What happened: A ceasefire came into effect at 23:00 last night after 60 rockets were fired yesterday into Israel by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
- According to the Israel Defence Force (IDF) the Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted 90 per cent of rockets that would otherwise have landed in populated areas. One Israeli man sustained moderate injuries and 15 people were treated at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon with light injuries.
- The IDF responded with air strikes on the Gaza Strip, including Islamic Jihad compounds used for naval weapons storage and military compounds used for training.
- Islamic Jihad’s military wing declared that it had “completed the military response,” but warned that it would continue its jihad and would retaliate for any Israeli attempt to attack the Palestinian people and its land.
- Last night IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said, “I can’t say whether we are in the middle or toward the end, whether the situation will escalate or abate. It appears to me that the fragility of the situation is clear as well as the speed with which our borders can be breached, with which dangers can take place and in which we can find ourselves in an operation. A good many of the operations in the last 20 years, even wars, began this way, from escalation that devolved into something much bigger….We will do everything to protect the citizens of the Gaza periphery communities and prevent them from feeling a sense of insecurity.”
Context: The ceasefire agreement was reached with the mediation of Egypt intelligence officials and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov.
- Israeli leaders were keen to end the conflict with Islamic Jihad before Monday’s election and the IDF response to yesterday’s rocket attacks was relatively mild in order to prevent the situation from escalating further.
- Israel analysts explain the latest escalation began with an incident on Sunday morning when the body of an Islamic Jihad operative, killed by IDF forces while trying to place a bomb on the border fence, was taken into Israel by a bulldozer. Security analyst Alex Fishman writes in Yediot Ahronot: “The violence of the last two days stemmed from an affront to Palestinian national honour. It was the Southern Command official who gave the order to enter the Gaza Strip in broad daylight and to drag out the body of a dead terrorist as it hung from a bulldozer’s shovel, who played the role of the “strategic sergeant” that everyone is afraid of—that same low-ranking official who is liable to set the entire Middle East on fire with his ignorance or insensitivity. When Defence Minister Naftali Bennett ordered the IDF to withhold the bodies of dead terrorists so they could be used in future negotiations with Hamas, he certainly didn’t mean for IDF soldiers to be put at risk by sending them into Palestinian territory to collect bodies. Presumably, he didn’t intend to desecrate the dead in front of the cameras and to ignite passions in the Gaza Strip. But that is what happened.”
Looking ahead: Despite the ceasefire, IDF Home Front Command said schools in the Gaza periphery should remain shut and people should only go to work if they have access to a shelter.
- Israel announced last night that it was closing all border crossings to the Gaza Strip until further notice and prohibited fishing. Humanitarian goods are permitted to go through the Kerem Shalom crossing and patients receiving treatment in Israeli hospitals can still enter through the Erez crossing.
- The current ceasefire is viewed by security experts as particularly fragile with more rocket attacks expected before the Israeli election on 2 March.