By: Fern Sidman
At approximately 4 am on Tuesday morning, Israeli military forces carried out a targeted operation eliminating Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior terrorist in the Islamic Jihad organization’s Gaza division, as was reported by Israel National News.
The 42-year-old chief of Islamic Jihad’s Al Quds Brigades’ Gaza Strip branch was considered one of the most radical terrorists in Gaza – even within Islamic Jihad – Abu Al-Ata was seen as a rising force within the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, due in part to his close ties with Tehran, and the decline in Hamas’ popularity in Gaza.
INN reported that under Abu Al-Ata’s watch, Islamic Jihad in Gaza has undertaken to obtain longer-range, more powerful rockets for its attacks on southern – and even central Israel. A string of rocket attacks on Israel this year have been attributed to Islamic Jihad’s Al Quds Brigades – and Abu al-Ata.
Subsequent to the operation in which Abu Al-Ata and his wife were killed, the IDF said that the Islamic Jihad terrorist was responsible for hundreds of terror attacks, adding that another one was imminent, as was reported by INN.
“Al Ata was directly responsible for hundreds of terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. His next attack was imminent.”
Along with rocket attacks, Abu al-Ata was also responsible for a number of other terror attacks against Israeli targets, including sniper attacks on Israeli soldiers and the use of drone aircraft armed with explosive devices.
INN reported that the IDF believes Abu al-Ata to have been personally responsible for planning and ordering the majority of all terror attacks on Israel over the past 12 months.
In earlier years, Abu al-Ata personally led major attacks on Israel, including a deadly 2008 infiltration attack in which four terrorists crossed into Israeli territory and killed two Israelis at the Nahal Oz fuel depot.
Israel has been targeting Abu al-Ata for years, with attempts to eliminate him going back as far as Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, when Israeli forces targeted a building he was believed to be hiding in, as was reported by INN.
In the immediate aftermath of his killing, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, setting off sirens both in central and southern Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also served as Defense Minister until 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, authorized the strike. Naftali Bennett is now serving as Israel’s Defense Minister.
NPR reported that around the same time as the Israeli raid on Gaza, Syria’s state-run media agency said that Israeli warplanes fired missiles at a residential building in Damascus, where SANA reports that two civilians were killed and 10 others injured. The attack targeting another Islamic Jihad commander, Akram al-Ajouri, reportedly failed to harm him but killed his son and granddaughter. Israel did not comment Tuesday on the reported attack in Syria.
“Israel executed two coordinated attacks, in Syria and in Gaza, in a declaration of war,” Khaled Al-Batsh of Islamic Jihad said at a funeral for Abu el-Atta in Gaza, according to Reuters. The wire service noted that other mourners replied by firing their weapons in the air and chanting, “Revenge!”
NPR reported that Hamas, the Islamist terror group that controls Gaza, condemned Abu el-Atta’s killing in a series of statements Tuesday, saying the move represented a “dangerous escalation and a continuation of the Israeli aggression and terrorism against the Palestinian people and resistance.”
“Targeting an icon of the Palestinian resistance reveals preliminary intentions of the Israeli occupation to go into a new battle against the Palestinian resistance in order to export its internal crises and impose new rules of engagement,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesperson for the organization, which the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist group.
“This aggression will backfire in the face of Israeli occupation and its criminal leaders” he added. “The Israeli occupation has started such attack and thus has to pay a price for it.”
The IDF carried out waves of attacks throughout the day on Tuesday on Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. Among the sites the IDF said it hit was what it called a “terror tunnel”, which it said the Islamic Jihad terror group planned to use to attack Israeli civilians, as was reported by the BBC.
It said it also hit training compounds, weapons factories and storage facilities.
BBC reported that three Palestinians were killed in air strikes in northern Gaza, one of which targeted a group preparing to launch a rocket, Israel said.
On Tuesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, “We stand behind the security forces, who have been working for the success of this morning’s operations for a long time. I know that they, and the Israeli government that approved the operation, have Israel’s security, and only that, in their minds.” He added that, “This is no time for political squabbles, and those who do so bring no credit to themselves. It is the time to stop such statements immediately. Israeli citizens – please listen to the life-saving instructions of the IDF Home Front Command and take good care of yourselves.”
In a joint statement issued with IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and ISA Director Nadav Argaman at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:
“Citizens of Israel, the IDF targeted senior Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata. Over the past year, this arch-terrorist was the main instigator of terrorism from the Gaza Strip. He initiated, planned and carried out many terrorist attacks. He fired hundreds of rockets at communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, whose suffering we have seen. He was in the midst of planning additional attacks in the immediate short term. He was a ticking bomb.
