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Operation Shield and Arrow

(May 9-13, 2023)

The Casus Belli
The Three Commanders Killed
The IDF on Offense and Defense

The Casus Belli

Israel felt it had unfinished business after 100 rockets were fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on May 2, 2023, ostensibly in response to the death of PIJ’s Khader Adnan from a hunger strike in prison. A week later, the IDF launched Operation Shield and Arrow to kill the senior officials responsible for firing rockets and launching attacks against Israeli citizens. The operation began on May 9 at 02:00 with three simultaneous strikes: two in Gaza City and one in Rafah near the Egyptian border.

In a carefully planned strike involving around 40 aircraft and drones, the IDF assassinated three senior PIJ terrorists within minutes of each other to ensure all were surprised and unable to hide. The targets were Tarek Az Aldin, Khalil Bahitini, the commander of the al-Quds Brigades in the northern Gaza Strip, and Jihad Ghanem, secretary of the movement’s military council.

  • Two bombs hit the fifth and sixth floors of a six-story building in the Ramal neighborhood of Gaza City. On the sixth floor, Dr. Jamal Khaswan, his wife Mirfat, and their son Yusef were killed. On the fifth floor, Aldin and his two children were killed.
  • Two bombs also detonated on a two-story building in the a-Shaaf neighborhood in Gaza City, killing Bahitini, his wife, and their daughter. Two others living in the adjacent apartment also died in the attack.
  • Three bombs were dropped on the house of the Ghanam family in the Janina neighborhood of Rafah, killing Ghanam and his wife.

The Three Commanders Killed

Khalil Bahitini – Senior Operational Officer of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza

  • Founded the Jerusalem Brigades Security force.
  • Responsible for the rocket fire toward Israel from Gaza the previous month.
  • Responsible for approving and carrying out terrorist actions from Northern Gaza into Israel.
  • Member of the PIJ’s military council in Gaza and in direct contact with the PIJ’s political bureau.
  • Oversaw multiple terrorist attacks originating from Gaza and helped plan targeted attacks against Israeli civilians deep in Israeli territory.
  • Received military training in Iran.
  • In a video published by Fatah, Al-Bahtini calls for a Jihad against Israel, praises “Martyrdom” for Allah, vows to educate Palestinian children to “hate the Zionist entity,” and “blow up all of this Zionist entity’s cities.”

Tarek Az Aldin – Senior Operative and Coordinator of Terrorism in Gaza and the West Bank

  • Jerusalem Brigade Commander.
  • Organized 20 terrorist cells in the West Bank that aimed to murder Israelis, including a cell that attempted to produce rockets.
  • Arranged money transfers for planning and carrying out terrorist acts and coordinated terrorist acts on Israeli civilians. 
  • Helped coordinate the transfer of funds, incitement against Israelis, and planning of terrorist attacks coming out of Gaza.
  • Was previously imprisoned in Israel with a life sentence for his involvement in a suicide attack but was released as part of the agreement for the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Jihad Ahnam – Military Council Secretary

  • One of the most senior members of the PIJ.
  • Previously served as Commanding Officer of Islamic Jihad’s Southern Gaza division and Head of the Military Council.
  • Coordinated weapons and money transfers between the PIJ and Hamas.
  • Involved in planning the May 2004 terrorists attack that killed Tali Hatuel, a pregnant 34-year-old mother, and her four daughters.

On May 11, two other PIJ leaders were killed, Ali Ghassan Ghali, commander of PIJ rocket units, and Ahmad Abu Deka, who was responsible for rocket fire targeting Sderot. “We discovered Ghali’s safehouse and the Air Force executed a swift plan, hitting only his hideout. Ghali was responsible for the 507 missile launches toward Israel [Wednesday] and was killed last night, along with two other high-ranking militants who were with him,” said IDF spokesman Dani Hagari.

In Abu Deka’s case, the IDF knew his location two days earlier but waited for him to be alone before striking.

The following day, another senior PIJ commander, Iyad al-Hassani, was killed in a targeted strike.

By only pursuing PIJ, Israel hoped to keep Hamas from getting involved and used Egypt as an intermediary to warn Hamas its leaders and assets would be targeted if it launched rockets. In the past, Israel held Hamas responsible for any rocket fire, but this time seemed more interested in isolating PIJ.

The IDF on Offense and Defense

When asked by Ynet why PIJ was able to launch rockets despite strikes on launchers and firing mechanisms, Hagari replied, “our attacks are precise, but attacking rockets is always a complex matter, especially when they are located in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and their locations change constantly. We are no longer dealing with militants who come with a launcher, but with rockets that are timed, and this makes it more complex. It challenges us, and we are developing new methods.”

As in other operations, the IDF took steps to avoid civilian casualties. The IDF released a video of Air Force officers aborting a drone strike after detecting two children in the area. One reason the IAF attacks were even more precise than those in the past is that, for the first time, F-35 stealth fighter planes were used to fire small guided missiles that only destroyed the apartments of the PIJ commanders, not the rest of the building.

Meanwhile, PIJ fired rockets indiscriminately, using Gaza’s civilian population as shields. 

A private home in Sderot and two residential buildings in Ashkelon were hit on May 10. No injuries were reported. Due to a malfunction of Iron Dome, one rocket hit a Rehovot apartment building on May 11, killing 80-year-old Inga Avramyan and injuring 13 others. Abdullah Abu Jaba, a Palestinian laborer from Gaza who was working inside Israel, was also killed by a rocket.

