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Israel prepares for Gaza escalation

Explosions light up the sky after the Israeli military struck Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.

Explosions light up the sky after the Israeli military struck Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.

REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Israel is bracing for fierce retaliatory strikes after taking out senior members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

Israeli authorities have told families living in southern border communities to leave their homes, while bomb shelters in central Israel have also been opened.

What’s the trigger this time? Israel conducted air strikes on the Gaza Strip early Tuesday that resulted in the death of three PIJ heavyweights: Khalil Bahtini, the group’s commander for the northern Gaza Strip; Tareq Izzeldeen, the intermediary between PIJ’s Gaza and West Bank factions; and Jehad Ghanam, who headed the military council. Two of the commanders’ wives and children were also killed in the bombing along with other civilians, bringing the death toll to 13. Around 20 others were injured.

Israel’s security apparatus says the militants were responsible for a series of rocket attacks on Israel in recent weeks, as well as attacks against Jews inside Israel.

PIJ, which is backed by Iran, says that it will inflict a heavy price on Israel, which continued to bomb several targets in the Strip on Tuesday, including targeting an anti-tank guided missile crew in southern Gaza.

There are several things to watch in the days ahead.

First, will Hamas join PIJ in striking Israel? The former, which has fought several wars against Israel since forcefully taking control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, has been at loggerheads with the rogue PIJ for starting fights with Israel before at times when Hamas’ leadership has not sought an escalation. (In 2019 and 2022, for instance, Hamas stayed out of fighting after Israel targeted senior PIJ members.)

Indeed, a coordinated PIJ-Hamas operation would up the ante … significantly. One Israeli minister warned that the Israeli army will assassinate Hamas stalwart Yahya Sinwar, who heads the group’s activities in the Strip, if the militant group joins the action. That would spark a tinderbox.

And will Hezbollah and other militant groups in Lebanon join the fray, causing Israel to fend off attacks on multiple fronts? Hezbollah responded to the strikes by pledging “complete solidarity with our brothers in the PIJ,” while Iran is reportedly urging Hamas to join the fighting.

What about the political implications at home for Israel? In a recent GZERO World interview with Ian Bremmer, former Israeli PM Ehud Barak called the ongoing Palestinian issue “the elephant in the room” amidst ongoing domestic turmoil.

Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partner, Itamar Ben-Gvir, recently boycotted the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, accusing the government of a weak response to recent rocket and terror attacks inside Israel. Ben-Gvir said that Tuesday’s strikes on Gaza were “a good start,” but could Bibi be ratcheting it up now to placate the far-right and prevent the crumbling of his fractious coalition?


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