Terrorists from Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired relentless barrages of rockets at Israeli communities in southern and central Israel Friday night, sending thousands rushing to shelters. The volleys came hours after the Israel Defense Forces launched strikes in the Strip in response to what Israeli leaders said was an ongoing “concrete” threat to target Israeli civilians and soldiers in Gaza-border areas.
Rocket launches began shortly before 9 p.m., with sirens blaring in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sderot, Yavne and other communities in the south. Alerts were also heard in the Tel Aviv suburbs of Rishon Lezion, Holon and Bat Yam.
Several Iron Dome interceptor missiles were seen engaging incoming rockets over southern Israel in several separate barrages. There were no reports of casualties or damage from rocket impacts.
According to local authorities, all of the rockets fired appeared to have either landed in open areas or been intercepted by Iron Dome.
By 10 p.m. the PIJ claimed it had launched some 100 rockets at Israel. The IDF said some 80 had been fired in that time. It said nearly half fell short in the Gaza Strip. Over 40 crossed the border, of which 33 were intercepted by Iron Dome. The rest fell in open areas, causing no injuries.
Shortly after the first rocket barrages, the IDF said it had begun fresh, widescale airstrikes against Islamic Jihad sites in Gaza, targeting weapons production sites, warehouses and rocket launching positions.
The rocket attacks came hours after the IDF launched Operation Breaking Dawn in Gaza with multiple strikes on targets of the PIJ, killing a senior commander, Tayseer Jabari, in one of them.
“Jabari was responsible for the concrete threat in the last three-four days to fire anti-tank missiles and mow down Israeli civilians or soldiers in the Gaza border area,” IDF Spokesman Ran Kochav said.
IDF Spokesman Ran Kochav, speaking outside IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv, August 5, 2022 (Channel 12 screenshot)
Once the IDF’s intelligence was complete and the preparations had been made over the past three days, added Kochav, “we carried out a devastating ambush, that thwarted Jabari and the members of the anti-tank cells, together with others.”
In subsequent strikes, he said, “we attacked the manned positions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including rocket launch positions, some of which were recently used.”
Israeli leaders said the actions were necessary after the group refused to back down from its intentions to carry out attacks. PIJ had been threatening since Tuesday to attack — to reinforce its demand that Israel release its West Bank commander, Bassem Saadi, who was arrested in an IDF raid in Jenin on Monday — causing days of road closures and community lockdowns in areas near the border under immediate threat.
Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022 (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Hebrew media reports indicated that Egypt had been attempting to mediate between the sides in recent days, but failed to convince the PIJ to back down.
Israeli officials said that the Gaza operation was targeting the PIJ specifically, hoping to keep Hamas largely out of the conflict as it did during a 2019 flare-up after the killing of a previous PIJ leader, Baha Abu al-Ata.
As of Friday evening, Hamas appeared to indeed be staying out of the fight for the time being. Though its leaders voiced fiery condemnation of Israel’s actions, the Gaza-ruling terror group did not say it would take part in the fight, nor did it participate in the initial rocket attacks.
In a statement to the media at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv just as the rocket barrage began, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the campaign “will take as long as it takes,” and that “this government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attempted attacks – of any kind – from Gaza towards Israeli territory.”
Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks about the IDF operation in Gaza, August 5, 2022 (GPO screenshot)
“The directive the security forces received from us was clear: Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who are trying to harm its civilians,” he said. “Terrorist organizations will not set the agenda in the area adjacent to Gaza, we will not tolerate any threat against our civilians.”
Said Lapid: “Today’s activity in Gaza was against concrete threats which disrupted daily routine in southern Israel. Israel isn’t interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from one either.”
In English remarks, he added: “Islamic Jihad is an Iranian proxy that wants to destroy the State of Israel and kill innocent Israelis. The head of Islamic Jihad is in Tehran as we speak.”
Speaking after Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz stressed that Israel was not targeting Gaza in general or ordinary Gazans, but rather “those who are responsible for the deterioration.” He stressed that Islamic Jihad was responsible for the damage to the security and the economy of Gazans.