At the start of the operation, thousands of Sderot residents were evacuated as part of the Mashav Ruach (Breeze) program, with most taken to hotels at the Dead Sea. Residents of other communities were taken to other hotels and kibbutzim in different parts of the country. Mashav Ruach is an evacuation program created in the aftermath of previous conflagrations. It is coordinated and funded by the Defense Ministry, which is responsible for financing the stays in guest rooms, hotels, and hostels.

The Ministry of Defense said the program “is operated by local authorities and enables every resident in communities adjacent to the Gaza border to evacuate to accommodations defined in advance by the authorities with the help of the state. This is based on pre-existing contracts and early planning by the communities, which are tailored to their specific circumstances.”

The Palestinians hoped to have the UN Security Council condemn Israel, but the United States blocked the proposed statement. Both the U.S. National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, and the UK minister for the middle east, Lord Tariq Ahmad, defended Israel’s “legitimate right to self-defense.”


David’s Sling

Egypt, Qatar, the UN, and the United States worked to negotiate a cease-fire, but Israel rejected PIJ’s demands that it halt targeted killings, cancel the nationalist Flag March on Jerusalem Day, and return the body of Khader Adnan. PIJ nevertheless agreed to a ceasefire that took effect on May 13. One rocket was fired afterward, but PIJ said it was accidental.

Not surprisingly, PIJ boasted of its achievements and thanked Iran, Hezbollah, and Qatar for their assistance. Iran reportedly encouraged PIJ to fight and offered $5 million for each day it continued.

A total of 1,469 rockets were launched into Israel during Operation Shield and Arrow; 290 fell in Gaza; 437 were intercepted by Iron Dome (a 96% interception rate), and most of the rest fell in open areas. Two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv were shot down by David’s Sling, its first successful interceptions since being deployed.

The IDF struck 700 targets, including mortar and rocket launchers. In addition to the leaders, 15 other terrorists were killed. Israel also arrested 25 members of PIJ in the West Bank. Weeks earlier, the Shin Bet foiled an attempt by a PIJ cell to produce rockets and a launcher in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.


On the Israeli side, the 80-year-old woman and Gaza laborer were the only people killed.

A total of 33 Palestinians died during the fighting. Of those, 22 were associated with terrorist organizations: 13 from PIJ (including the commanders who were targeted), five from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and two from the Mujahedeen Brigades. A Hamas operative who lived near al-Din was also killed in the Israeli airstrike. As in previous confrontations, many PIJ rockets that failed to cross the border caused damage and casualties in Gaza, including a member of Fatah who died when a rocket misfired in Gaza City. Of the 11 civilians who perished, two were children killed by a PIJ rocket that landed in Beit Hanoun. The rest died in the initial targeted attacks: al-Din’s son and daughter, Bahitini’s wife and daughter, Ghanam’s wife, the son and wife of an unaffiliated doctor, and two teenage neighbors of Bahitini.


The operation successfully eliminated six senior leaders of PIJ, degraded the terrorists’ capabilities, and demonstrated to the entire region that domestic political divisions related to proposed judicial reforms would not affect Israel’s preparedness to take military action to protect its citizens. The decisive action was also meant to enhance Israel’s deterrence.

“Israel’s enemies in Gaza and much farther than Gaza know that even if they try to hide, we are able and prepared to reach them at any time,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Still, the Head of the IDF Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Oded Basiuk, acknowledged that while Israel had accomplished its objectives in the operation, “Gaza is Gaza; there is an ongoing war on terror and it probably isn’t going to end. We’ll have to operate in Gaza in future, too.”

Sources: Matan Tzuri, “Thousands evacuated from Gaza border to Dead Sea hotels,” Ynet, (May 9, 2023).
Matan Tzuri, “A father’s closure: terrorist responsible for death of family, dead in strike,” Ynet, (May 9, 2023).
Lahav Harkov, “Israel signals to Hamas: We don’t want to escalate in Gaza,” Jerusalem Post, (May 9, 2023).
“Readout of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s Call with Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi,” The White House, (May 10, 2023).
Lee Harpin, “Israel has ‘legitimate right to self defence’, Middle East minister says,” Jewish News, (May 10, 2023).
Emanuel Fabian, “David’s Sling downs rocket headed for Tel Aviv in first real-world interception,” Times of Israel, (May 10, 2023).
“Israel thwarted attempt to produce rockets in Jenin - Shin Bet chief,” Jerusalem Post, (May 11, 2023).
Elisha Ben Kimon, Einav Halabi, Attila Somfalvi. IDF resumes strikes on Gaza terror targets as fighting enters third day,” Ynet, (May 11, 2023).
Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Dead terror leader had called for ‘blowing up all of this Zionist entity’s cities,’” Palestinian Media Watch, (May 11, 2023).
“Failed Gaza launches kill 4 civilians, including children, IDF says,” Ynet, (May 11, 2023).
Emanuel Fabian, “IDF: 507 rockets launched toward Israel since start of operation,” Times of Israel, (May 11 2023).
Tovah Lazaroff, “US blocked UN security council condemnation on Gaza - Israel's Erdan,” Jerusalem Post, (May 11, 2023).
David Israel, “IDF: Direct Hit that Killed Rehovot Woman Result of Iron Dome Glitch,” Jewish Press, (May 12, 2023).
“Egypt-brokered truce between Israel and militants in Gaza appears to hold,” PBS, (May 14, 2023).
“Egyptian-brokered ceasefire comes into effect,” BICOM, (May 14, 2023).
“Summary of Operation Shield and Arrow,” IDF, (May 14, 2023).
“Palestinians Killed during Operation  Shield and Arrow in the Gaza Strip Findings and Analysis,” Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, (May 16, 2023).
Yochanan Visser, “Israel and the Never-Ending War on Terror,” Israel Today, (May 23, 2023).

Photo: United States Missile Defense Agency, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.