Senior PIJ figure Muhammad al-Hindi speaks at the "Good Tidings" rally in the Gaza Strip, March 13. He and other speakers claimed the last round of escalation was a "Palestinian victory." The pictures behind him are of Hana Shalbi and Khader Adnan, two PIJ activists detained in Israel (paltoday.ps website, March 13, 2012).
1.The last round of escalation in the Gaza Strip ended, in our assessment, with the Palestinian terrorist organizations regarding it as having had negative results rather than benefiting them, for the following reasons: Israel prevented a terrorist attack on the Israeli-Egyptian border with the targeted killing of Popular Resistance Committees commanders; the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip were relatively ineffective, causing relatively few civilian casualties despite their exceptionally large number; the success of the Iron Dome aerial defense system in intercepting and destroying rockets; the relatively large number of casualties among the terrorist organizations, especially the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, compared with the small number of Palestinian civilian bystander casualties.
2. All of the above, in our assessment, contributed to the terrorist organizations' sense that they had lost the last round of escalation. As in the past, that caused them to rush to provide a public propaganda response, but may also force them to learn operational lessons (such as finding a way to challenge the Iron Dome).
3. The PIJ's "victory narrative" (endorsed and supported by Hamas) is based on two main claims:
1) The first is the terrorist organizations' [the "resistance"] ability to disrupt the daily lives of more than a million Israeli civilians living in the country's south. That led to the claim that the Iron Dome's success in intercepting and destroying the long-range rockets targeting major population centers was meaningless when compared to the fact that schools were closed and normal commercial activity was disrupted, both represented by the Palestinian terrorist organizations as effective standards by which to judge the rockets' efficacy.
2) The second is that the lull arrangement brokered by Egypt which ended the escalation was an unprecedented Palestinian achievement. The core of the achievement – a baseless claim, as usual – is that the PIJ exacted a political commitment from Israel (by inference through Egypt) into abandoning its targeted killings of terrorist organization operatives. There was also a threat that if targeted killings were resumed, they would lead to the launching of longer-range rockets into the center of Israel (further afield than Ashdod).
4. Such a victory narrative includes, in our assessment, preparing the ground politically and propaganda-wise for the next round of escalation. The PIJ (not necessarily Hamas) wants to keep repeating the cycle of escalations which end with fragile lulls in which it would not be forced to pay a high price. Thus it can be expected that the PIJ (and possibly other Palestinian terrorist organizations) will represent future Israeli counterterrorism activities as "violations" of the so-called understanding reached to end the present round of escalation. In that way the PIJ hopes to establish a kind of balance of deterrence with Israel, which will enable it to continue its terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip and maintain its image as the leading terrorist organization, while at the same time preventing Israel from responding to terrorist threats in the future
Dilemmas for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad
5. The last round of escalation strengthened the image (within the Gaza Strip population) of the Iranian-sponsored PIJ in the Gaza Strip as the organization undertaking most of the fighting against Israel. Hamas, on the other hand, was perceived as observing from the sidelines and as once again giving more weight to issues of governing, politics and internal Palestinian considerations than to its commitments as part of the "resistance" [i.e., anti-Israeli terrorism].
6. Nevertheless, in our assessment, the overall balance of action-reaction in the last round was problematical for the PIJ (and even more so for the Popular Resistance Committees), for the following reasons:
1) On the one hand, the PIJ, which joined the attacks despite the fact that the targeted killing had not been directed at an operative of its own, launched most of the rockets with ranges greater than 20 kilometers (12.4 miles). Of the 20 terrorist operatives killed by IDF fire, 14 belonged to the PIJ (the other six belonged mainly to the PRC).
The PIJ fires Grad rockets at the southern Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ofakim
(from a video posted on the Jerusalem Brigades website, March 13, 2012).
2) On the other hand, the PIJ did not force Israel to pay a high price in lives for the targeted killing of two senior PRC terrorist organizations and the deaths in air strikes of its own operatives, despite the massive amounts of rocket fire directed against Israel, far greater than in previous rounds of escalation (About 240 rockets were fired at Israel, 170 either falling in Israeli territory or intercepted by the Iron Dome, which was successful in destroying long-range rockets.). In addition, public conduct on the home front contributed to the small number of civilian casualties. While a number of civilians were wounded and damage was done to property, in our assessment, the PIJ and PRC regarded the price exacted from Israel as far too low.
