Daily Briefing: Israel Kills Islamic Jihad’s Baha Abu Al-Ata (November 12, 2019)

The flag of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine. (Source: Wikipedia)

Table Of Contents:

Israel Kills Senior Islamic Jihad Commander in Gaza: Isabel Kershner, Iyad Abuheweila and David M. Halbfinger, NYT, Nov. 12, 2019

The Islamic Jihad and the Israeli Dilemma in the Gaza Strip: Kobi Michael, Yohanan Tzoreff, INSS Insight No. 1223, November 5, 2019

An Election Season of Gaza Violence: Alex Fishman, Ynet, Nov. 11, 2019

Who Was Baha Abu al-Ata, Gaza’s Elusive Islamic Jihad Commander Assassinated by Israel: Jack Khoury, Haaretz, Nov 12, 2019


Israel Kills Senior Islamic Jihad Commander in Gaza
Isabel Kershner, Iyad Abuheweila and David M. Halbfinger
NYT, Nov. 12, 2019

In a surprise strike before dawn on Tuesday, Israeli forces killed a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in the Gaza Strip, setting off waves of retaliatory rocket attacks that immediately raised fears of an escalating new conflict. Islamic Jihad said that the commander’s wife was also killed in the attack, which the Israeli military said was a missile strike from a fighter jet.

Right away, militants in Gaza began firing barrages of rockets toward southern and central Israel from the Palestinian coastal enclave. Islamic Jihad released a statement saying “our response to this crime will have no limits.” The group called the strike “a declaration of war against the Palestinian people.”

Bracing for a broader fight, the Israeli military said in a statement that it had deployed troops and was “prepared for a wide range of offensive and defensive scenarios.” Schools and businesses were closed in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area as air-raid sirens blared and Iron Dome missiles intercepted incoming at least 20 rockets, officials said. Tens of thousands of Israelis took cover in bomb shelters.

The Israeli military described the commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, as a “ticking bomb” who was “responsible for most of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s activity in the Gaza Strip.” The group is listed as a terrorist organization by many countries, and is supported by Iran.

The military said Mr. Abu al-Ata was to blame for rocket fire toward the Israeli border town of Sderot in August and early November, and he was being closely monitored over the past week because he was planning a specific new attack against Israel.

Militant groups in Gaza have clashed with Israel several times in recent years, with the last deadly conflagration taking place over several days in May. A devastating war in the summer of 2014 lasted 50 days and ended with a fragile cease-fire that has since been broken many times.

Targeted strikes against militant leaders have led to war before. In 2012, an Israeli airstrike that killed Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military commander at the time, became the opening shot of an eight-day war. A spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said the attack on Tuesday was timed to minimize the chance of other deaths or injuries. He said the military was aware of and looking into reports of “other casualties,” including Mr. Abu al-Ata’s wife.

Islamic Jihad also blamed Israel for another missile attack at dawn on Tuesday on the Damascus home of Akram al-Ajouri, describing him as a member of the group’s political bureau in Syria. Mr. Ajouri was reported to have survived the attack. Sana, the official Syrian news agency, reported that a son of Mr. Ajouri and another civilian were killed in the attack. Mr. Ajouri is said to be the direct superior of Mr. Abu al-Ata. The Israeli military refused to comment on the attack in Damascus. The only confirmed Israeli casualties as of midmorning involved people who suffered minor injuries as they raced to shelters or who were treated for panic or fainting, officials said. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

The Islamic Jihad and the Israeli Dilemma in the Gaza Strip
Kobi Michael, Yohanan Tzoreff
INSS Insight No. 1223, November 5, 2019

The barrage of rockets launched at Sderot and the Gaza periphery by the Islamic Jihad in northern Gaza on the night of November 1, 2019 underscored the Israeli dilemma regarding the Gaza Strip. This incident, which demonstrated both Islamic Jihad’s autonomy and Hamas’s difficulty in restraining the organization, is another episode in the rise of the Islamic Jihad, which impacts on Hamas’s status, security stability in Gaza, and prospects for Israel reaching an accommodation with Hamas.

Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, which is supported and influenced by Iran, has grown steadily stronger. This is reflected in its pursuit of a course that is independent of and challenging toward Hamas, particularly regarding the understandings for calm with Israel and Hamas’s relationship with other factions in the Strip. Against this backdrop, Israel faces a dilemma as to the policy it should adopt toward the Gaza Strip. If Israel wishes to continue to isolate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, it must ensure security calm in the area, and by extension reach understandings/accommodation with Hamas, which perforce means a trade-off in terms of easing the embargo on the Strip. This accommodation would oblige Israel, while deterring Hamas and exacting a heavy price for violations of the understandings, to ensure that Hamas retains the ability to govern and restrain factions seeking to foil prospects for calm.

