Behind the Israel-Islamic Jihad flareup

What’s up with the latest hostilities between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s forces in Gaza?

PIJ’s been firing rockets into southern Israel for the last year, but one attack stood out: a rocket fired at Ashdod, a city deeper into Israel than the group had previously managed, and timed to hit just as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was taking the stage in a campaign rally.

It wasn’t so much an assassination attempt as an effort to humiliate Bibi and turn the election. Israel had to respond, but the Israeli Defense Forces took its time, waiting until it had a clear shot at Baha Abu al-Ata — the commander behind the wave of rocket launches, who had taken to ignoring calls for restraint from outside forces like Egypt, as well as voices of caution within PIJ.

In the event, the IDF pinned down his location; a jet launched a single precision missile through his bedroom window, killing the terrorist and his wife and leaving the rest of the three-story apartment building largely untouched, though several of their children were reported wounded.

PIJ’s response was to launch hundreds of rockets indiscriminately from Gaza at civilian Israeli targets — most intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system or hitting only empty ground. Israel answered with its own attacks on PIJ military targets, with greater success.

Hamas, the terror group that controls government in Gaza, stayed out of it — not launching any of its own vast arsenal, and eventually helping set a cease-fire, albeit one slow to take full hold. The start of the weekend even brought a unauthorized launch into Israel by a rebel Hamas faction, plainly unhappy at the leadership’s caution.

PIJ has more legitimacy in hotheads’ eyes because it’s more rabid than Hamas, which feels some need to worry about Gaza’s civilians. Hamas, in turn, mocks the caution of Fatah, the terror outfit that controls the West Bank — even as all of them remain committed to Israel’s destruction.

The other factor is Iran: Its strong ties with PIJ in Gaza and Syria, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, leave it virtually encircling Israel with its various terror proxies. The IDF just gave all those proxies reason to pause before attacking to please Tehran.

As Netanyahu put it in a call with Israeli local officials from areas near Gaza: “The heads, commanders and militants of the terrorist organizations know that they are in the crosshairs and that at any time we could act against them anywhere.”

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