For Islamic Jihad, Revenge for Israel’s Killing of Gaza Leader Isn’t a Top Priority
Baha Abu al-Ata was invited to Cairo in the second half of October with Islamic Jihad's leaders from Gaza and beyond, headed by Ziad Nakhalah, to discuss the future of the calm between Israel and the Strip. The Islamic Jihad officials reported that the talks went well and created a basis for cooperation between their organization and Hamas, and between those two groups and Egypt.
Cairo even made a gesture important for those understandings by releasing 25 Islamic Jihad prisoners, who returned to the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing accompanied by the organization’s leaders. According to one report, Israel agreed to the release of the prisoners and helped to carefully coordinate it.
– Haaretz Weekly 12/11
The fact that Egyptian intelligence summoned the heads of Islamic Jihad’s military and political wings shows that Cairo was aware of the disputes between the group’s various leaderships and thus the need to obtain a commitment from all of them, not just the political wing.
Despite the Egyptians’ gesture and the threat that without a comprehensive agreement Israel might embark on a major war on Gaza, about 10 days later Islamic Jihad launched rockets on Israeli communities near Gaza, embarrassing Egypt and Hamas and leading to a dispute at Egyptian intelligence on continuing ties with Islamic Jihad. Cairo threatened to stop its mediation with Israel, a threat directed mainly at Hamas, if the group didn’t rein in Islamic Jihad.
Israel placed the blame for the breakdown of the agreement mainly on Abu al-Ata, Islamic Jihad’s commander of Gaza’s northern sector, describing him as a rebel who didn't obey the leadership and the one responsible for rocket fire at Israel.
Abu al-Ata isn’t the only rebel. Unlike Hamas, which is built on a strict hierarchy and total obedience to its policies and orders, Islamic Jihad is splintered and conflict-ridden, both on the personal level and on the questions of intra-Palestinian reconciliation with Fatah and ties with Iran. It’s too easy to describe the organization as directly subservient to Iran, funded by it and obedient to all its directives. The group has such financial woes that it can hardly pay its salaries, which shows that if Iran is funding it, this isn't enough, or at least it’s not enough to bind the political leaders to Tehran.
Mourners carry the body of Abu Al-Atta during his funeral in Gaza City November 12, 2019. MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS
War of succession