Rocket Hits in Israeli Territory since January 2011
The Iron Dome aerial defense system, which intercepted and destroyed more than 50 long-range
rockets during the most recent round of escalation (photo courtesy of the IDF Spokesman).
3) Moreover, in the most recent escalation the IDF reduced to a minimum the number of innocent bystanders who were killed, robbing Hamas and the other terrorist organizations of the powerful propaganda weapon of using civilian casualties for their customary inflammatory propaganda. The Israeli airstrikes killed four Palestinian bystanders (as opposed to 20 terrorist operatives) and wounded several dozen even though the rockets were launched from within residential areas, as were the attack targets. In our assessment, from the point of view of the terrorist organizations, that made it difficult for them to make political and propaganda capital out of the civilian losses. On the other hand, it also indicated Israel's high intelligence and operational capabilities. Israel demonstrated initiative in attacking and in determination to hit senior members of the terrorist organizations to prevent a terrorist attack, even at the risk of another round of escalation.1
Dilemmas for Hamas
7. While Hamas did not participate in the latest round of escalation, it was also disconcerted by the results:
1) The results of the escalation may have eroded Hamas' effort to deter Israel by constructing a large rocket arsenal with Iranian support. Hamas considers its rocket arsenal as the main offensive weapon against Israel and a key component in the balance of deterrence with it.
2) In the internal Palestinian arena tension has been created between Hamas and the PIJ because the PIJ has taken the lead in the "resistance" [i.e., anti-Israeli terrorism]. There are also internal tensions in Hamas between the exigencies of governing and the ideology of the "resistance." It is accompanied by public criticism of Hamas' lack of participation in the "resistance," accompanied by doubts as to Hamas' commitment to it.
3) The Arab-Muslim world and the international community were relatively apathetic to the events in the Gaza Strip: Arab television coverage was sketchy.2 The international community as well was fairly apathetic, focusing most of its attention on the dramatic events unfolding in Syria. In addition, the secretary general of the UN publicly criticized the rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip targeting the civilian population of southern Israel.
The Repose of the PIJ to the Dilemma: The "Victory Narrative"
8. The PIJ's "victory narrative" centers on the baseless claim that it forced Israel into committing itself not to carry out further targeted killings (what the PIJ referred to as "assassinations").3 PIJ spokesman Daoud Shihab and the organization's website said that if Israel violated its "commitment," the PIJ would have the "right" to respond ("If Israel reverts to its evil ways, so will we").4 At the same time, he tried to minimize the PIJ's commitment to the cease fire, saying that there was no written agreement but rather an Egyptian announcement regarding Israel's commitment to the lull and end of the targeted killings to which the PIJ had agreed.5
9. On March 13, at the end of the escalation, the PIJ held a parade and rally in the Gaza Strip entitled "Tidings of Victory" to celebrate their victory in what they pointedly called the "Four Day War." Senior organization figures who spoke at the rally repeatedly represented the end of the escalation as a victory for the PIJ and the entire "resistance" [i.e., terrorist campaign]. Some of their remarks were the following:
1) Abdallah Ramadan Shalah, PIJ chief, called the latest round of escalation "a victory for all the factions of the Palestinian people." In a broadcast video conference he claimed that Israel had lost its deterrence and shown that the Gaza Strip was no longer an easy target. He also repeated the lie that the PIJ had unprecedentedly forced the enemy to abandon its "policy of assassinations" to achieve the lull. He claimed that from the beginning of the negotiations, the PIJ had insisted on an end to the assassinations and posed it as a condition for the lull. He threatened that if Israel renewed its actions, rockets would land "deep inside the country." He ended by saying that the recent round of escalation was not the last and that only the "liberation of all the lands" and the "dismemberment of the criminal entity" would end the hostilities. Using terminology borrowed from Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, he said that "victory" over the enemy was a "divine promise" and that the "Zionist entity was weaker than a spider web" (paltoday.ps website, March 13, 2012).
