- Clashes between Israel and Gaza escalated Tuesday after Israel assassinated a Palestinian militant commander.
- Israel targeted Bahaa Abu al-Atta, the leader of the Gaza militant group known as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, on Tuesday morning, prompting retaliatory rocket attacks.
- More than 190 rockets rained down on Israeli cities, according to the Israel Defence Forces.
- In total, 45 Palestinians were said to have been injured in Gaza, while 22 Israelis were said to have been injured in cities in the southern and central parts of Israel. Ten Palestinians, including Abu al-Atta, were also said to have been killed in Israeli airstrikes.
- Some Israeli politicians have suggested Abu al-Atta’s killing was a political ploy meant to aid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with one lawmaker calling it “a desperate attempt to remain in office.”
- Neither Netanyahu nor his political rival Benny Gantz were able to secure a majority in September’s election, plunging the country into political uncertainty.
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Clashes between Israel and the Palestinian territory of Gaza escalated Tuesday, with more than 190 rockets raining down on Israeli cities, according to the Israel Defence Forces, in response to airstrikes in Gaza that the IDF said successfully targeted a militant leader.
The IDF said it “surgically targeted” Bahaa Abu al-Atta, the leader of the Gaza militant group known as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, early Tuesday morning. It said that he was “directly responsible for hundreds of terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers” and that his next attack was “imminent.” According to the IDF, the airstrike took place in Shejaiya, one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip that was devastated in clashes with Israel in 2014.
PRECISION STRIKE: This is the building we surgically targeted overnight to thwart the imminent threat of Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza, Baha Abu Al Ata.
????Shejaiyah, Gaza pic.twitter.com/NkNlWAPMhy
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) November 12, 2019
Aviv Kochavi, the IDF chief of the general staff, referred to Abu al-Atta as a “ticking time bomb.”
Barrages of rockets were fired at Israel in response, with sirens sounding in cities across southern and central Israel, including in Tel Aviv. The IDF said it launched additional strikes at militant targets in Gaza as rockets began to rain down.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza said that Abu al-Atta was among 10 citizens killed in Israeli airstrikes. It said 45 others were injured.
Israel’s Magen David Adom national emergency service said 22 citizens were lightly injured, including two men who were injured by shrapnel.
According to The Washington Post, at least 60 projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defence system. The Post added that at least one residence and one office were hit by the rockets.
The timing of the incident comes amid political turmoil – and may benefit Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the IDF for its “precise operation.” In a live broadcast, Netanyahu called Abu al-Atta the “chief terrorist in Gaza” and vowed to continue to strike down militants.
“We have proven that it is possible to attack murderers with minimal harm to innocent lives,” Netanyahu said. “Whoever hurts us – we will hurt them.”
Netanyahu suggested that Israel was not interested in escalating the conflict in Gaza but hinted that Israel would continue to use a long-term strategy to defend its borders.
“Israel is not interested in escalation but will do everything necessary to defend ourselves,” he said. “And I say in advance: This could take time.”
“Patience and composure are required,” he said. “The IDF must be allowed to do its work.”
And a long-term strategy is exactly what Netanyahu needs as the country tumbles into political turmoil.
Israel voted on September 17 in an election that put Netanyahu’s political future at stake. Neither Netanyahu nor his political rival Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief, won an outright majority. Additionally, neither was successful in forming a coalition government, which could mean Israel may see new elections for the third time this year.
Netanyahu is further embroiled in several corruption scandals that could see him face criminal charges in the near future. If Netanyahu can figure out a way to remain in power, he would not be required by Israeli law to step down even in the event of an indictment.
Some Israeli politicians are characterising Netanyahu’s order for Abu al-Atta’s killing as a ploy to drum up political support from his right-wing base.
Ayman Odeh, the head of the Israeli-Arab Joint List party, wrote that Netanyahu was engaging in “a desperate attempt to remain in office.”
“A cynical man who lost two consecutive elections will leave only scorched earth in a desperate attempt to remain in office,” the Arab lawmaker wrote on Twitter.
Omer Barlev, a senior Labour Party lawmaker, called into question the timing of the airstrikes in relation to Netanyahu’s political deadlock.
“In the past year and a half, there have been numerous opportunities to eliminate” Abu al-Atta, he wrote on Twitter, adding: “Why did Netanyahu change his position now?”
Netanyahu has found that military power is his political strength
Netanyahu’s past decade in power has seen several major clashes in Gaza, including large-scale operations in 2012 and 2014.
Jason Pearlman, a former political aide to several right-wing Israeli politicians, told The Wall Street Journal before the election in September that right-wing voters saw Netanyahu’s security record as his winning trait.
“It’s not just an image,” Pearlman said. “It is his record.”
And amplifying Israel’s strength has been an election-winning strategy since the country’s founding. CNBC’s Jason Gewirtz wrote in April that security had consistently ranked as Israel’s top election issue since its founding in 1948.
Netanyahu may be able to continue to push the limits of Israel’s military might to win favour with the Israeli public. A study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in April found that 66% of the Israeli public thought Israel was acting “too moderately” in its response to clashes along the Gaza Strip.
In August, the Israeli Voice Index conducted by the Guttman Centre at the Israel Democracy Institute indicated that 56% of Israelis thought Netanyahu was doing a good job at enhancing Israel’s military power.
It appears Netanyahu has found success in shaping the Israeli public’s perceptions of national security issues in line with his own policies.
Dr. Lior Lehrs, the director of the Program on Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking at the Israeli foreign-policy think tank Mitvim wrote in the 2019 Israeli Foreign Policy Index that the Israeli public “has adopted the positions promoted by Netanyahu in recent years on the Palestinian issue.”