Israel’s two-day battle with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group this week was its tenth major round of fighting in the Gaza Strip in the past two years.
No Israelis were seriously injured in this bout, and the roughly 100 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel caused minimal property damage, as some 90 percent of projectiles heading toward populated areas were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the military.
With the accumulated experience from nine previous conflicts, Israel has gotten markedly better at fighting these one-to-three day battles — while doing little to prevent them from happening in the first place.
But the Islamic Jihad also appears to have improved its tactics, firing its rockets with greater accuracy at Israeli communities. In one barrage of 14 rockets, 12 were directed toward populated areas, requiring interception by the Iron Dome, whereas in the past a far greater number would have struck open fields without the military needing to intervene.
The immediate catalyst for Sunday and Monday’s flareup was the poorly handled aftermath of a well-handled mission to prevent two PIJ members from planting a bomb along the border. After killing one of the Islamic Jihad operatives, the Israel Defense Forces sent a bulldozer into the buffer zone within the security fence to retrieve the body, a scene that was caught on film and elicited anger and disgust within Gaza and around the world.
The strong reaction to this incident provided the PIJ with an excuse to retaliate, which it did on Sunday evening, with dozens of rockets fired at southern Israel.
But this was widely seen as little more than an excuse for the Iran-backed terror group to carry out a larger-than-normal assault on Israel, having long been working to undermine the ceasefire negotiations between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas with more limited attacks — intermittent rocket launches, sniper fire, infiltrations and border bombings.
The IDF retaliated with its own greater-than-normal response, striking a PIJ facility inside Syria, south of Damascus, killing at least two members of the group. This appeared to be part of interim Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s strategy of responding more forcefully to attacks from the Strip. But instead of dealing a crushing blow to Islamic Jihad to force it to back down, the terror group said the attack prompted it to fire yet more rockets at Israel as a form revenge for the deaths of its operatives.
Dozens of rockets and several rounds of retaliatory airstrikes later, both sides wound up roughly back where they started.