Most Gazans weren’t familiar with the name Bahaa Abu Al-Ata until Israel talked him up as the mastermind behind occasional Islamic Jihad projectile attacks on Israel. His type of actions were the target of general disapproval, disrupting as they did the cease-fire understandings between Hamas and Israel.
That all changed when Israel assassinated him early Tuesday, along with his wife, in the densely populated neighborhood of Shejaiya, during that same cease-fire.
Now al-Ata is a martyr, a hero; he’s been transformed in his death at Israel’s hands into an icon of Palestinian resistance. His rocket attacks are now reframed as a necessary corrective against an "enemy that never honors cease-fire agreements."
Although Netanyahu called Al-Ata "a ticking bomb," and Benny Gantz claimed the decision was appropriate "both politically and operationally," the act and timing of Israel's killing of an Islamic Jihad commander were fundamentally wrong, reprehensible and carelessly put civilian lives on both sides in danger.
The timing is catastrophic, if not malevolent; it constitutes a full-scale assault on the last stages of intra-Palestinian efforts to hold long-awaited, and hopefully transparent and democratic, national elections for the first time in 13 years, a pathway to restoring unity between the West Bank and Gaza.
Not only that: Israel is knowingly reviving a failed, irresponsible policy of assassination – which in all past cases have only revived support for violence and jihadist militarism, and produced no positive change – is entirely cynical.
Israel has countless alternatives to the use of brute force, but that its prime minister, mired in a fight for his own political survival, ordered the hit "to serve his own purposes…is inevitable and unavoidable."