“We will destroy those who threaten us,” he warned.
Earlier in the day, Gantz had warned that Israel would take action if the terror group did not halt its preparations for an attack.
On Friday night Gantz held a phone call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and updated him on the IDF’s efforts. The US has voiced support for Israel’s right to defend itself while calling for calm.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the Kirya military headquarters on August 5, 2022. (Elad Malka)
In its initial round of strikes, the military said six sites were hit by fighter jets and armed drones. One of the strikes killed one of the PIJ’s senior commanders, Tayseer Jabari. Jabari replaced Abu al-Ata as the group’s commander in northern Gaza after the latter’s assassination by Israel in 2019. The PIJ confirmed Jabari’s death.
The IDF also targeted the head of the anti-tank guided missile array and several squads preparing attacks. The army estimated that between 10-20 terror operatives had been killed in the opening wave of airstrikes.
By nightfall, the Hamas-run health ministry confirmed that at least 10 people had been killed, including a five-year-old girl, and 55 others wounded.
Tayseer Jabari, the commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in northern Gaza, in an undated photo. Jabari was targeted and killed in an Israeli airstrike on August 5, 2022. (Social media)
A senior military official said Islamic Jihad had been preparing a major terror attack against Israeli civilians, with Jabari and many of his fighters planning to attack civilians near the border, the official said.
The military said it had deployed the Iron Dome air defense system near Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba, as it anticipated retaliation from Islamic Jihad in the form of rocket attacks. The military said a “special situation” had been declared on the homefront, up to 80 kilometers from Gaza — an area extending as far north as Tel Aviv. Residents in areas close to the border were instructed to remain close to bomb shelters, and in the Lachish and central Negev areas gatherings were restricted.
Public bomb shelters were opened in Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheba, following instructions by the IDF’s Home Front Command.
The IDF, meanwhile, began to call up reservists to bolster its Southern Command, Home Front Command, air defense array and combat troops in the event of further escalation. Gantz approved calling up as many as 25,000 reservist troops, his office said.
Lapid, Gantz, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and top security officials held security consultations in the evening to decide on Israel’s next steps.
IDF spokesman Kochav told Channel 12 that the operation was “a targeted campaign against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” confirming reports that the army was trying not to drag Hamas into the ongoing conflict and was hoping to keep the campaign limited in scope.
Speaking to Channel 12 news, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said the government decided “that we are not prepared to be held hostage by a Gaza terror group.”
She added: “We don’t know how this [conflict] will play out… but this could take time… This could be a lengthy round [of conflict] and a hard one.”
Tensions around the Gaza Strip spiked following the arrest of Bassam Saadi in Jenin on Monday night. Since then, the Israel Defense Forces bolstered forces and shuttered routes along the border due to fear of an imminent revenge anti-tank guided missile or sniper attack by the Islamic Jihad. The precautions have largely placed residents of the border communities under lockdown.
Before the campaign began, Gantz had said Israel was “acting with restraint” in response to the border threat but would act with “power” in order to return civilian life in southern Israel to “full normalcy.”
Over the past few days, with armed drones flying over the Strip, the IDF worked to thwart attempts by Islamic Jihad squads to launch an attack on the border.
The West Bank head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, Bassem Saadi, is seen shortly after his arrest by Israeli troops on August 2, 2022. (Courtesy)
According to the Shin Bet, Saadi, 61, has been jailed and released by Israel seven times over the years. The Shin Bet said that in recent months, Saadi had “worked even harder to restore PIJ activities, and was behind the creation of a significant military force for the organization in [the northern West Bank] in general and in Jenin in particular.”
“His presence was a significant factor in the radicalization of the organization’s operatives in the field,” the Shin Bet added.
Jenin is widely seen as a hotbed of terror activity. Gunmen and other attackers behind several deadly terrorist attacks earlier this year came from the city and its refugee camp.