In an exclusive interview with The Cradle, Ihsan Ataya, member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s (PIJ) political bureau, head of the PIJ’s Department of Arab and International Relations, and its envoy in Lebanon, explains what Operation Al-Aqsa Flood has achieved so far, the role played by the region’s Axis of Resistance, and what new realities the Gaza battle will impose on the Israeli occupation.
One of Ataya’s most stunning revelations is that the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation carried out by the Palestinian resistance on 7 October was a “preemptive strike.” The Israeli occupation army, he discloses, was preparing to strike a “preemptive blow” to the resistance in Gaza – as part of the US-led normalization plan with Arab states.
Arab states, after all, cannot comfortably collude with Israel as long as the resistance continues to exist, keeping the Palestinian issue alive and embarrassing Arab regimes at every turn.
This interview with Ihsan Ataya was conducted on Saturday, 28 October:
The Cradle: What were the main objectives of the battle for the “Al-Aqsa Flood?” What were your expectations, and to what extent have the resistance factions succeeded in achieving them?
Ataya: The goal of the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation has been declared from the beginning, which is to prevent the targeting of Al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem), disparaging or insulting of Muslim religious rites, assault of our women, efforts to Judaize Al-Aqsa Mosque and normalize Israeli occupation of it, or divide it temporally and spatially.
This is what the enemy was working to do continuously, which is why the operation was named “Al-Aqsa Flood.”
The operation’s second goal is to free thousands of Palestinian prisoners from the occupation jails, after the enemy’s continuous refusal to exchange Palestinians who have been in its prisons for years in exchange for prisoners held by the resistance in Gaza – which forced the resistance factions to capture more Zionist soldiers.
Moreover, one of the most prominent objectives of the operation was to carry out a pre-emptive operation because the enemy was preparing for a surprise strike on the resistance.
Of course, the operation has achieved important successes from the very beginning, showing the weakness and fragility of the occupation entity, the possibility of defeating it, and liberating all of Palestine. A large number of Zionist soldiers and settlers have fallen into the hands of the Palestinian resistance; they will play an important role in the process of negotiations for the exchange of Palestinian prisoners.
Operation “Al-Aqsa Flood” also cut off the recent normalization initiative with Saudi Arabia, which the United States was striving hard to achieve, and thus the operation, at the very least, hindered the initiative.
The Cradle: Israel is betting on crippling the environment that incubates the resistance through the unprecedented massacres being committed today in Gaza. Does it intend to achieve this by punishing all Palestinians?
Ataya: The Palestinian people in Gaza are not an “incubator” they are an integral part of the resistance. They are the ones who lead the scene of confronting the enemy, with their steadfastness and defiance of it, despite all these unprecedented massacres and the war of extermination led by the US administration by Zionist hands to re-displace the Palestinian people, intimidate them, and break the will of resistance. Until now, they have failed, and the enemy couldn’t achieve its declared goal – alongside the Americans – which is the displacement of the Palestinian people from Gaza and from the West Bank.
The Cradle: There are Israeli attempts to separate the resistance parties from each other, and to frame what is happening today in Gaza as an effort to target Hamas only. What is the PIJ’s position on this issue?
Ataya: Targeting Hamas is targeting all the Palestinian resistance, and it is targeting the spearhead of the resistance in this axis. It is why the occupation tried to market the idea that “Hamas is ISIS” and manipulate international public opinion against the Palestinian resistance with these lies. But certainly, any targeting of Hamas is targeting all Palestinian resistance movements, because breaking the resistance in Gaza is breaking the resistance in the whole region.
Therefore, we believe that the enemy’s attempts have failed, and even social media trolls that tried to create a division between Palestinians, their resistance, and the region’s resistance have all failed, because all the resistance proved that it is present in the battlefield. As the leadership of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, Hezbollah, announced, specifically, from the first day, the resistance “is not neutral,” in addition to the military messages that were sent From Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.
The northern front (Lebanon) with occupied Palestine, this front is “boiling” and not hot. But now we can say that the Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, and Iranian fronts are, of course, hot fronts, but in Lebanon, it is a boiling front. Hezbollah has offered a large number of martyrs so far, this is evidence to refute all these suspicions and these attempts to deceive public opinion – in addition to the meeting that brought together Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah with the Secretary-General of the Islamic Jihad movement Ziad al-Nakhaleh and the Hamas Politburo’s Deputy Head Saleh al-Arouri.
All resistance factions are strongly present at the table, managing battle from a joint operations room at various levels, following what is happening carefully – moment by moment – evaluating the situation, making recommendations, and deciding what is appropriate for the interest of Gaza and the interest of the resistance to break the Zionist-American project in the region.
The Cradle: What are the “red lines” followed by these resistance parties to expand their reach?
Ataya: In my opinion, the enemy has crossed all red lines. The expansion of the battle is linked to the course of events in Gaza: if the resistance in Gaza can break the Zionist-American project and defeat this enemy alone in the field, why open all the fronts and turn it into a regional battle?
Perhaps it is in the interest of the Palestinian resistance to break the enemy and inflict a second defeat on it in less than a month – after its inability to protect its soldiers and settlers at the start of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. The second defeat will be if it initiates a ground battle and invades Gaza. Therefore, this depends on the course of the battle, the ability of the resistance to withstand the assault, and its ability to possess powerful cards in Gaza, with which it confronts this enemy.
Despite the ugliness of the massacres and the large scale of killing against the Palestinian people, we are convinced that victories are never without prices and without sacrifices. Algeria gave millions of martyrs to be liberated from French colonialism, and the Palestinian people have, and still are, providing martyrs for their cause.
The Cradle: We talked about integration and coordination around the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation. Who chose the timing?
