And not a moment too soon. After weeks of intensifying rocket fire by Palestinian terrorists from Gaza against Israel’s southern communities, and after the enormous barrages of the last few days, Israel’s government finally said “Enough” and launched Operation Pillar of Cloud (Amud Annan in Hebrew), or Pillar of Defense as it is being called in English). As The Algemeiner writes:
The operation follows four days of escalated rocket attacks from Gaza during which over 150 projectiles were fired at civilian communities in southern Israel. Israeli leaders have made clear in recent days that the country would not tolerate the continued attacks.
The operation began with the assassination of Hamas terror mastermind Ahmed al-Jabari earlier today. A statement from the Shin Bet about the strike said, “Jabari was responsible for financing and directing military operations and attacks against Israel. His elimination today is a message to Hamas officials in Gaza that if they continue promoting terrorism against Israel, they will be hurt.”
IDF Spokesman Yoav Mordechai told the Jerusalem Post that al-Jabari was a man with “a lot of blood on his hands.”
The naming if the operation is drawn from biblical verses in Exodus, that refer to a column of smoke that led and protected the Israelites during their sojourns in the desert .
Watch the official IDF video of the assassination (h/t Legal Insurrection) and admire their pinpoint precision:
The Times of Israel reports on the assassination and Operation Pillar of Cloud:
The Israeli Air Force on Wednesday launched a series of airstrikes in Gaza City, killing Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’s armed wing — the equivalent of an army’s chief of staff — and his son, Mohammed al-Homs. Palestinian sources put the death toll at up to nine by evening.
Following the airstrikes, Palestinians launched some 17 rockets at Beersheba, two rockets at the coastal city of Ashkelon, and two more at the Eshkol region. Some of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
Residents within range of rocket fire from Gaza were requested to remain within 15 seconds of a shelter. School was called off for Thursday throughout the south, including in Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon. The police raised alert levels amid fears of terror attacks.
The army confirmed the airstrike on Jabari and said that it had launched a “widespread campaign on terror sites and operatives in the Gaza Strip, chief among them Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets.” The IDF Spokesperson’s Office told The Times of Israel that the campaign was being referred to as “Operation Pillar of Defense.”
“By nature of his position, Jabari has been responsible over the past decade for all anti-Israel terror activity emanating from the [Gaza] Strip,” the Shin Bet security agency said in a statement. Israeli military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under army regulations, said Jabari was identified by “precise intelligence” gathered over several months.
Hamas’s armed wing warned that in assassinating Jabari, Israel “had opened the gates of hell on itself.”
Witnesses said Jabari was traveling in a vehicle in Gaza City when the car was blown up. Crowds of people and security personnel rushed to the scene of the strike, trying to put out the fire that had engulfed the car and left it a charred shell.
Hamas police said other airstrikes hit targets in Gaza City, Khan Younis, Beit Lahiya and Rafah. Raed Atar, the head of Hamas’s Rafah Battalion, was reportedly targeted in one of those strikes. Hamas denied reports that Atar and Marwan Issa, another leading figure in the al-Qassam Brigades, had been killed.
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai confirmed that the strike was “part of our goal, to land serious blows on Hamas and other organizations. Jabari is the first target… We’ve only just started, and this isn’t the end of it. All of the options are open, and we will persist in our determination to continue to hit all of the [terror] organizations further down the line.”
Mordechai said that the IDF was prepping its ground troops for a possible incursion into the Gaza Strip, but noted that such an operation was not necessarily going to happen, and that the IDF didn’t want to turn Operation Pillar of Defense into a second Cast Lead — the winter 2008-9 assault on Hamas in Gaza that did include extensive ground operations.
Shortly after Mordechai’s announcement, the IDF issued a call-up for reservists in the Home Front Command unit.
Lt.-Col. Avital Leibovich of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office said that up to 20 terror sites in the Gaza Strip had been targeted. Hamas security officials said Hamas training facilities were among the targets in the Wednesday afternoon bombings. In all, Palestinian officials said up to nine people were killed in the Israeli attacks, and at least 15 were injured. The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported that a 7-year-old boy was killed in a strike in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City.
On Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet and updated the ministers on the latest developments in Gaza. President Shimon Peres updated US President Barack Obama on the operation, saying that Israel would handle the fallout from the assassination “with great care.”
Jabari was credited with being one of the leaders of Hamas’s violent putsch to take control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and masterminded the professionalization of the organization’s military.
Israel attempted to kill Jabari in an airstrike in 2004, but ended up killing his eldest son, his brother, and several cousins instead.
Jabari was the most senior Hamas official to be killed since Operation Cast Lead four years ago. Jabari has long topped Israel’s most-wanted list and was notorious in Israel, which blamed him for a string of attacks, including the terror infiltration which saw the capture of soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
Israel has repeatedly stated that it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks on its territory from the Gaza Strip, including those carried out by other terror factions.
On Tuesday, even as a tentative quiet seemed to be descending on the south, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that “the matter is definitely not over, and we’ll decide how and when to act when there is need to do so.”
His statement echoed remarks made by Netanyahu on Sunday.
Besides the assassination Jaabari and other Hamas leaders the IAF destroyed 20 long-range missile storage depots, reducing the missile threat to the center of the country.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the press conference at the Kirya compound in Tel Aviv that the IDF destroyed most of Hamas’ Fajr missiles in the first hour of the operation.
Here are some more links for details and/or live updates of the events in Gaza and the south of Israel:
The Muqata has a rolling live-blog (refresh his page to see updates) with very great detail.
Follow the “Life on the Border with Gaza” facebook group for more updates and reports on the reality of living within 15 seconds rocket range of Gaza.
The British Israel Group has the following briefing:
For the third time in a month, the civilians of southern Israel are under rocket attack from the Gaza Strip.
The current attacks began on Saturday night (Nov.10) when an anti-tank missile was fired at an army jeep traveling on the Israeli side of the border fence. Four IDF soldiers were injured. Since then, over 120 rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians.
The lives of 1million Israeli civilians are being threatened and daily life in southern Israel has been totally disrupted.
• The goal of Israel’s operation is clearly defined and is aimed at removing a strategic threat to Israeli citizens. Israel is not interested in a deterioration of the situation.
• Israel has demonstrated great restrain for a long period but cannot stand for the recurring attacks on its citizens. No other state would accept a similar reality.
• Israel is acting in self-defense and out of its duty to protect its civilians from terrorist attacks.
• Hamas rules the Gaza Strip and is responsible for all that occurs in Gaza and all that is launched from there.
• It must be noted that Israel disengaged completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The result of Israel’s disengagement is that Gaza has become a giant ammunition dump. In addition, it provides a breeding ground for terrorist groups to organize and to operate, including groups associated with al-Qaeda and Global Jihad. All this under the rule, responsibility and sponsorship of Hamas.
• Weapons smuggled from Libya, Iran and Sudan accelerated the process of Gaza turning into a terror base. These weapons also increased the danger posed to the Israeli population.
• Hamas and the other terrorist organizations hide among the civilian population of Gaza. They also deliberately direct their fire at the civilian population of Israel. These acts constitute a double war crime.
• The targets of the Israeli operation are all military. Israel will make every effort to prevent harm to the civilian population of Gaza, and regrets any injury to civilians.
• The border crossings from Israel to the Gaza Strip remain open, allowing for the routine passage of goods and humanitarian aid.
• The international community must act to stop the attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip and should not wait for an Israeli reaction to act. Time and again, Israel has warned that it would not tolerate these attacks.
What has happened today November 14th?
• Following several days of Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli towns, on 14 November Israel launched a military operation called ‘Pillar of Cloud,’ beginning with a series of targeted airstrikes against senior militant leaders and weapons facilities in the Gaza Strip. The first targeted was a top Hamas commander Ahmed al-Jabari.
• Other key Hamas militant leaders have also been targeted, reportedly including al-Jabari’s number two, Raed al-Atar, as well as Hamas’s longer range Fajr rockets.
May Hashem bring our enemies down and put them into our hands, may He stand with our soldiers, protect them and bring them home safely, and may the army’s mission to bring peace and quiet to the south be accomplished speedily and securely. Amen.