2) Muhammad al-Hindi, a member of the PIJ's political bureau, praised the path of the "resistance" [i.e., anti-Israel terrorism], saying that it alone would bring achievements and that it protected the Palestinian people. He claimed that the IDF's ability to deter the Palestinian people and keep them from acting had been eroded and was no longer effective. He represented the latest round of escalation as the continuation of Operation Cast Lead and the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal, saying that "in every round [of the fighting] the enemy has been pushed further back." He also said that "the enemy began with an assassination [sic], was hit with a response, reacted to the response and then asked for a lull." That, according to al-Hindi, was a "Palestinian victory" which had created an "equation" according to which Israel had been beaten in the latest round of fighting (paltoday.ps website, March 13, 2012).6
10. Representing the "balance of deterrence" as tipping in favor of the Palestinians was repeated by Abu Ibrahim, described as a top Jerusalem Brigades operative, in an interview with the Agence France-Presse. He boasted that in the most recent round of escalation with Israel "a new balance of terror" had been created, of which he said the following:
"We do not want our rockets to kill Israelis7, all we seek is a balance of terror. Sending a threat of terror to the Israeli population is more important than killing civilians. A million and a half Israelis ran for bomb shelters and we heard their calls for help and knew they were hurting like our people...We did not vanquish the army, which is the fourth strongest in the world, but the enemy admitted defeat. For the first time, it committed itself before the Egyptian mediator to stop the targeted killings. While in the past it was lull in exchange for lull... We do not trust the occupation [i.e., Israel] and we understand it does not honor its commitments, but we will surprise it if it does anything stupid that requires a response."8
11. To reinforce the threat of deterrence the PIJ reiterated that in the most recent round of escalation the organization had not exhausted its rocket firing capabilities and would have "surprises" for Israel in the next round. The principle threat was to put Israelis living north of Ashdod within firing range by using longer-range rockets which could reach central Israel:
1) The PIJ's Paltoday website posted news flashes throughout the evening of March 12 in which Jerusalem Brigades announced that if Israel did not stop its attacks the organization would attack with longer-range rockets.9
2) Abu Ibrahim, represented as a senior Jerusalem Brigades terrorist operator, told Agence France-Presse that if Israel harmed any senior member of any organization, the organization would respond with force and increase the range of its response beyond Ashdod. He claimed that the Jerusalem Brigades, the military-terrorist wing of the PIJ, had developed both quantitatively and qualitatively, and had thousands of weapons. It would use the [longer-range] rockets, he claimed, if Israel harmed its senior members. Note: In the article, the Agence France-Presse noted that the Palestinian organizations, the PIJ among them, had Fajar 3 and Fajar 5 rockets with ranges of 60-110 kilometers (37-68 miles).10
Hamas' "Victory Narrative"
12. Hamas' victory narrative, whose profile was lower than that of the PIJ, was meant to prevent the erosion of the effectiveness of the rocket threat against Israel. It is based primarily on stressing the organizations' ability to operate in the Gaza Strip to disrupt daily life in Israel's south, which according to the Hamas claim has rendered the Iron Dome meaningless:
1) Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas figure in the Gaza Strip, boasted that Israelis living near the Gaza Strip had been living in bomb shelters since March 8. He claimed the rocket fire into Israel had also halted industrial and agricultural activity, and disrupted all facets of daily life. The Iron Dome aerial defense system, he claimed, had not "stood in the way of most of the rockets fired at Israel" (Interview with Hezbollah's Al-Intiqad portal, March 13, 2012).
2) While on a visit to Iran, Mahmoud al-Zahar claimed that the achievements of the "resistance" [i.e., the terrorist organizations] in the most recent confrontation were not represented by the extent of damage done to Israel. They were represented, he claimed, by the Israelis who ran for refuge in bomb shelters and the suspension of the activities of schools and universities, and of the cessation of agricultural, industrial and cultural activities. However, he said, while there was an asymmetry between the weapons possessed by the Palestinian organizations and those possessed by Israel, what mattered was that the influence of Palestinian weapons on Israel was much greater than the influence of Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip (Iran's Al-Alam website, March 15, 2012).
