The Israeli Air Force conducted a strike in Gaza in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, killing Islamic Jihad senior commander Baha Abu al-Ata. According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the bloodthirsty Palestinian terrorist, responsible for multiple rocket barrages on Israel from Gaza, was a “ticking time bomb.”
In other words, his death was a necessary step in preventing a series of imminent terrorist attacks on innocent Israelis. It was also a message not only to Islamic Jihad, but to Hamas—ruler of the terrorist enclave—that recent Israeli threats about a major military campaign in Gaza being inevitable were not empty. As Netanyahu has been emphasizing for the past few months, Hamas can’t keep blaming Islamic Jihad for launching missiles as a way of avoiding an Israeli ground invasion, such as “Operation Protective Edge” in the summer of 2014.
The trouble with the hit on Abu al-Ata, of course, is that it sparked a heavy—albeit anticipated—round of revenge attacks, sending Israelis across the south and center of the country into bomb shelters, and prompting the Israel Defense Forces to launch further airstrikes on targets in Gaza, among them an Islamic Jihad training facility and underground facility for the manufacture and storage of weapons.
The Home Front Command, which clearly was given a heads up prior to the targeted killing and the likely response it would elicit, is treating the situation seriously, keeping a wide geographical berth on high alert, and out of school and many public buildings.
Though the timing of the operation may have appeared odd initially—as it was executed mere hours before New Right Party chairman Naftali Bennett was to take the reins of Israel’s Defense Ministry from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—it actually had been approved and was in the works for months. Since Abu al-Ata surrounds himself with human shields, much intelligence-gathering on his movements and whereabouts was required to minimize collateral casualties. What it means at the moment, however, is that Bennett is being given a Jewish baptism by fire.
What a way to start one’s first day on the job, particularly as a separate, almost simultaneous, bombing was carried out on the Damascus home of Islamic Jihad deputy chief Akram al-Ajouri.
Jerusalem has neither denied nor confirmed its part in the Syria strike. But that’s par for the course where Israeli operations in the north are concerned.
Both actions are significant well beyond the endless war of attrition with terrorists, however. Like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad is a proxy of the ayatollah-led regime in Tehran, which repeatedly boasts of the will and wherewithal to wipe Israel off the map. Of all world leaders, Netanyahu has been the most vociferous in warning of the danger to the Jewish state and the rest of the world posed by Iran in general and by its race to obtain nuclear weapons in particular.
Which brings us to U.S. President Donald Trump, whose first orders of business included recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ripping up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Trump’s open support of Israel against its enemies near and far was a breath of fresh air for Netanyahu, who had been forced to engage in a delicate balancing act with the previous American administration of President Barack Obama.
Nevertheless, Trump’s recent move to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria constituted an Iran-emboldening blow. Without openly criticizing Trump for this move—as part of his policy to “bring America’s boys back home” from the Middle East—Netanyahu indirectly referred to it by reiterating and thus signaling to Iran that Israel not only needs to protect and defend itself, but has the ability to do so, even while in the midst of its current political imbroglio.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”