On 5 August 2022, four days after a state of alert was declared in the settlements of the Gaza envelope, Israel launched a war on the Gaza Strip, ostensibly to thwart a large-scale attack against civilians, according to Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. The aim of “Operation Breaking Dawn” was “to restore security to civilians in the state of Israel,” the Israeli occupation army said in a statement. The assault came after rising tensions in the West Bank following the arrest of Islamic Jihad leader Bassam al-Saadi in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on 1 August 2022 and the movement’s threat of retaliation.
In the Battle of Saif al-Quds (Sword of Jerusalem) from 10 to 21 May 2021, Palestinian resistance factions, in particular the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, were able to choose the moment of engagement by firing rockets at the occupied territories following the Israeli occupation forces’ refusal to stop its ongoing attacks on Jerusalem and withdraw from the Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah. Saif al-Quds was viewed as changing the rules of engagement between resistance forces and the occupation army: the resistance would no longer respond only to Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, but in Jerusalem as well. The latest escalation, however, demonstrated that this change was not permanent. The Palestinian resistance was unable to choose the zero-hour in this round, as Israel took the first step in launching its war on Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip by assassinating Tayseer al-Jabari (1972–2022), the northern commander of the Quds Brigades, the group’s military wing. This set off a 56-hour confrontation that Islamic Jihad entered alone, after Hamas assumed a posture of neutrality (publicly at least), which it has done several times since entering the political fray in 2006, thus becoming a movement that combines governance with resistance. Israel, too, explicitly recognised the neutrality of Hamas, announcing that its fight was not with Hamas, and that it would not target its leaders or positions. Hamas’s declaration of neutrality was likely motivated by other reasons as well, including a desire to spare the Gaza Strip an all-out war that would be disastrous for the Gazans, who are still coping with the fallout of the 2021 war, to allow the reconstruction of the Strip to continue unhindered, and to regroup militarily after Saif al-Quds. In so doing, Hamas broke with the tenet of the “unity of arenas” of struggle, the Palestinian name for the latest battle and also one of the most significant achievements of Saif al-Quds, which brought together all Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza into a joint operations room that acted as a centralised front for armed Palestinian resistance movements.
Accordingly, what is the background for Battle of Unity of the Arenas in light of confrontations in the West Bank and the organisational situation currently taking shape there? How should the military performance of the Quds Brigades be evaluated? To what extent should the recent confrontation be considered an extension of the popular Palestinian rebellion of April 2021 and the Battle of Unity of the Arenas an extension of Saif al-Quds? What are the battle’s strategic implications for the current condition of the Palestinian struggle and Islamic Jihad, as well as for Israeli politics?