The head of Hamas' military wing in the Gaza Strip, Ahmed Jabri, was killed at 7:30 a.m. New York time Wednesday by an Israeli missile at the start of a major Israeli military Gaza offensive called Pillar of Defense, a retired Israeli general said on a conference call organized by The Israel Project, a pro-Israel education organization.
The operation came after Hamas fired 110 rockets last week from Gaza into cities and villages in southern Israel, said Retired Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, former deputy Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. And two weeks ago, he said, they had fired 100 rockets into Israel.
“So the rules of the game became very difficult for the southern cities and villages,” he said.
Harel had been briefed by the IDF.
The goal of the operation is to take out a large piece of Hamas command structure without toppling the regime or launching a ground attack. Israel is said to have targeted 20 different sites in Gaza on Hamas’ long range rocket capabilities.
The rockets were part of a new supply of weapons from Libya and Iran that Hamas has amassed over the last two years, Harel said. They include guided missiles and other weapons developed in the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas felt it had enough power to stand face-to-face with Israel, especially during a delicate moment in Israel when elections are in two-and-a-half months,” he said. “They thought we would not retaliate, and they were wrong.”
Jabri and a passenger — identified by Al Jazeera as Jabri’s son — were killed when the car in which they were driving in Gaza was hit in what Israeli military officials called a "surgical strike." No other individuals are said to be targeted in the Israeli operation. Al Jazeera said six Palestinians, including a 7-year-old girl, were killed in the first hours of the operation.
“This guy was rising in the lines of Hamas and was head of the popular military and head of all military efforts in Gaza,” Harel said. “He also had some substantial political leverage over Hamas as a whole. … He was once in Fatah but was caught in a terrorist attack and sat in an Israeli prison. He linked himself to an extremist Muslim group in prison and went out and became one of the guys who organized the popular military base of Hamas” after Hamas kicked Fatah out of Gaza in 2006.
Jabri was filmed escorting captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held hostage in Gaza for more than five years, when he was handed over to Egypt last year on his way back to Israel.
In the Israeli assault, Harael said Israeli “fighter jets bombed rocket cylinders buried in the ground to take away their launching capability. It will be difficult, but we are doing our best. We are not looking to go further on the ground, but if we will have to do it, we will do it.”
Israel is “in the early hours of this clash and where it goes from here depends on Hamas activities,” he said.
Harel said Iran is behind a lot of the violence in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas' armed wing, the Izz al-Dinn Al-Qassam Brigades, reportedly said in a statement following the attack, "The occupation has opened the gates of hell on itself."
The price of oil rose to an eight-week high hours after Israel launched its assault. Analysts said the price jump stemmed from fears that Middle East turmoil might disrupt the flow of oil.
Harel noted that just last week Egypt “played a key role in the efforts of gaining a truce between Hamas and Israel.”
“It is in the good interest of the Egyptians that they play the same role again,” he said.