli observers believe Israel will have little difficulty releasing Al-Awawda, the release of Al-Saadi is more problematic.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.