Islamic Jihad Responds to Israel's Rare Warning: Your Threats Are a Declaration of War

Israel warned Islamic Jihad that response to this month's tunnel strike will be met with force

Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in the central Gaza Strip October 31, 2017
Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in the central Gaza Strip October 31, 2017 SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS

Israel's warnings that Islamic Jihad is "playing with fire" amid talks of retaliation against this month's tunnel strike amount to a declaration of war, Islamic Jihad said on Sunday. The statement added that Islamic Jihad has the means for a response of equal proportions, and that Israel should constantly be worried about an attack.

Islamic Jihad added that "Israel's threats don't scare us," and that Israel's attempt at proving that the tunnel attack took place within Israeli territory is a suspicious attempt to shirk responsibility. 

The Israeli army warned the commanders of Islamic Jihad in a video over the weekend that any attempt to attack Israel in retaliation to Israel’s destruction last month of a tunnel the militant organization dug from the Gaza Strip to Israel would be met with great force.

Fourteen people were killed in the tunnel’s collapse, most of them Islamic Jihad operatives.

“Two weeks ago, Israel blew up a terror tunnel inside sovereign Israeli territory,” said the Arabic-language video posted by the army’s coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. “We’re aware of the plot that Palestinian Islamic Jihad is concocting against Israel.

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“It is playing with fire on the backs of residents of the Gaza Strip, and at the expense of the internal Palestinian reconciliation and the entire region,” the clip continued, referring to the recent reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.

“Just to be clear, Israel will respond forcefully and resolutely to any Islamic Jihad reaction whatsoever — not just against Jihad, but also against Hamas,” the video concluded. “We advise Islamic Jihad’s leadership in Damascus to exercise caution and keep things under control. Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s headquarters in Damascus and the organization’s leaders, Ramadan Shalah and Ziad Nakhala, you had better take things into your own hands quickly, because you’re the ones who will bear the responsibility.”

The clip was posted in the wake of an intelligence assessment that concluded though Islamic Jihad is under pressure from within the Gaza Strip, and especially from Hamas, to refrain from retaliating for the tunnel’s destruction, the organization has not abandoned its intention to perpetrate a revenge attack.

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Senior defense officials believe that Islamic Jihad is planning a revenge attack. They claim that despite pressure on the group to refrain from responding, so as not to disrupt the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, it will not be able to let that pass.

In an effort to keep civilians out of harm’s way, the army has barred Israeli farmers from working land near the Gaza border ever since the tunnel was destroyed.

The fact that the IDF, based on on the same social media posts, identifies a motivation among the Islamic Jihad to undertake a counter attack, is worrying senior security officials. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio on Wednesday that “The defense establishment is ready for any developments.”

“We live in a tough neighborhood with a lot of tension, sometimes with Hezbollah, sometimes with Hamas and sometimes with [Islamic] Jihad. There are also nonstop attempts to commit attacks in Judea and Samaria,” Lieberman added, refering to the West Bank.

Lieberman's comments were consistent with what the head of the army’s Home Front Command, Tamir Yadai, told a conference in Caesarea, “We attacked a tunnel near the border, and as of now, nobody has responded. But I believe there will yet be a response.”

In preparation for that possibility, the army deployed Iron Dome antimissile batteries in the south immediately after the tunnel’s destruction and took other defensive measures.