Israel’s targeted killings of three senior Hamas military leaders and the possible elimination of Muhammad Deif over the past two days signals Hamas that Jerusalem will not tolerate a low-intensity war of attrition, officials said on Thursday.
“When we said we won’t agree to a war of attrition, and that if they lob a few mortar shells we will not just lob a few back, we meant it,” one government official said. “This might be a difficult learning process, but at a certain point Hamas will understand one way or another that we will not tolerate rocket fire.”
The targeted assassinations also sent a clear message to Hamas leaders that if they were involved in any way in attacking Israelis – “from the guy low down on the food chain taking a rocket out of a tunnel, to the guy at the top of the food chain giving the command” – they were all legitimate targets, the official said.
Asked whether Hamas political leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh was a legitimate target, the official would say only that Israel does not draw any distinction between different parts of Hamas.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that meticulous intelligence and precise IDF operational abilities made possible the targeted killings.
“The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and IDF work shoulder-to-shoulder during Operation Protective Edge, as they do throughout the year, and this is an important element in Israel’s security,” he said.
He added that the Gaza operation will continue until it achieves its goals: “restoring quiet for a prolonged period along with a significant blow to the terrorist infrastructure.”
Despite the renewed IDF attacks in Gaza as a result of the Hamas rocket fire, international criticism has been fairly muted over the past two days, largely because the collateral damage has been limited.
One official said that when Israel attacks from the air, with precision bombs, the collateral damage is smaller than when the ground forces are fighting inside Gaza and involved in firefights in built-up areas.
The official said that even though the Egyptian ceasefire proposal was currently inactive, it remains at this time the only diplomatic channel that Israel would consider. Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry speak about it every day, the official said.
Meanwhile, in a meeting with visiting US Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), the prime minister spoke at some length about the recently uncovered plot by Hamas activists – directed by Hamas leaders in Turkey – to overthrow the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Netanyahu stressed this point as part of the message he is laboring to send to the world that Hamas is like Islamic State, and just as the Islamic State’s goals are not limited, neither are Hamas’s.
Hamas, Netanyahu told the congressman, has an extremist agenda and is part of a global movement that includes Islamic State and Boko Haram.
Hamas has a foothold in Gaza now, and is interested in expansion to the West Bank, he said, telling Issa of the overthrow plot.
Netanyahu also discussed with Issa the negative role Qatar is playing in “aiding and abetting” Hamas. As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa is in a prime position to put Qatar’s role high on the agenda in Washington by asking questions about its involvement in the various US government agencies that his committee oversees.
In the same vein, Netanyahu raised the issue of the UN Human Rights Council’s Schabas Committee, mandated with investigating Israel’s actions during the Gaza conflict.
Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu said “radical Islamic terrorism now threatens the entire world,” and that “we have to fight it together. Hamas is ISIS [Islamic State], ISIS is Hamas. You saw the gruesome beheading of James Foley, we see the gruesome murder of three teenagers which Hamas just admitted that they did. These are branches of the same poisonous tree.”
Issa said that “both the Arab [world] and the West have awakened to ISIS as a second threat over and above the Iranian threat through all of their tentacles. And I think it’s a point of great discovery that is important that the United States coordinate with its closest ally anywhere, and particularly one that knows this area and one that has developed an amazing ability to work with difficult partners.”