Israeli security forces on Tuesday (November 12) assassinated a commander of the Islamic Jihad described by them as “a ticking bomb”.
This led to retaliatory attacks from the Gaza Strip that pushed major areas in Israel to closure and escalated tensions in the region.
A joint statement by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, announced that Baha Abu al-Ata was neutralised in a targeted strike at around 4:30 am in an operation that was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“[Ata] was behind multiple attacks and rocket launches against Israel in recent months and intended to carry new immediate attacks,” the Army and Shin Bet said. “The operation was recommended by the IDF Chief of Staff and the Shin Bet and approved by the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, after it was presented and endorsed by (the security) cabinet,” it said.
Ata and his wife were killed as they slept on the third floor of a building in Shejaiya district of Gaza City, Palestinian sources said. Palestinian health officials said that four of their children and a neighbour were injured.
The Israeli Army however rejected speculations that the killing marked the return to Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations. IDF spokesperson, Brig Gen Hidai Zilberman, said that the killing of the senior Islamic Jihad commander does not represent a return the the policy of targeted killings that saw Israel kill dozens of terror leaders in the last decade.
Zilberman said that the Israeli air force targeted Baha Abu al-Ata because he was a ticking bomb and was planning imminent attacks against Israel.
Ata headed the military council of the Al-Quds Brigade, the military arm of the Islamic Jihad. He commanded the organisations operations in northern Gaza, but also wielded great influence on the southern front.
Ata is said to have several hundred fighters under his command and an arsenal of dozens of rockets at his disposal that could be fired at Israel. Israel had in the past also tried unsuccessfully to assassinate the Islamic Jihad commander but this time it is said to have “real time intel for a pinpointed operation”.
Islamic Jihad threatened to respond forcefully to the assassination. “We promise to continue the fight, and our response will undoubtedly come to shake the foundations of the Zionist entity,” the organisation said, calling for general mobilization of its troops.
Militant faction Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said that Israel bears all the responsibility for the consequences of the assassination of Abu Al-Ata. “This crime committed by Israel will not pass silently, and will be met with retaliation by the resistance forces,” it said.
The Secretary General of Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhala, said that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has crossed all the red lines in the assassination of Abu al_Ata.
We are going to war. Netanyahu has crossed all the red lines in the assassination of Al-Quds Brigades Commander Baha Abu al-Ata. We we will respond forcefully, al-Nakhala told Dar al-Hayat, an Arabic-language news site.
Sirens were heard soon after the attack in areas from Gaza to Tel Aviv with barrage of rockets, mortars and incendiary balloons making their way to Israel from the Gaza Strip.
In an unprecedented move since the 2014 Gaza war, the IDF Home Front Command announced to cancel all school in all of the Dan region, including Tel Aviv, as well as the south.
The IDF Home Front Command immediately ordered all schools and non-essential businesses closed in the following areas – the Gaza periphery; the Lachish region, the western Negev, the central Negev, the Shfela region, the Dan region, including Tel Aviv, and the Yarkon region bringing life to a standstill in major areas of the Jewish state.
Bomb shelters were opened in central Israel and as far as Modiin, next to Jerusalem. Tel Aviv was also preparing to open bomb shelters, an official announcement from the municipality said.
The Israeli security cabinet was meeting in the morning to review the situation. Sources in Gaza said that Israel has also carried out several attacks in the coastal enclave following the rocket attacks from there.