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BACKGROUND: Operation Shield and Arrow

Updated: May 26, 2023

On May 9, 2023, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Shield and Arrow with a series of airstrikes targeting three commanders in Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a terrorist organization based in Gaza. The Operation resulted from escalating tensions between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in April and May 2023. The conflict was sparked when PIJ responded to the death of PIJ official Khader Adnan on May 2 by sending a barrage of rockets into Israel and threatening further violence. The Operation lasted for five days until a ceasefire deal was reached on May 13. Negotiations took several days and were assisted by Egypt. Notably, Hamas did not take part in the conflict, and Israel only targeted PIJ and other terrorist groups in Gaza.

During Operation Shield and Arrow, terrorist groups in Gaza fired 1,468 rockets and mortars at Israeli homes and families. Two civilians were murdered by rocket fire targeting Israel; an elderly Israeli woman whose apartment was hit by rockets, and a Gazan man working in Israel. The IDF struck 422 PIJ targets in Gaza, including rocket launchers, military sites, command centers, and weapons manufacturing sites. According to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza, 33 Palestinians were killed. According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 20 of the people killed were terrorists, 10 were civilians tragically killed in Israeli strikes on PIJ leaders, and 3 were civilians killed by rockets that fell short and landed in Gaza.

Four things to know about Operation Shield and Arrow

  1. Hamas stayed out: Hamas, the terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip, largely avoided entering PIJ’s conflict with Israel and did not fire rockets. The IDF also specified it was not targeting Hamas sites in Gaza. Reports suggest PIJ sought to involve Hamas in the fighting, and only signed the ceasefire agreement when it became clear that Hamas was staying out. Even without firing rockets, however, Hamas provided hiding places for PIJ leaders and is part of the Gaza Joint Operations Room which plays a coordinating role in all conflicts with Israel. According to an analysis by the Institute for National Security Studies, by not directly taking part in the conflict, Hamas was able to examine the IDF’s capabilities, build legitimacy, and take on the role of the responsible actor in Gaza.

  2. Israel’s objectives were mostly achieved: Israeli officials stated the Operation's goals were reached midway through the conflict. Over five days, the IDF eliminated top PIJ commanders, destroyed weapons manufacturing and rocket launch sites to prevent further attacks, and restored deterrence by showing that Israel will target those responsible for attacking its citizens. However, the length of time between Israel’s conflicts with terrorist groups in Gaza seems to be shortening.

  3. A ceasefire was a priority: Egyptian mediators began working toward a ceasefire before PIJ started firing rockets on May 10, and talks intensified after the rocket attacks began. Multiple ceasefire proposals were drafted, as mediators tried to work around the demands of PIJ and ensure that negotiations continued while PIJ rockets were launched further into Israel and the IDF continued striking PIJ targets.

  4. Israel showed restraint: The IDF exercised restraint during the Operation, as several incidents that would have been red lines in previous conflicts with Gaza-based terror groups - the brief grounding of flights at Ben Gurion Airport, rocket fire over Jerusalem, and the death of two civilians - did not lead to major military escalations or a significant lengthening of the Operation.

What is Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)?

PIJ is an internationally recognized terrorist organization. Its main areas of operation are Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria. Backed by the Iranian and Syrian regimes, PIJ is the second-largest terrorist group in Gaza after Hamas, which rules the territory. PIJ rejects the peace process, a two-state solution, or any political resolution to the conflict. It seeks Israel’s destruction and is directly responsible for murdering innocent Israeli civilians through suicide bombings, rockets, shootings, and other attacks. Since Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza, PIJ has fired thousands of rockets into Israel.

Facts and context about the current round of violence:

Much of the information below is based on breaking news reports about this ongoing situation. We will update this backgrounder as additional facts and context become available. All dates and times referenced are in Israel Standard Time.

May 2-3

  • Terrorist groups in Gaza launched 104 rockets into Israel. The rockets were in response to the death of PIJ official Khader Adnan, who died from a hunger strike while awaiting trial in Israel for terrorism-related charges. His several previous hunger strikes had made him a symbol of resistance to many Palestinians.