Ataya: Al-Qassam Brigades and the Hamas leadership announced, from the beginning, that they were the ones who chose the timing, and planned this operation. But after the start of the operation, the other Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza were informed – within the joint operations team – to join this battle, because they also felt that this battle would be large and wide, and not just limited to destroying a military site, capturing enemy soldiers and bringing them back to Gaza. We infiltrated the settlements, widened the area of our incursions, and the battle expanded in the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation.
The Cradle: The PIJ’s Al-Quds Brigades launched an important military operation from southern Lebanon. What does this indicate? Will these operations continue?
Ataya: The military operation was able to deal a blow to the enemy: it was able to prove the unity of the Palestinian confrontation arenas, that the Palestinians are an indivisible unit, people, and resistance, and that what is happening anywhere against the Palestinians concerns us all, wherever they are.
That a group of Al-Quds Brigades fighters can storm the occupied Palestinian territory, penetrate a fair distance into it, and ambush Zionist soldiers – this is also a security blow to all Zionist monitoring and intelligence agencies, a moral blow. It is exhausting the enemy in northern Palestine, which led to the neutralization of part of the forces it wants to mobilize against Gaza, and distracts it from being able to focus on a single front on the ground.
This was a very important message to the Palestinian refugees in their camps inside Lebanon – to remind them to aim their weapons at the enemy and not at each other – and also a positive aspect for Lebanon, because the country is under great foreign pressure to naturalize its Palestinian refugees. So this operation came to tell everyone that we don’t want this, that the Palestinian people want to liberate their land and return to it.
This is an important path that we will continue. The enemy’s attempts to pressure Lebanon to prevent operations against it in northern Palestine are due to it. But it is not a justification for the enemy to target Lebanese sites, because these are Palestinian groups carrying out operations inside occupied Palestine.
The battle is wide open and will continue. Even in the West Bank, there are constant confrontations in which we strike wherever possible, and in recent days, the Palestinian street in the West Bank has flared up, as the people went out to demonstrate against this Zionist barbarism, this heavy bombardment of Gaza, and the cutting of its electricity and internet networks on Friday.
The Cradle: Has the ground invasion begun?
Ataya: In my opinion, so far, we have seen an attempt to test the ability of the resistance to confront, and the occupation has not yet committed itself to starting the ground invasion, so as not to be disappointed and be unable to progress. So he went on to say that he wants to expand the operation against Gaza, in an attempt to pressure the resistance to negotiate over the civilian prisoners.
The Cradle: Where are the negotiations today?
Ataya: The negotiations have clearly stalled because the enemy does not want to abide by a condition that will establish a 5-day ceasefire. It wants a ceasefire for only one day, but the resistance knows that a single day is not enough – neither to unload aid trucks nor to distribute them to the Palestinian people.
The Cradle: Several scenarios have been suggested on how to end the war, such as a proposal reported in the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that recommends handing over Hamas Leader Yahya Sinwar to the occupation and ending all this. Or a proposal to deploy Arab or international forces in Gaza. What do the Palestinian resistance factions see happening today?
Ataya: First, the enemy’s attempt to change the facts on the ground and redraw the map of the region from Gaza will fail. Just as the attempt to draw a map of a “new Middle East” failed in 2006, just as these attempts failed in the war against Yemen, as they failed in the global war against Syria, and as they failed in the stifling economic war directed at all these countries in the region, this project too will undoubtedly fail.
There is some similarity in some aspects between what happened in Lebanon in 2006 and what is currently happening in Gaza. Then, the Lebanese resistance was accused of having ventured into war in an ill-considered way. The enemy launched large campaigns against it, and directed a great amount of pressure on it, demanding that Hezbollah hand over the two captured Israeli soldiers, while launching a huge aggression under the pretext of recovering them.
What the resistance in Gaza wants today is to stop the war of extermination against the Palestinian people, acknowledge the defeat of the enemy, and go to a negotiator for the mutual exchange of prisoners.
Now America is trying to save this entity, because “Israel” is considered its basis for colonizing the whole region. America’s “big stick” was broken in the operation “Al-Aqsa Flood,” so it came to reverse this defeat for this army that attacked this whole region, it came for its advanced base in this region.
As long as the resistance in Gaza is steadfast, as long as it does not exhaust its capabilities in confrontation, and as long as the Palestinian people endure this enormous pressure, it will certainly break this project.
After all these sacrifices, none of the resistance leaders will be satisfied without the release of all Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the Zionist soldiers who are now considered a treasure in the hands of the resistance.
The Cradle: How much do you count on the Arab world?
Ataya: On the popular side, we count on all Arab populations to exert great pressure, including in those countries that have normalized relations and followed the American project. This pressure from the Arab street will affect the decision-making in Washington – if America feels that heads will fall, that regimes will fall, they will remedy the matter so as not to lose their tools in the region.
As for the Axis of Resistance countries, they are ready and present for field participation as well. For example, Iraqis today are amassing on the Jordanian-Iraqi border, Yemen is ready to reach Palestine and fight alongside us if the borders are opened, and Syria as well. Iran, from the first moment, its foreign minister has not stopped moving, contacting, and visiting countries and leaders, in order to pressure and change their convictions about what is happening – to stop the enemy’s war of annihilation.
The resistance also won in Lebanon in 2006. The resistance in Gaza will win in 2023; it will win a divine victory, we are sure of this, this war must have repercussions that will bring down thrones or regimes in this world.
The Cradle: What do you think Al-Aqsa Flood established in your conflict with the Israeli enemy?
Ataya: The operation was established to change the face of the region and the face of the world, in the interest of the resistance, in the interest of the liberation of Palestine, and the interest of breaking the American-Zionist project in this region.