Ahmed Jabari was a subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel's security in Gaza. This title will no doubt sound absurd to anyone who in the past several hours has heard Jabari described as "an arch-terrorist," "the terror chief of staff" or "our Bin Laden."
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But that was the reality for the past five and a half years. Israel demanded of Hamas that it observe the truce in the south and enforce it on the multiplicity of armed organizations in the Gaza Strip. The man responsible for carrying out this policy was Ahmed Jabari.
In return for enforcing the quiet, which was never perfect, Israel funded the Hamas regime through the flow of shekels in armored trucks to banks in Gaza, and continued to supply infrastructure and medical services to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Jabari was also Israel's partner in the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit; it was he who ensured the captive soldier's welfare and safety, and it was he who saw to Shalit's return home last fall.
Now Israel is saying that its subcontractor did not do his part and did not maintain the promised quiet on the southern border. The repeated complaint against him was that Hamas did not succeed in controlling the other organizations, even though it is not interested in escalation. After Jabari was warned openly (Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff reported here at the beginning of this week that the assassination of top Hamas people would be renewed), he was executed on Wednesday in a public assassination action, for which Israel hastened to take responsibility. The message was simple and clear: You failed - you're dead. Or, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak likes to say, "In the Middle East there is no second chance for the weak."
The assassination of Jabari will go down in history as another showy military action initiated by an outgoing government on the eve of an election.
This is what researcher Prof. Yagil Levy has called "fanning the conflict as an intra-state control strategy:" The external conflict helps a government strengthen its standing domestically because the public unites behind the army, and social and economic problems are edged off the national agenda.
This recipe is familiar from 1955, when David Ben-Gurion returned from his exile in Sde Boker and led the Israel Defense Forces to a retaliatory action in Gaza, and his party, Mapai, to victory in the election. (Barak recalled this period with nostalgia, when he spoke last week at a memorial for Moshe Dayan). Ever since, whenever the ruling party feels threatened at the ballot box, it puts its finger on the trigger. The examples are common knowledge: the launch of the Shavit 2 missile in the summer of 1961, in the midst of the Lavon affair; the bombing of the Iraqi reactor in 1981; Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon in 1996, and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza on the eve of the 2009 election. In the two latter cases, the military action turned into a defeat in the election.
There is a disagreement among historians as to whether it is necessary to add the Yom Kippur War to the list. In that conflict, which broke out on the eve of the 1973 election, the Arabs fired first, but their decision to go to war was taken in the context of the increasingly extreme position of Prime Minister Golda Meir's government which had refused Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's peace offer and declared an expansion of Israeli settlements in Sinai.
This, for example, is the opinion of researchers Prof. Motti Golani and Shoshana Ishoni-Barri.
The current operation, Pillar of Defense, belongs in the same category. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in neutralizing every possible rival, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is fighting for enough votes to return to the Knesset. A war against Hamas will wipe out the electoral aspirations of the ditherer, Ehud Olmert, whose disciples expected him to announce his candidacy this evening and it will kick off the agenda the "social and economic issue" that serves the Labor Party headed by MK Shelly Yacimovich.
When the cannons roar, we see only Netanyahu and Barak on the screen, and all the other politicians have to applaud them.
The political outcome of the operation will become clear on January 22. The strategic ramifications are more complex: Israel will have to find a new subcontractor to replace Ahmed Jabari as its border guard in the south, and it will also have to ensure that its action in Gaza does not cause the collapse of its peace treaty with Egypt under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Hamas movement's patron.
These are not easy challenges and the results of the operation will be judged by the extent to which they are met.