- Adnan was arrested in February 2023, along with other PIJ officials, for membership in a terrorist organization, inciting violence against Israeli civilians, and support for terrorism. Immediately after his arrest, he began his hunger strike and refused medical treatment. A video of Adnan speaking at a 2007 rally shows him encouraging terror attacks and suicide bombings. In the video, Adnan says, "Who among you will carry the next explosive belt? Who among you will fire the next bullets? Who among you will have his body parts blown all over?” In another video from 2022, he praised two terrorists who murdered eight Israelis.

  • Israel responded to the rockets by targeting Hamas military and weapons sites in Gaza. A ceasefire mediated by Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations went into effect at 4:00 am on May 3. PIJ launched more rockets within two hours of the ceasefire going into effect before their spokesperson confirmed the ceasefire.

May 9

  • The IDF launched Operation Shield and Arrow with surprise airstrikes against PIJ leaders in Gaza. The airstrikes killed three PIJ commanders; Khalil Bahtini, an al-Quds Brigades commander, Tareq Ezzaldin, who oversaw terrorist activity in Gaza and the West Bank, and Jihad Ghanem, Secretary of PIJ’s Military Council and commander of PIJ’s Southern Gaza Brigade. The deaths were confirmed by the IDF and PIJ.

- Bahtini was reportedly directing a terrorist cell which was recently caught by Israeli forces attempting to manufacture rockets in the West Bank.

  • Ten civilians were also reportedly killed in the initial airstrikes, all of whom were family members or neighbors of PIJ leaders. These deaths are a tragedy. Though the IDF’s policy is to go out of its way to avoid harming innocent people, it is extremely difficult as terrorist groups like PIJ embed themselves and their infrastructure amongst Palestinian civilians.

  • PIJ and Hamas issued threats after the Operation. A PIJ spokesperson said, “The Palestinian response to this heinous, aggressive massacre will not be delayed” while Hamas said the airstrikes would be met with a firm response by the unified resistance.” Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based terror group, also expressed their “solidarity” with PIJ.

  • In anticipation of rocket fire from PIJ and Hamas, Israel ordered residents of southern Israel to stay near bomb shelters, canceled schools, and closed beaches and roads. Bomb shelters were opened in central Israel, including Tel Aviv, and some hospitals moved patients to fortified areas.

  • Two additional terrorist operatives were killed in another IDF airstrike. They were reportedly targeted while transporting guided missiles for an attack against Israel.

  • At a press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that Operation Shield and Arrow was planned several days ago following the rocket fire from PIJ on May 2 and 3. PM Netanyahu said the IDF was prepared for a protracted campaign if needed, and that an escalation from PIJ or Hamas would lead to a “crushing response” from Israel. IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi spoke of Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties, saying the army makes “every effort” not to harm Gazan civilians.

  • In the West Bank, the IDF made arrests in city of Nablus. Clashes were reported between the IDF and Palestinians throughout the West Bank, where tensions have been high. The IDF has made arrests on a near-nightly basis to uproot terrorist cells and arrest those responsible for the string of deadly terror attacks in April and May.

May 10

  • The IDF struck several PIJ sites early on May 10, including a rocket launch site near the city of al-Qarara. PIJ said one person was killed and another was injured.

  • The Joint Operations Room of Palestinian Factions in Gaza, a coordinated command center of several terror groups, announced operation “Revenge of the Free.” The Operation will consist of “directing a large rocket strike with hundreds of rockets to enemy positions.”

  • At 1:30 pm, PIJ began firing rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. The rockets were the first fired into Israel since the beginning of Operation Shield and Arrow, and came after Israel’s Home Front Command lifted restrictions on residents in southern Israel. Most of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

  • Rockets were fired from Gaza into southern and central Israel throughout the afternoon, reaching Tel Aviv and the surrounding Gush Dan region. The David’s Sling air defense system was deployed for the first time near Tel Aviv.

  • Flights at Ben Gurion International Airport were briefly grounded mid-afternoon. Rockets reportedly hit a house in Sderot and a kindergarten in the Eshkol region. No injuries were reported from either rocket hit.

  • IDF officials reported between 270 and 350 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel by 4:30 pm. Officials said many of the rockets fell in Gaza or the Mediterranean Sea, 62 were intercepted by the Iron Dome, and others fell in open areas in Israel. Many of the rockets were launched from crowded, civilian areas of Gaza.

