Analysts believe the move is meant to deter the Palestinian group from perpetrating an attack
Israeli forces arrested the chief of Islamic Jihad (IJ) in the West Bank, Tariq Qa’adan, in an overnight raid on his home in the Palestinian city of Jenin. The move comes amid heightened tensions stemming from this month’s controlled demolition by the Israel Defense Forces of a subterranean attack tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, an operation which killed ten IJ members, including two senior military leaders, along with two Hamas fighters.
Thereafter, the IDF announced that it recovered the remains of five IJ operatives, which are being withheld given that Hamas has refused to hand over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza during the 2014 war as well as return three Israeli civilian captives who crossed into the Palestinian enclave on their own accord.
In a press statement, IJ described the “unjust arrest” of Qa’adan as part of “a wave of moves by the Israeli occupation targeting the Islamic movement in Palestine.” The group also appealed to legal and human rights organizations to help secure the release of Qa’adan, who is reportedly in poor health.
Muna Qadan, Tariq’s sister, revealed to The Media Line that her brother remains in unstable condition following a recent colonoscopy performed in preparation of an operation. “The doctor informed us that based on his current health he shouldn’t be in prison,” she stated. “We hold the Israeli occupation responsible for anything that happens to my brother.”
Muna further explained that the IDF came to her house in the middle of the night and “held the family in one room while Tariq was brought to a separate room where they [Israeli soldiers] interrogated him for almost an hour before the arrest.”
Dahoud Shihab, the IJ sokesperson in Gaza, claimed to The Media Line that Qa’adan’s detainment is the latest in a series of steps taken by Israel to pressure the Iranian-sponsored organization to not respond to the recent killing of its members, which included Arafat Abu Murshad, the IJ’s head commander in central Gaza.
“We don’t know of any specific reasons behind the arrest,” he elaborated, “except that it is yet another example of Israel acting aggressively against the Palestinian people. The Israelis think that they can deflect attention away from the occupation by targeting our leaders, but that will never happen.”
Only days after the destruction of the tunnel, Shihab affirmed to The Media Line that IJ maintains the right to respond to all provocations, and, in this respect, the group published a confrontational video on its website over the weekend threatening revenge against Israel. “We will not allow them to hold the bodies,” he added, before vowing to deal with the situation “in a suitable way” that precludes any negotiations.
For Israel’s part, IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories—the body that oversees Israeli coordination with the Palestinians in the West Bank—warned Islamic Jihad not to test the army’s resolve. “We are aware that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is plotting against Israel. It is playing with fire on the backs of the residents of the Gaza Strip,” he stated.
“We advise the Islamic Jihad leadership in Damascus and the organization’s [heads], Ramaddan Shalah and Ziad Nakleh, to get matters quickly under control because you will be the ones who will bear responsibility,” Mordechai concluded.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu likewise cautioned that the military “will respond with a heavy hand to anyone who tries to attack it from any front.” Moreover, the premier made clear that his government would not hand over the remains of the IJ fighters, asserting that “we intend to return our [Israeli] sons home [from Gaza]. There are no free gifts.”
Gad Shimron, an Israeli political analyst and former Mossad agent, believes that the back-and-forth war of words resembles a poker game, explaining to The Media Line that while the IJ wants badly to respond, Hamas is restraining the group. “Hamas doesn’t want any violence in Gaza now,” he contended, “especially because it would jeopardize the unity [agreement recently signed with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction].”
As regards Israel’s position, Shimron stressed that Qa’adan’s detainment is a signal that the IDF is aware that the Islamic Jihad is nonetheless “making preparations for a terror attack.”
Qa’adan has been jailed multiple times by Israeli authorities, the last time being two years ago. In 2013, the Islamic Jihad leader staged a three-month hunger strike along with other Palestinian prisoners, a protest that caused an upsurge of anger that led to clashes throughout the West Bank.