The assassination of the commander of Hamas’ military wing is an act of wanton aggression and arrogance by the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu. It will not only seriously rupture the tenuous peace which has existed after the peace process went into a coma, but will also have consequences in the region.
Ahmed Jaabari, the operational commander of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, was killed along with his bodyguard, Mohammed al-Hams, in an initial Israeli strike on a car in Gaza City. Shortly afterwards, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip with another 20 air strikes, killing five more people, two of them children. The killings have caused shock in the region and come at a time when Middle East is caught in Arab Spring turmoil.
The killing has the potential to trigger action beyond its borders. Egypt recalled its envoy in Israel to register its protest after the attack and the incident could fracture Israel’s shaky relations with the post-revolution government in Cairo, which has good relations with Hamas. Solidarity attacks from jihadist groups, which Israel says are operating in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and from Hezbollah in Lebanon could not be ruled out. But that would depend on how the crisis develops. Israel is determined to continue its attacks, and Hamas and other militant organisations have threatened to retaliate. They could deploy longer-range missiles, some of which can reach major population centres such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. According to reports, calls for revenge were broadcast in Gaza after the air strikes. “Israel has declared war on Gaza and they will bear the responsibility for the consequences,” Islamic Jihad said. As Hamas’s armed wing warned Jabari’s assassination “had opened the gates of hell”, and Israel was braced for a surge in rocket fire from Gaza aimed at towns and communities in the south of the country.
The escalation in crisis also will divert attention from Syria, where the revolution against President Bashar Al Assad is in its final stage. Assad’s regime seized the opportunity given by the attack and condemned the act.
The Israeli attacks are in retaliation for the rocket attacks from Gaza, but by choosing to eliminate a senior official of Hamas, the Netanyahu government is intending to wreak havoc. Also, the hawkish prime minister could be looking at improving his position as the country is preparing for elections. Netanyahu’s image has suffered badly after the re-election of Barack Obama as he had backed his rival Mitt Romney. The killing will help divert attention from his humiliation.
The killing of the Hamas leader must be condemned and the international community, especially the United States, must persuade Netanyahu to desist from doing anything that will further escalate the crisis.