  • The IDF has struck over 40 PIJ sites in Gaza since Operation Shield and Arrow began. IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari reported that Hamas had been staying out of the conflict and has not fired rockets. The Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza reported that 21 Palestinians were killed in IDF airstrikes in Gaza were and 64 wounded. Several of those killed were member of terrorist groups.

  • Talks of a possible ceasefire, mediated by Egypt, were ongoing in the afternoon and evening. Haaretz reported that Hamas was ready for a ceasefire and working to have PIJ commit to one. Around 7:30 pm, it was reported that PIJ rejected a ceasefire, blaming Israel for continuing to strike PIJ targets, but negotiations were ongoing.

  • The barrage of rockets into southern Israel continued for several hours in the evening. Buildings in Netivot, Ashkelon, Kibbutz Nir Am, and Sderot were reportedly damaged and one injury was reported. After the IDF targeted more PIJ locations in Gaza, PIJ responded with a threat to continue launching rockets into Tel Aviv and further into Israel.

  • At a press conference at 9:00 pm, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he hoped “we will bring it to an end soon, but we are ready for it to be protracted,” and that “a situation in which Israeli children face being hurt is not acceptable to me and I won’t allow it.” At 9:30pm, the IDF said it had struck 133 PIJ sites, and of the 469 rockets fired from Gaza, 107 fell short inside Gaza and 153 were intercepted.

  • At 11:30 pm, it was reported that Israeli officials did not expect a ceasefire to take effect until the morning of May 11. Throughout the night, the IDF continued to strike PIJ targets in Gaza, while PIJ launched more rockets into Israeli communities.

May 11

May 12

  • After 13 hours of quiet, 15 rockets were launched into Israel on the morning of May 12. For the first time in this round of fighting, rockets were launched at the area surrounding Jerusalem. Sirens went off in Beit Shemesh and several communities in the Gush Etzion bloc, with PIJ claiming responsibility for the attacks. One rocket was intercepted by David’s Sling. So far, the Iron Dome has had a 91%-95% rate of success shooting down rockets fired at Israeli communities.

  • The IDF responded to the rockets by hitting morePIJ command centers and other infrastructure in Gaza, with casualties were reported from the strikes. PIJstatedit would not stop its attacks until Israel stops its airstrikes, and threatened to continue firing rockets until Jerusalem Day (May 18th).

  • Ceasefire negotiations stalled as rocket fire resumed. Israel reportedly walked away from talks after PIJ rocket fire targeting the Jerusalem area. Egyptian officials said they hoped for an agreement prior to the Jerusalem Day Flag March, scheduled for May 18.

  • As of 4:00 pm, nearly 1000 rockets had been fired from Gaza since the start of Operation Shield and Arrow. 181 Rockets failed to launch and fell in Gaza, while 296 that entered Israel were intercepted by the Iron Dome and David’s Sling. The IDF had struck 254 PIJ sites in Gaza.

  • In response to the sustained rocket fire from Gaza, the IDF Home Front Command extended safety restrictions until Saturday at 8:00 pm. Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the IDF expected more long-range rockets to be fired into Israel. He explained that Hamas was “not involved in the fighting, not taking part, not assisting logistically” so the IDF would continue targeting PIJ.

  • Two PIJ commanders were killed in IDF airstrikes, including Iyad al Hassani, the head of PIJs operations. PIJ confirmed the death. One commander reportedly had close ties with Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, leading Hamas to threaten to join this round of fighting. According to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza, 33 Palestinians have been killed, including 6 children, and 111 have been wounded.

  • Ceasefire negotiations continued into the evening, with reports that PIJ dropped some of the demands they placed on a potential ceasefire and Israel sending a delegation to Cairo. After details of a potential ceasefire were released later at night, it was revealed that the negotiations had failed and that Egypt has circulated a new ceasefire proposal.

May 13

Rocket fire continued into Israel while the IDF struck PIJ targets in Gaza. A second civilian, a Gazan man who was working in Israel, was killed by a rocket. Two other men were injured in the same blast. After days of negotiations, a ceasefire was reached and came into effect at 10:00 pm. PIJ violated the ceasefire minutes after it came into effect, however, the terrorist group later stated that the conflict had ended.

We are relieved that this tragic round of violence has come to an end.


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