"The IDF has begun a widespread campaign on terror sites and operatives in the Gaza Strip, chief among them Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets," the IDF announced this morning, signaling a new round of escalation under the name of Operation Pillar of Cloud. Ahmed Jaabari, head of the group's Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam brigades, was reportedly killed by the IAF. Further targeted killings of military commanders are expected. Rocket launching sites are also being bombed: so far, there is no hint of a ground incursion despite the rocket firing paralyzing civilian life in southern Israel though the IDF today announced that is it prepared to carry one out, a declaration it's made every time the two sides have exchange heavy fire since 2009.
While there's suggestions of this being part of an effort to prep world opinion for another war in Gaza Sol Salbe notes the similarities in the Israeli media's tone in the winter of 2009, right before Operation Cast Lead began, and the present this is also aimed at Hamas supporters in the region, intending to drive them apart and force their hands.
Since Hamas's leaders with their Fatah re-unity plans again on indefinite hold are now casting about for support from Qatar, Egypt and Turkey, the resumption of IDF assassinations is likely also meant to send a message to those parties.
And though it is unlikely Israel hopes to provoke an Iranian response here, it will have that effect and possibly drive Tehran and Hamas ever-closer together since Iran's statements and actions will obviously not be hampered by military agreements with the US. Here, for Iran, is an opportunity to reassert itself in Gaza, which is an unfortunate development for those in Hamas who've grown skeptical of the Damascus-Tehran alliance like its political chief, Khaled Meshaal.
In undertaking Operation Pillar of Cloud, Israel is undermining Hamas's efforts to keep smaller groups like Islamic Jihad, opportunists from the Sinai and the dissenting "Popular Committees" from launching attacks on civilians in southern Israel out of Gaza. By broadening the operational target list to include Hamas members once again, the group is going to have an extraordinarily difficult time managing its members' anger, not to mention public opinion since tens of civilian casualties have been reported. But for Netanyahu, he's scored an important boost to his image ahead of the Israeli general election in 2013 by taking out Jaabari, who is best-known to Israelis as the architect of Gilad Shalit's abduction, which only ended when Netanyahu traded over 1,000 prisoners for Shalit's release.
Aluf Benn, publisher of Haaretz, minced no words when he called Jaabari Israel's security sub-contractor in Gaza. As head of Hamas' military wing, Jaabari, although condemned by Israelis as Hamas's main attack planner, was in fact instrumental these past few years in seeing to it that militants held their fire). Benn accuses the government of trying to influence the Knesset elections. Other writers at Benn's paper even claimed that for the PM, the assassination was a Seal Team Six moment.
Dimi Reider at +972 suggests that the government is looking to show resolve ahead of that election, in particular from Ehud Barak, the hawkish Defense Minister, and Netanyahu, whose image has suffered in-country as a result of Obama's second-term win. The two men especially Barak, who has always held that rockets from Gaza should be met with more forceful responses have in his view calculated that Hamas won't actually risk further escalation, despite the group's stated promise to step up operations against Israeli military targets.
Egypt's response will be telling, since not 24 hours ago it was trying to broker a ceasefire. As Issandr noted, the Brotherhood is now in the same predicament Mubarak was: the Egyptian public and the ruling party's critics want "action," but the ruling party is bound by the peace treaty. Joseph Dana's succinct summation is that with this action, Israel is saying to Egypt: "F* You." Already, Cairo has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and called for a UN Security Council meeting, but there is relatively little else Morsi can do.
The only positive consideration Obama can take away from this is that the assault came after, and not during, the course of Austere Challenge 12, a IDF-EUCOM exercise that was the source of much speculation on what it portended for an Iran strike before the US elections, ended. Ironically, Obama entered office as Israel was winding down Cast Lead. Now, he prepares to be sworn in for a second time with an at-war Israel.