Earlier today, Israel struck at dozens of targets inside Gaza, including Ahmed Jabari, Hamas’s chief of staff and a senior official in the organization’s military outfit, the Izz ad-din al-Qassam Brigades. Jabari was behind the abduction of Gilad Shalit, and planned the 2007 coup that left Hamas in complete control of Gaza. Sources claim that other passengers in the targeted car riding with Jabari were also killed, including his son, his bodyguard, and Ahmed al-Zahhar, the brother of Hamas’s cofounder Mahmoud al-Zahhar. According to some sources, the assassination of Jabari may be Israel’s most successful direct hit since it targeted Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in 2008.
In addition to eliminating Jabari, Israel has also reportedly killed another military official, Raed al-Attar, Jabari’s second in command. What Israeli officials are calling Operation Pillar of Defense has also concentrated on Hamas’s arsenal, especially its long- and medium-range missiles, some of which are believed capable of reaching Israel’s northernmost cities. “Israel has had more than 800 missiles fired on its citizens over the last year,” an Israeli official told me this morning. “We held fire for a year but decided that it’s enough. We won’t let Hamas hold our cities hostage.”
If Hamas retaliates by firing more missiles at Israeli cities, the official told me, “Ground forces will be sent in. Already ground forces are on high alert and heading to the Gaza border. We can expect at least a few days of heavy action, if not more. There is no time limit for this operation.”
Israel’s last large campaign against Hamas, Operation Cast Lead, was waged shortly before Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The timing of the current campaign should allow the Israelis much more flexibility in achieving their goals, which in addition to eliminating Hamas figures also includes degrading the military capacity of Gaza’s ruling authority. Presumably, the Iranians will be watching very closely how the White House treats the situation, whether it tries to restrain the Netanyahu government or encourages and even assists Jerusalem in a campaign against what are effectively Iranian assets.
Hamas’s military apparatus is tied to Iran, says Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “Anyone who is part of the Qassam Brigades gets Iranian training.” Schanzer believes that today’s operations against Hamas positions in Gaza are likely related to last month’s bombing of a factory in Sudan, believed to have been the work of the Israeli military.
“That’s known to be an Iranian weapons depot that was hit in Khartoum,” says Schanzer. “Those weapons go to Gaza. The reason the Israelis attacked last month is because they saw weaponry that concerned them. What we may be seeing now is the second leg of a two-part operation. The Israelis are now going after whatever weapons might have reached Gaza and the people who procured them.”