Fast Facts: Israel’s campaign in Gaza against terrorist targets
May 9, 2023 | AIJAC staff
The Israel Defence Forces and the Israel Security Agency (a.k.a. Shin Bet) initiated ‘Operation Shield and Arrow’ – a counter-terrorist operation – on May 9. The declared purpose of the operation is to target and eliminate senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorists who were responsible for firing more than 100 rockets into Israel last month.
These include Khalil Bahitini (senior operational officer of PIJ and commander of the Northern Gaza Division), Tarek Az Aldin (who directed PIJ operations in Judea and Samaria), and Jahed Ahnam (Secretary of the PIJ Military Council). All three were killed, along with several members of their families who were with them at the time. It was reported that an additional 20 people were wounded.
The Operation also targeted several sites that produced weapons, including a rocket factory and six military compounds that belonged to PIJ.
The operation did not target civilian sites in Gaza, though accidental civilian casualties are always possible in the densely-populated strip, despite IDF efforts to avoid this.
What was the purpose of ‘Operation Shield and Arrow’?
The initial purpose of the counter-terrorism operation was to prevent future PIJ terror attacks that were in various states of planning and coordination, as well as undermine PIJ’s ability to spread into the West Bank, according to the IDF The PIJ has already undertaken numerous terror attacks in the West Bank, including an attempt to plant a bomb in a bus at Beitar Ilit in March.
PIJ fired more than 100 rockets into southern Israel against innocent civilians during Pesach (Passover), one of the most important Jewish holidays, last month, and then again last week. The co-ordinated rocket attacks in April – fired from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria – occurred alongside several terrorist attacks in which four innocent people, including two teenage British-Israeli sisters and their mother, were murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
What is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad?
Founded in 1981, PIJ is a radical “religiously and ideologically motivated violent extremist organisation”. It’s the second largest organisation in Gaza after Hamas, the Islamist terrorist organisation which acts as the de facto government of the strip.
PIJ’s goal is the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state. PIJ is motivated by a Jihadist ideology which calls for the use of terrorism to achieve its goals, including suicide bombings and shooting attacks; it has indiscriminately launched more than 1,000 rocket and mortars into Israel in recent years. It also launched four attacks against Israeli soldiers using anti-tank missiles. PIJ is also currently recruiting and sending terrorists into the West Bank to launch attacks against Israelis there.
PIJ primarily operates in Gaza but has a presence in other parts of the Middle East, including Syria and Lebanon. It is completely “ideologically, financially and militarily dependent” on Iran.
The group was first listed as a terrorist organisation under Australian law in 2004.
What about the people of Gaza?
The IDF was not targeting the population of Gaza. Operation Shield and Arrow appears to be a carefully planned and orchestrated action to achieve military objectives, using sophisticated precision ammunition and pinpointed intelligence to target and eliminate senior PIJ terrorists, and thus both disrupt and deter PIJ efforts to attack Israel.
What about the people of Israel?
In response to the Israeli strikes, rocket attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilian communities are anticipated, although the IDF has attempted to pre-empt this by striking some PIJ rocket launching sites. Residents and visitors in southern Israel were instructed to remain in safe areas. Several hours after the operation occurred, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Galant approved the State-funded “Mashav Ruach” plan, which allows Israeli residents who live close to the borders of Gaza to evacuate the area and shelter in unbooked tourist accommodation across the country.
Who were the targeted PIJ terrorists?
- Bahitini, 44, was responsible for approving and carrying out all PIJ terrorist activities in northern Gaza since April 2023; he was also planning terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, such as shootings. He had been involved in multiple terrorist activities since the late 1990s, including suicide bombings, rocket attacks, explosives attacks, and directing terrorist activities in the West Bank.
- Az Aldin, 49, was responsible for coordinating PIJ in the West Bank and transferring funds out of Gaza for its terror activities there. He planned multiple terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and he was also responsible for distributing inciting content on behalf of PIJ within Israel in order to promote and encourage terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.
- Ahnam 62, was one of the most senior PIJ operatives, and had held several key roles, including Commanding Officer of the PIJ’s Southern Gaza Brigade and Secretary of the Military Council. During his last role, he coordinated money and weapon transfers between PIJ and Hamas, and promoted terrorism across the world.
What did the Israel Defence Force say?
In statements following last night’s attack, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office recalled prior targeted killings of PIJ terror leaders Tayseer Jabri and Khaled Mansour in August 2022, as well as Baha Abu al-Ata in November 2019, and viewed the current strikes in the context of long term efforts to thwart the terror activities of PIJ.
What did the Israeli Government say?
A senior Netanyahu Government official stated on May 9: “Anyone who initiates terrorist activity against us will not get away. We will protect the citizens of Israel everywhere and with all our strength.
“We call on the international community to condemn the shooting at Israeli citizens from civilian population concentrations in Gaza, and to express clear and unequivocal support for Israel’s right to defend itself.”
What may happen next?
As noted, Israel expects PIJ, along with possibly Hamas, to retaliate violently and target innocent Israeli civilians. Following the attack, the PIJ stated: “We affirm that the blood of the martyrs will increase our resolve, and we will not leave our positions, and the resistance will continue.”
Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas, warned Israel that it had “made a mistake in its estimates and will pay the price for its crime,” adding that “the aggression targets all of our people, and the resistance is unified in confronting it.”
AIJAC Research Associate Dr. Ran Porat, a local expert on this issue, is available for interviews on 0404-642-833.