Israel’s operation “Breaking Dawn” against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza was an unqualified success. The element of surprise played a significant role in meeting all the objectives of the operation. Accurate intelligence, swift and pinpointed action by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) prevented a large number of innocent civilians from getting hurt. Most of the Palestinian civilian casualties resulted from misfired PIJ missiles. Moreover, there were no Israeli casualties. The absence of Hamas’ involvement in the fighting indicated that Israel’s deterrence is still working. The Israeli public, despite the initial frustrations, along with the soldiers, commanders, pilots, and UAV operators, deserve the credit for this memorable Israeli victory.
In the past conflicts with Hamas and PIJ in Gaza, the Israeli civilian and military leadership allowed the enemy (Hamas and PIJ) to fire the first shot following the usual verbal threats, and ultimatums. Early on it appeared as if the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) allowed PIJ to dictate matters again (the closures were a result of the PIJ threats), and then came the surgical attacks on the PIJ leadership, and 170 PIJ military targets. It all began, however, with days of closures that shutdown the Israeli towns and villages enveloping the Gaza Strip. Israeli civilians expressed their mounting frustrations, and blamed the Lapid Government of submitting to PIJ’s threats and intimidation that kept children out of school, customers out of businesses, and parents out of their workplaces. The residents of the Israeli communities surrounding Gaza couldn’t understand why the arrest in Jenin of the PIJ leader in the West Bank, Bassam al-Saadi, should be punishing them.
According to the Shabak, Israel’s internal security service, al-Saadi was behind the PIJ military buildup in the West Bank, especially in the terror capital of Jenin. Al-Saadi was also responsible for the radicalization of the PIJ operatives in the West Bank. Soon after al-Saadi’s arrest, PIJ in Gaza placed their fighters on alert, allegedly in response to the “treacherous” actions by special IDF units sent to Jenin to arrest terror cells involved in recent homicides against Israeli civilians.
Although the PIJ as a rule doesn’t respond militarily to Israeli arrests of its operatives, the IDF commanders and the government decided not to take chances with the lives of the Israeli civilian population surrounding Gaza. These civilians have carried the brunt of Palestinian missile attacks from Gaza. The Israeli cabinet figured that a rocket attack from Gaza could occur, and as a result ordered the closures. All along, the Iranian regime that has supplied PIJ with cash, training, arms and lethal missiles urged them to act forcibly. In fact, the PIJ’s Secretary-General Ziyad al-Nakhalah was in Tehran just prior to the Breaking Dawn operation. He met with the top leadership of the Iranian regime and with the chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Maj. General Hossein Salami, who announced that, “The liberation of the Palestinians is a basic strategy for Iran, not just a wish.”
While the PIJ chief al-Nakhalah was in Iran getting his orders from the Ayatollahs regime, and eager to please his patrons, the military wing of the PIJ was in disarray. It provided the IDF and the Shin Bet with an opportunity to operate under ideal conditions. And, unlike previous operations in Gaza where half of the Palestinian casualties were civilians, along with the painful loss of IDF soldiers, this time there were no such losses among the IDF or the Israeli civilian population. There were also fewer human lives lost among the Gazan population.
When the cease fire was declared and the fighting ended, PIJ senior commanders were dead; the Iron Dome air defense system registered a record-breaking interception rate. The overall mood in Israel became more positive, albeit, it is clear to everyone that the fighting with the Gaza terror groups didn’t end, and would more than likely resume at some point. The entire Breaking Dawn operation lasted a mere 66-hours, from Friday, August 5th through Sunday, August 7, 2022.
The PIJ terror group fired more than 1,100 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities from Gaza. Iron Dome intercepted 380 rockets, which threatened Israeli populated areas. It amounted to an unprecedented rate of 96% success. The IDF reported striking PIJ weapon caches, observation posts, and rocket launching sites. Airstrikes killed the two senior PIJ commanders in Gaza, Tayseer Jabari and Khaled Mansour.
This time, Israel withstood the outrageous truce terms demanded by PIJ through the Egyptian mediators. For Israel, the entry and exit strategies worked well considering the mistakes made in previous such encounters with the terrorist groups in Gaza.
Still, the Breaking Dawn operation didn’t solve Israel’s Gaza problem. The PIJ was not destroyed, and with Iranian resupply will again pose a security threat to Israeli lives from Gaza and the West Bank.
Lest we forget, this round of fighting might have been at best a successful dress rehearsal for the much more serious enemies Israel faces to its north. This round of fighting was conducted under ideal circumstances with an enemy in a small and confined battlefield. Operating against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran and its proxies in Syria will be more complicated, and might require simultaneous action on several fronts. The IDF would have to deploy many more units, and large swaths of Israeli territory will be under threat from Hezbollah and Iranian missiles. The IDF will have to mobilize reserve units and function under difficult conditions. Additionally, the IDF commanders won’t be able to count on the previous success record of the Iron Dome given the more accurate, more lethal, and the longer range of Hezbollah and Iranian missiles in Lebanon and Syria.
The Breaking Dawn operation is therefore not representative of the potential conflicts the IDF will encounter with Hezbollah and Iran, as well as possibly being joined by Hamas and PIJ in Gaza. This, of course, is without counting the direct involvement of Iran from its own territory.
The Breaking Dawn operation did however manage to accomplish a few vital things for Israel: it showed that Israel can deal with the PIJ terror cells in the West Bank with impunity. Israel preserved its deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. They witnessed Israel’s impressive intelligence, and Air Force operations that accurately hit specific PIJ targets while sparing the uninvolved Hamas operatives and facilities. Finally, Israel strengthened its regional and international status with its brilliant military capabilities, while protecting its sovereignty and the lives of its citizens.