Israel has targeted high-ranking Palestinian figures using different assassination techniques, from strikes to shootings, since the 1970s. The latest target was a powerful Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces multiple corruption charges and has been unable to form a government after the country’s second elections in six months, ordered another assassination on Tuesday against a high-profile Palestinian military commander in the Gaza Strip.
Many have viewed the killing of Baha Abu al Atta, a senior commander of Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran, as a political move by Netanyahu to increase his plummeting popularity across Israel.
In the past, Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders and commanders sometimes led to expanding fighting between Palestinians and Israelis, breaking up uneasy truces between them.
Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip retaliated to the assassination of Atta by launching more than 50 rockets into Tel Aviv and other areas in Israel.
Atta was the military leader of the northern command for Islamic Jihad, which is the second most powerful Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas. He was a powerful figure in the group’s Al Quds Brigades, which is the military wing of the Islamic Jihad.
Long before the assassination, Israel has had an eye on Atta, who had survived several attempts on his life, going back to the early 2010s.
According to the Israelis, Atta was responsible for planning and preparing attacks and led efforts to manufacture arms, increasing the Palestinian capacity to launch long-range rockets.
An Israeli army statement described him as “a ticking bomb” saying that he was responsible for much of the Islamic Jihad activity in the Palestinian enclave, organising attacks against Sderot, an Israeli border town, in August and November.
Tel Aviv was monitoring his activities from close range because he was allegedly on the way to executing a new attack against Israelis.
“We tried to message and to communicate to him and his superiors that we were aware of his plans, and to indicate that continued attempts to execute those plans would have consequences,” said Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the army.
On the same day, Israel also reportedly hit the Damascus house of Akram al Ajouri, Islamic Jihad’s representative in Syria, a political official, who oversees Atta’s activities.
Ajami survived the attack, but the assault killed his son and another civilian.
But Islamic Jihad defiantly responded to Israeli attacks.
“We affirm that the response to this crime will have no limits and will be the size of the crime committed by the criminal enemy and that the occupation will bear the consequences of this aggression,” said an Islamic Jihad statement.
During the attack, Atta’s wife was also killed and his young sons were injured. According to reports, his wife’s body was found in a school across from the house where the family was living.
Atta’s assassination added another string to a chain of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders and activists. According to different sources, Israel has been responsible for killing more than 200 Palestinian leaders and commanders since the 1970s, when Palestinian armed groups began defending their homeland through attacks against Tel Aviv’s brutality.
In May, Israel also killed Hamad Hudri, a high-profile Palestinian figure in Izzedine al Qassam Brigades, which is the military wing of Hamas, with a missile launched by a fighter jet like the one that killed Atta.
Like Atta, Hudri was also considered to have close links with Iran, the archenemy of Israel.
In 2012, the killing of Ahmed al Jabari, the second-in-command of al Qassam Brigades, led to a bloody war between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Hamas defended the tiny Palestinian enclave against Israeli aggression for eight days.
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, who was also the spiritual leader of the group, was killed by Israel in 2004, as he was leaving a mosque after a dawn prayer. The strike also killed his two bodyguards and seven bystanders.
Abu Jihad, second-in-command to Yasser Arafat, who was the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, was killed by Israeli special forces in Tunisia in 1988.
The Israeli assassination list also includes Abbas al Musawi, the secretary-general of Hamas, Fathi Shaqaqi, head of Islamic Jihad, Yahya Ayyash, the famous Hamas bomb-maker known as “the engineer” and Salah Shahade, the leader of Hamas’s al Qassam Brigades.