The direct dialogue between Egypt and Islamic Jihad in itself attests to the group’s rising status. A senior Islamic Jihad delegation recently completed a visit to Cairo made at the behest of the Egyptian general intelligence apparatus, which handles the Gaza issue. The delegation was invited outside the framework of talks Egyptian intelligence holds with Palestinian factions, led by Hamas, with a view to enhancing coordination among them, mainly in order to prevent escalation in and around the Strip. The Islamic Jihad delegation included Ziyad al-Nakhalah, secretary-general of the organization in Gaza, senior political figures Mohammed al-Hindi and Nafiz Azzam, and three commanders of the Saraya al-Quds armed wing, including Baha Abu al-Ata, who is responsible for launching several rocket attacks without command authority. The backdrop to the visit was Egypt’s fear that Islamic Jihad would ignore the arrangement between Israel and Hamas that Egypt is trying to forge, as well as concern over non-compliance by the group with Hamas’s policy of restraint, and Hamas’s noticeable hesitation to enforce this policy. Egypt was able to secure the release of 81 Islamic Jihad operatives, some of whom returned to Gaza with the delegation.

Egypt’s heightened efforts to ensure security calm in the Gaza theater reflect concern that tension between Iran and Israel will play out there as well. Islamic Jihad’s standing in Gaza is a function of the aid it receives from Iran, which sees the organization as leverage regarding the Palestinian realm and Israel. It is highly doubtful that the group could defy an Iranian demand to take action against Israel at a time of regional escalation involving Iran. The group’s buildup since the blow it sustained during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, including its current arsenal of rockets and missiles, some long range, result from Iranian aid and military training. This process has also helped improve the group’s status within the Palestinian theater. On occasion, in a departure from its traditional separatism, the group has even served as a mediator between Hamas and Fatah and sought to lead united action by the factions within the Strip. Islamic Jihad has become the second largest resistance group in the Strip, with positions and capabilities that cannot be ignored. Secretary-General Nakhalah, who is very close to Iran and lives in a Shiite suburb of Beirut, consistently calls to step up actions against Israel, while calling on the Palestinian Authority to ignore signed agreements with Israel and urging Palestinians overall to abandon the idea of elections in the PA or steps toward unity. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

An Election Season of Gaza Violence
Alex Fishman
Ynet, Nov. 11, 2019

A few days before last weekend’s rocket barrage on Sderot, a political event occurred whose importance is difficult to overstate: Hamas responded positively to bitter rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and agreed to take part in Palestinian parliamentary elections. From that point onwards, all political and security events surrounding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been affected not just by one election campaign, but two – in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

And just as Israeli politics is held captivate by the election campaign, Palestinian politics also operates in the thrall of populism as elections loom. This includes the rocket fire at the weekend as well as the possibility of the Gaza-Israel border heating up.

In the middle of last week, Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh sent a positive response to Abbas following the president’s declaration of parliamentary elections, to be held apart from the presidential elections set to take place three months later. In Israel, in fact, Hamas surprised officials by giving up its traditional position of holding elections for all Palestinian institutions at the same time. Furthermore, Haniyeh’s letter was signed by all the organizations in the Gaza Strip, including Islamic Jihad.

The power demonstrated by Hamas by uniting the ranks and receiving such political commitment from all the organizations calls into question the firm declaration by Israel’s defense establishment that the responsibility for the weekend attacks lay solely with a rogue commander swayed by Iran and firing whenever the mood took him.

At best, this is a convenient excuse to alleviate public pressure and avoid making too many waves. Even if Islamic Jihad is directly responsible for the rocket fire, it was undoubtedly carried out in coordination with, and with the knowledge of and even encouragement from the Hamas leadership. As such, the military was right to respond to the attack by striking on Hamas targets – both because Islamic Jihad apparently does not provide enough quality targets, and also because these attacks are an opportunity to erode Hamas’ significant military power. Putting a plane in the air is a costly affair, and if the target is not of high enough quality it’s a waste of money. Hamas communicates with Israel via rockets and did so last weekend.