3) The Hamas-affiliated Paltimes said that "the missiles of the resistance [i.e., terrorist organizations] forced the Israeli home front to close schools and order those living within missile range to remain in bomb shelters lest they be harmed by the missiles of the resistance" (Paltimes, March 12, 2012).
Hamas Response to Other Issues in the Battle for Hearts and Minds
13. As part of the battle for hearts and minds senior Hamas figures had to explain why its military wing had not participated in the attacks on Israel. Musa Abu Marzuq, deputy chief of Hamas' political bureau, said that first of all, Hamas considered the good of the Palestinian people and would never abandon the path of "resistance" [i.e., terrorism]. He also tried to minimize the importance of the lull arrangement, saying that Hamas did not expect it to last for long and claiming that in any case, Israel, which had promised to stop its attacks on the Gaza Strip, was continuing them (Al-Quds TV, March 18, 2012).
14. Musa Abu Marzouk reiterated that the "resistance" [i.e., the path of terrorism] was Hamas' "strategic option," and whoever judged it by one incident was doing it a "grave injustice" (Interview with the Saudi Arabian paper Al-Sharq, March 19, 2012). On another occasion Musa Abu Marzuq repeated that Hamas would never abandon the path of "resistance." He said Hamas was continuing to prepare itself, train, arm itself and improve the level of its operatives' fighting abilities despite the so-called Israeli "siege" of the Gaza Strip and the miserable conditions proposed by the International Quartet (Al-Sharq, March 15, 2012).
15. Regarding international legitimacy for the rocket fire, Hamas was openly criticized by the UN secretary general in front of the Security Council on March 12, 2012. He said that the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory was unacceptable. Hamas, which is sensitive to every attempt to criticize the Palestinians' so-called "right" to use rocket fire, strongly denounced the statement and called on Ban-ki Moon to retract his remarks, which, the organization claimed, "compared a rapacious occupier to a defenseless people." Hamas' announcement blamed Israel ("the hangman"), which had begun the aggression and "in a criminal fashion" shelled "a tranquil, defenseless population" with no mention of the terrorist operatives who were killed (The official website of Hamas' information bureau, March 12, 2012).
1 That did not completely prevent attempts from being made to exploit the Palestinian civilian deaths for propaganda purposes. Speaking in the parliament on March 13, 2012, the Turkish prime minister accused Israel of "genocide" in the Gaza Strip, completely ignoring the numbers of terrorist operatives compared with the number of bystanders. Ismail Haniya, head of the de-facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, said that the Palestinians would lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council, claiming Israel attacked unarmed civilians and committed what he referred to as "war crimes" (Sawt al-Aqsa Radio, March 14, 2012).
2 Adbel Bari Atwan from Al-Quds Al-Arabi criticized Arab television stations for their silence regarding the events (Al-Quds Al-Arabi March 12, 2012).
3 Al-Jazeera, March 12, 2011
4 Jerusalem Brigades website, March 13, 2012.
5 Al-Jazeera, March 12, 2012.
6 An Islamist Turkish website reported al-Hindi as saying that "the branch of the [Palestinian Islamic] Jihad which fired missiles into Israel forced [Israel] to accept the cease fire, otherwise four million Israeli civilians would have had to seek refuge in bomb shelters" (velfcer.com, March 21, 2012).
7 Another baseless claim. The intention of the PIJ and other terrorist organizations in firing rockets and mortar shells into populated areas is to inflict as many civilian casualties on Israel as possible. The low number of Israeli casualties is not the result of the limitations the terrorist organizations impose on themselves but rather the good deployment of the Israeli home front and correct behavior of the Israeli populace, the fundamental limitations of the rockets and Israel's improved capabilities to intercept and destroy the rockets launched by the Palestinian terrorist organizations.
8 Agence France-Presse, March 16, 2012.
9 PIJ's Paltoday website, March 12, 2012.
10 Agence France-Presse, March 16, 2011. Abu Ahmed, spokesman for the Jerusalem Brigades, said in response that while the interview had actually been held and was not fabricated, it had not officially been published by the Jerusalem Brigades (Sawt al-Aqsa radio, March 17, 2012).