The action to target him had been recommended by the Director of the ISA and the heads of the security agencies. It was discussed by the Security Cabinet in a series of in-depth meetings in recent months. The Security Cabinet unanimously approved the final decision to act in this manner ten days ago and authorized me to order that it be carried out at a time suggested by the IDF and the ISA. The IDF and the ISA indeed identified a date. They identified a unique window of opportunity to carry out the action, under optimal conditions, with maximum chance of success and minimal chance for hitting anyone uninvolved. In light of this, I decided to accept their joint recommendation and I approved the carrying out of the action.
I congratulate the IDF and the ISA. I would also like to specially congratulate the Air Force and IDF Intelligence for the successful and precise operation.
The basic assumption of all terrorists is identical. They think that they can attack civilians and concurrently hide behind civilians. However, we have proven that it is possible to attack murderers with minimal harm to innocents.
Whoever thinks that it is possible to hurt our citizens and evade our long arm – is mistaken. We have proven that we can attack with surgical precision anywhere terrorists hide. Whoever hurts us – we will hurt them.
Citizens of Israel, I request that you strictly follow the instructions of IDF Home Front Command. These instructions save lives. Do not take unnecessary chances. All that needs to be done is simply to follow these instructions. We have considerable experience on this score and it is important to the security of each and every one of you and of your families.
I would like to reiterate: Israel is not interested in escalation, but will do everything necessary to defend ourselves.
And I say in advance: This could take time. Patience and composure are required. The IDF must be allowed to do its work.”
World Israel News reported that as Israelis in several parts of the country went scurrying for cover on Tuesday to protect themselves from Gaza rocket attacks, an 8-year old girl was reported in serious condition after collapsing as she ran for shelter in the city of Holon, south of Tel Aviv.
The girl had lost consciousness, medics reported. She was taken to a hospital in serious but stable condition, they said.
She was responding to a siren that sounded in Holon, warning residents that the city was under attack by Palestinian terrorists. The girl was in an apartment house.
At Barzilai Medical Center in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, an underground facility was built to ensure emergency care under these conditions. On Tuesday, infants were evacuated from the hospital’s preemie unit.
INN reported that Israel’s Education Ministry had canceled school in Tel Aviv on Tuesday and towns south of it due to the rocket fire from Gaza.
Cities where school was canceled include: Modi’in, Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Givatayim, Bat Yam, Holon, and Rishon Lezion.
The Hebrew University in Rehovot has also canceled studies, and the Open University has canceled guidance meetings in Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, Sderot, and Segev Shalom. Be’er Sheva’s Ben Gurion University and the Sapir College in the Gaza border area have also canceled studies, as was reported by INN.
The IDF’s Home Front Command has also ordered workplaces to close, both in the Tel Aviv area and south of it, in the Gaza border area.
INN reported that Israeli Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav told Galei Zahal: “We are preparing to immediately suspend all activities in the Tel Aviv area, and we are identifying the groups of students hiking in the south. Hundreds of thousands of students will remain in their homes.”
At approximately 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday air raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion, Holon, and other towns in central Israel – just over an hour after they sounded in Gaza border towns.
In a statement, the IDF said: “In the areas: Gaza border area, west Lachish, western Negev, Lachish, central Negev, the southern lowlands, and the lowlands, there will be no educational activities and no one should go non-critical places of employment. Gatherings must be limited to 100 people in an enclosed area only.” The IDF added that, “In the Dan and Yarkon regions, there will be no educational activities and no one should go to non-critical places of employment. Gatherings must be limited to 300 people and must be held in an enclosed place only.”
WIN reported on Tuesday that Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon is demanding that the U.N. Security Council condemn Tuesday’s rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
“These rocket attacks from terrorist organizations threaten the lives of nine million civilians. Instead of calling on all parties to exercise restraint, we expect the UNSC to clearly and unequivocally condemn the terrorists responsible. It is time for the international community to realize that its silence is a prize for terrorism,” said Danon.
“Israel is not interested in escalation but will counter its campaign against terrorism with determination and strength,” the ambassador added.
Almog Elijis, the spokesperson and consul for media affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York City issued a statement on Tuesday that said: “The indiscriminate rocket fire by terror organizations in the Gaza Strip is a double war crime: targeting Israel’s civilian population, and launching the rockets from within Gaza’s civilian neighborhoods and institutions. Over a million Israeli civilians are sitting in bomb shelters; many citizens cannot go to work and schools are closed. Israel’s civil defense system contributes to the resilience of the Israeli civilians, who are nevertheless struggling to overcome fear and trauma.”
As of 7 pm on Tuesday in Israel, the IDF reported that 190 rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
INN reported that the Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted 90% of the rockets which were fired at populated areas. According to the IDF, about half of the rockets fell in open areas.
The IDF has mobilized hundreds of reservists around Gaza in response to the rocket fire.
IAF fighters and Israeli tanks have attacked numerous targets belonging to Islamic Jihad. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has declared a special emergency situation in the home front in localities within the range of 0-80 km (0-50 miles) from the Gaza Strip.