In the past two months, there has been a significant drop in violence of all forms from the Gaza Strip. This was down to Israeli deterrence – a concept invented by Israel when it comes to counterterrorism to explain its successes and justify its failures.

Deterrence is a concept related to an unconventional arms race, and that is where it should stay. The calm lasted because the terrorist army, namely Hamas, had an interest in preserving it.

Israel has demonstrated its willingness to implement what Hamas sees as its commitments for the ceasefire between the two sides. There have been positive developments in the form of a field hospital established in northern Gaza, site visits with the aim of setting up the new electricity line for the Strip, and other steps to ease economic deprivations.
… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Who Was Baha Abu al-Ata, Gaza’s Elusive Islamic Jihad Commander Assassinated by Israel
Jack Khoury
Haaretz, Nov 12, 2019

Last weekend, a shower of rockets on southern Israel was credited to Baha Abu al-Ata, a household name to Gazans but a name that was practically unknown to Israelis. But Ata, a leading figure in Islamic Jihad, had become a dominant figure in the Strip, associated with the rise and fall of tensions with Israel.

Ata headed the military council of the Al-Quds Brigade, which is the military arm of the Islamic Jihad. He commanded the organization’s operations in northern Gaza, but also wielded great influence on the southern front. Since Hamas is the sovereign power in Gaza, not Islamic Jihad, both Israeli and Palestinian sources suggested Ata had no responsibility toward Palestinian civilians, giving him greater freedom to act.

Ata had several hundred fighters under his command and an arsenal of dozens of rockets at his disposal that could be fired at Israel, Gazan sources claimed. They added that he wasn’t a lone wolf, but worked with a cohort of Islamic Jihad field commanders who have no qualms with contradicting their superiors, whether in Gaza or Beirut. However, Palestinian Authority intelligence sources told Haaretz that Israeli officials overestimated Ata’s power to drive a frontal confrontation with Israel. Another indication of Ata’s status in Gaza was his involvement in talks between Gazan leaders and Egyptian officials, including a meeting that took place in October.

Like other Jihad and Hamas leaders, Ata didn’t give interviews. He operated in the shadows and his appearances in public were rare. He behaved as though he lived under constant mortal threat. Recently, Islamic Jihad stated that he was a freedom fighter for the Palestinian cause and issued a warning against harming him.

Though his clout had been mounting lately, threats to his life were nothing new. During Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Israel attempted to assassinate him together with other leaders. An Israeli airstrike hit a building he was in, but Ata survived. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, his house was bombed, but the Islamic Jihad interpreted the strike as a mere warning, as Ata wasn’t home at the time.

Following the rocket fire from Gaza to Israel on Friday, the Israeli army attacked Hamas targets in Gaza to signal Hamas that Islamic Jihad needs to be restrained. However, even though it has the ability, it had seemed that Hamas didn’t try to restrain either the organization or Ata himself.

Within the Islamic Jihad, Ata was subordinate to the political leadership, headed by Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhala, who operates out of Beirut and is believed to have ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and to Hezbollah. Hamas and Islamic Jihad had not taken any action to muzzle Ata, likely because they were using him to exert pressure both on Israel and the mediating nations – Egypt and Qatar.

 For Further Reference:

Islamic Jihad Says Senior Commander Targeted In Damascus Strike, Son KilledTimes of Israel, Nov. 12, 2019 — Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Syria said Tuesday morning that a building bombed overnight in Damascus was the home of Akram al-Ajouri, a senior member of the terror group.

Israel Hit By 50 Rockets From Gaza After Airstrike Kills Islamic Jihad Leader: Patrick Smith, Paul Goldman, Lawahez Jabari and Rachel Elbaum, NBC News, Nov. 12, 2019 — Around 50 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel after an Israeli airstrike targeted and killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza early on Tuesday in the most serious escalation of violence in months.

The Palestine Islamic Jihad – Background Information:  Dr. Meir Litvak, IDC Herzliya, Feb. 26, 2003 –– The Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is the most radical terrorist organization operating in the Palestinian arena. It was established in 1981 by two Islamist activists in the Gaza Strip, Dr. Fathi `Abd al-`Aziz Shiqaqi, a physician from Rafah, and Shaykh `Abd al-`Aziz `Awda, a preacher from the Jabaliyya refugee camp.

Mapping Palestinian Politics– The al-Quds Brigades (AQB) were founded in 1992 as the armed wing of Islamic Jihad (PIJ). AQB is commanded in the Gaza Strip by Baha Abu al-Ata.