One day since the beginning of the IDF offensive on Gaza, it seems to be looking good for Israel.
The IDF managed to utilize the element of surprise by initiating attacks. At this stage the Islamic Jihad can lay claim to no major achievements. The same goes for the other tiny Gazan terrorist organizations who have also joined in the fighting.
The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), the third largest such organization in the Gaza Strip, formed during the Second Intifada is made up of former Hamas members, Fatah, the Islamic Jihad and the El Aqsa Martyrs Brigade – Fatah’s armed organization in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has far greater fighting power than the Islamic Jihad and all the other organizations put together. For now, however, Hamas is sitting on the sidelines and presumably will continue doing so as for as along as Gazan civilian casualties are kept low.
But the longer the campaign goes on, likely technical mistakes or incorrect intelligence on the part of the IDF will increase the chances of such casualties. These are good reasons for the IDF command to make efforts to keep the campaign quick and short.
Either way, the IDF is fully prepared for the worst-case scenario of an overall escalation with Hamas joining in the fighting and Hezbollah contributing as best they can from the north.
The IDF is prepared for maneuvering inside Gaza and possibly in the north. To meet this possible scenario, 25,000 reserve duty soldiers from all IDF corps have been called up, designed as a base for a full reserve duty call-up if needed.
A further, more important, reason to aim for a short campaign is the chance that the terrorist organizations will indeed succeed in causing damage and afflicting losses on Israel.
That said, the IDF is aiming for week-long campaign, maybe even less - which is reasonable under current circumstances.
Although the Islamic Jihad’s responses to Israeli attacks have been weaker than expected – sparse and inaccurate, both at short and long range, it is too soon to infer anything regarding the future.
At this stage, we don’t know if the organization’s apparent weakness is thanks to the shock afflicted by Israeli strikes in the campaign’s opening minutes - or whether the Islamic Jihad is saving up more lethal parts of its arsenal for use at better time. This may include, for example, a “grand finale” at the end of the campaign, dealing a serious blow to Israeli morale thus restoring the organization’s lost prestige.
In the meantime, the Islamic Jihad’s declared objective is “winning by attrition.”
The group wants to “economize ammunition”, launching rockets at a measured pace. This method is designed to buy time, hoping that one IDF mistake will drag Hamas into the campaign. The longer the campaign goes on, the chances of that happening increases – so it’s in the IDF’s best interests to keep the fighting short. That said, it must be noted that the Islamic Jihad doesn’t have an organized chain of command, so it’s hard to tell whether there is actually a cohesive strategy or just confused attempts at putting up a fight.
Furthermore, despite the present display of apparent weakness, this organization has trained units armed with anti-tank missile launchers based throughout the Gaza Strip, just looking for targets on the Israeli side. It would only take one such missile striking an Israeli vehicle or a single mortar shell hitting an Israeli home in a community near the border fence, to detrimentally change the whole picture. The success of “Breaking Dawn” as the IDF has called its offensive, is contingent, no less than the skills of IAF pilots, drone operators and IDF fighters, on the self-discipline and common sense of the Israeli public.
The IDF’s relative success is contrasted by its lack of success in quickly destroying the Islamic Jihad’s large, long-range missiles. It’s quite possible that this lack of success is due to the Islamic Jihad not removing these launchers from their hiding places, knowing full well that Israeli drones are hovering overhead.
The group may also be suffering from a shortage in intelligence, possibly to be addressed in the near future.
In the West Bank, the IDF arrested around 20 of the Islamist faction's operatives overnight on Friday. These arrests likely serve as a message to the faction, Hamas and Egypt that Israel has no intention of acceding to the organization’s requests to stop operating against its operatives in the West Bank.
Israel is also signaling that the demand for the release of the organizing’s chief, Bassem Saadi, arrested a few days ago in Janine will not be met. The central message Israel wants to convey to the terrorist organization is “You wanted to connect the West Bank to Gaza and pride yourself that you’re fighting on two fronts – so you got what you wanted – only the other way around.”