The IDF has announced it has assassinated Ahmed Al-Jabari, the head of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing. It is the start of what an IDF spokesperson on Twitter called “a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the #Gaza Strip, chief among them #Hamas & Islamic Jihad targets.” The IDF has named the attack “Pillar of Defense,” (although in Hebrew it’s being called “Pillar of Cloud” which is a biblical reference). There are indications that the attacks are targeting Palestinian leadership. Reports at 12:45 eastern time said there was an explosion at the house of Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar, and the IDF issued this warning over Twitter:
We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
In a 21st century twist, the al-Qassam Bridge responded over Twitter:
@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)
— Alqassam Brigades (@AlqassamBrigade) November 14, 2012
Video released by the IDF of the Al-Jabari assassinantion.
One Israeli television analyst reported that the strike on Jabari was planned months ago. The IDF spokesperson’s office said that “All options are on the table. If necessary, the IDF is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza,” and Haaretz reports that the IDF has issued draft orders to reserve soldiers to prepare for a ground invasion.
More casualties are being reported from Gaza. Israeli channel 10 has reported that Ahmed al-Zahar, the brother of Mahmoud al-Zahar, a major Hamas figure, was killed along with Jabari, although Haaretz is reporting that it was his assistant Mohammed Hams who was killed in the car with him. The Associated Press quotes Gaza Health Minister Dr. Mufeed Mkhallalati saying, “10 people were killed, including Jabari, and 45 wounded, 10 of them in critical condition. Among the dead were three civilians, including an 11-month-old and a 6-year-old.”
The Institute for Middle East Understanding has collected quotes from on the ground in Gaza. “Around 4 PM, I was at home in Gaza City, and I heard a loud explosion. It later became clear that it was an assassination,” said Wasseem El Sarraj, a Gaza-based researcher and activist. “Since that point, we’ve had intense drone activity and bombing that’s been sustained. I am at home with two young children, and this is very worrying to all of us. We are expecting the worst over the next couple of days.”
Yousef Munayyer of the Palestine Center adds:
Israel’s assassination today will only lead to further escalation and put civilians on both sides at great risk while doing little to change the dynamics on the ground. Israel’s horrendous war on Gaza in 2008-9, which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, and massive destruction in its wake did little to change the situation except to create more anger amongst Palestinians towards the policies of Israel. Truces and diplomacy however, brokered by third parties, have been more successful. Given this reality, it is hard to explain Israeli behavior as being dictated by anything other than the personal political interests of Israeli leaders seeking re-election in the coming months. It is certain than an unacceptable number of casualties will be created and little will change in terms of the dynamics of fire when the smoke finally clears.
Former advisor to the PLO Diana Buttu also says:
Israel’s latest bombing campaign in Gaza, and in particular its assassination of Palestinian leaders, highlights once again that Israel views itself as above the law. This is precisely why the international community, and in particular the United States, must hold Israel accountable for its provocative and illegal actions, in order to stop another bloodbath in Gaza before it happens. It is time for the world to send Israel the message that it is not above the law and the Palestinians are not beneath it
And like clockwork, the U.S. has come out to pledge support for Israel. Agence France-Presse reports that a Pentagon spokesman told reporters that “We’re monitoring the situation closely. We stand by our Israeli partners in their right to defend themselves against terrorism
A father holds the body of his 1-year-old son who was burned to death in today’s Israeli attack. Photographer Anne Paq tweeted from Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital, “Just saw burned baby who died. Want to throw up.” (Photo: Anne Paq/ Activestills)
The assassination breaks a day-old lull in what was intense fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian fighters in Gaza. A tacit truce was reached with the help of Egypt, but Israel has now broken it decisively.
Ahmed Al-Jabari (right, front) and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal (left, front) pose with two Palestinian prisoners freed in the prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel (Photo: Reuters)
Jabari, the Hamas leader, brokered the Palestinian side of the 2011 deal that freed Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza for over five years.
There are also rumors of other assassination attempts, though they are just unconfirmed reports at the moment. Ramallah-based journalist Dalia Hatuqa tweeted: “Sources confirming, others denying killing of Raed Al Attar, Al Qassam Brigades southern front commander.”
Extrajudicial assassinations have long been a favored tool of the Israeli military, though in recent years they have stuck to killing leaders of other militant groups rather than Hamas, the ruling group in Gaza.
A massive response from Hamas is expected. The al-Qassam Brigades issued a statement following the attack saying, “the occupation has opened the gates of hell on itself.” Gaza-based writer and activist Joe Catron tweeted:
— Joe Catron (@jncatron) November 14, 2012
There have also been reports that Israel is targeting police stations in Gaza. The beginning of Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2008 saw the Israeli air force target and kill hundreds of police officers affiliated with Hamas. The legality of those operations depends on the context; read this Human Rights Watch Q and A for more on the targeting of police stations.
It will also be important to keep an eye on Egypt, which brokered the truce between Palestinian fighters and Israel. The last time there was an escalation between Gaza fighters and Israel, protests in Egypt arguably helped put more pressure on Israel to stop the fighting. A major Israeli operation in Gaza will be a test to see whether an Arab world in revolt can rein Israel in.
Egypt has now called its ambassador in from Tel Aviv “for consultations in Cairo, in protest of IDF operations in Gaza,” according to Haaretz. The Israeli daily also reports that the Israeli ambassador to Cairo expected to be summoned on Thursday to Egyptian Foreign Ministry.” And before that, Haaretz reported that “Egypt approached Israel via a number of channels, requesting Operation Pillar of Defense be stopped.”
Airstrikes on Gaza November 14, 2012
It’s important to note that elections are coming up, similar to when Israel launched the devastating assault on Gaza in 2008-09. It seems that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to burnish his credentials ahead of the election. So far there has been wide support for the attack from political rivals. The Kadima Party chairman Shaul Mofaz said, “I congratulate the prime minister on returning to the policy of assassinations; all those in the chain of command of terror organizations need to live in a constant pursuit.” The Labor Party’s Shelly Yacimovich said,”Israel is united in its war against terrorism.”
We will continue to update this post as news becomes available.