IDF hails Gaza operation of 'initiative, subterfuge and surgical precision'
Brig. Gen. Zilberman tells Ynet that Islamic Jihad commander killed after he could not be 'swayed from path of terrorism'; care taken to avoid dragging Hamas into conflict; 450 rockets fired at Israel in two days, with Iron Dome felling 90% that targeted population centers
The IDF on Wednesday praised its soldiers for what it said was a successful mission in Gaza over the past few days, involving personnel from across the branches of the military working together with "initiative, subterfuge and surgical precision."
The army confirmed a ceasefire had been reached with Islamic Jihad in Gaza after two days of violence sparked by the killing of the group's military commander, although some rocket fire from Gaza continued to target southern Israel on Thursday morning.
"The targeted killing on Tuesday of Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata was a unexpected attack by Israeli forces carried out in coordination with the Shin Bet security service," Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman said.
He said that Israel had long been trying to stabilize the security situation on the Gaza border to provide calm for the residents of the southern communities.
"Unfortunately, we were unable to sway the Islamic Jihad commander from his path of terrorism," Zilberman said.
He branded Abu al-Ata an enemy not only of Israel but also of the residents of Gaza as he had sought to disturb efforts to reach an understanding between Israel and the Gaza factions.
The IDF believes Abu al-Ata was receiving directions from the organization's leadership in Syria, which was behind most attacks against Israel from Gaza in past years.
Preparations to target the Islamic Jihad commander were months in the making and the IDF conducted war games to test possible scenarios.
"Our plan was to hit only Islamic Jihad and separate Hamas from the hostilities," Zilberman said of the IDF's actions during the 48 hours of fighting. He said the terror group suffered a severe blow to its military capabilities during what the IDF has dubbed "Operation Black Belt."
Since Tuesday, at least 25 militants were killed by the IDF as they tried to launch missiles and anti-tank rockets towards Israeli population centers.
"We had intelligence officials from various disciplines working alongside commanders to direct the strikes," Zilberman said.
In total, 450 projectiles were launched towards Israel between Tuesday morning and the early hours of Thursday when the truce ostensibly took hold. Ninety percent of the rockets that were directed towards population centers were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Sixty percent of the projectiles landed in unpopulated areas.
IDF aircraft carried out dozens of strikes on Islamic Jihad targets, hitting military compounds, weapons depots, training facilities, command centers, rocket launcher, naval vessels, tunnels and observation posts.
"We conducted the battle using initiative, subterfuge and surgical precision," the military spokesman said, saying the decision was made to take quality over quantity, which also ensured Hamas would not be hit.
"We've learned from past experience and improved our missile defense capabilities," he said, but conceded that there is always room for improvement.
"Islamic Jihad is not Iran or even Hamas so the IDF used a small part of its capabilities in this round of fighting," the IDF spokesperson said, adding the military is prepared for any number of events on Israel's various fronts.
"We are challenged by Iran, not only in Syria," he said. "This operation in Gaza was a window of opportunity and the IDF must now concentrate on the northern border."
Zilberman warned Israel would respond forcefully to any attack and continues to be vigilant and prepared for the resumption of fire from Gaza.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday that the new rules of the game are clear.
"The IDF will operate with full impunity and without restrictions against anyone attempting to cause harm to the population of Israel," he said.
"There will be nowhere to hide."