Responding to months of rocket barrages by Hamas-led terror groups targeting more than a million Israeli civilians, the IDF today launched a widespread campaign targeting military infrastructure and operatives in the Gaza Strip. The campaign has been identified by Israeli military officials as "Operation Pillar Of Defense," and began with a pin-point strike targeting Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas's military wing and a terrorist linked to hundreds of terror operations over the span of decades.
Jabari was Hamas's "chief of staff," and was second-in-command of the Iranian proxy's al-Qassam Brigades. His history of terrorism stretches back to the early 1980s. In 1982 he was arrested and spent 13 years in jail for terror activities, and after his release he rose through the ranks of Hamas. He was in charge of Hamas's military operations during the Second Intifada, the widespread suicide bombing campaign targeting Israeli civilians in the early 2000s, and oversaw the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
Also reportedly killed by early Israeli attacks was Raed Al Attar, Jabari's second-in-command, raising speculation that Israel is deliberately seeking to degrade Hamas's military leadership. Hamas commanders routinely go underground during major hostilities with Israel, including historically utilizing medical facilities, and the targeting of Jabari and Al Attar was done at the beginning of what the IDF is identifying as a widespread campaign.
The IDF operation begins after months over which Hamas signaled a potential strategic shift in its targeting of Israeli civilians and its military posture, prompting analysis that the group was deliberately trying to trigger forceful responses by the Israelis. Hundreds of rockets and mortars have been fired at Israeli civilians in the last week by Hamas-led Palestinian terrorist groups, drawing explicit condemnation from the highest levels of the international community and raising to nearly 900 the number of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza into Israel in 2012. Israeli officials emphasized last week that the escalation risked responses from Israel up to and including the resumption of targeted killings of Hamas leaders.
In addition to escalating the amount of rocket and mortar fire into Israel, Gaza-based Palestinian groups have recently begun deploying advanced weaponry against Israelis. In recent weeks Palestinian groups have used guided anti-tank missiles against an Israeli jeep, injuring four Israeli soldiers including two critically, and a shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapon against an Israeli helicopter in October.
Early reports indicate that in addition to targeting Hamas's senior military leadership, Israel is specifically seeking to degrade Hamas's stockpiles of these and other advanced weapons. Media outlets are reporting that the Israeli Air Force struck a suspected stockpile of advanced Fajr 5 missiles smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Iran. The weapon's use in 2006 by Hezbollah, Iran's Lebanese proxy, had constituted a major escalation during that year's Lebanon II war with Israel.
Hamas has responded to the targeting of its terror facilities and operatives by launching missiles into Israeli civilian areas, including already five missiles into the Israeli city of Ashkelon.