Israel Approved Abu al-Ata’s Assassination Two Years Ago, but Postponed It Several Times

Baha Abu al-Ata, the senior Islamic Jihad commander whom Israel assassinated on Tuesday, did more than anyone else to undermine the south’s stability over the last year. Hamas, Egypt and even his own organization lost influence over him, and he began acting like an independent neighborhood thug.

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– Haaretz Weekly 12/11

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That he was killed now, defense officials said, wasn’t because he had suddenly become more dangerous; it was mainly a question of opportunity. But they are hopeful his death will restore the quiet needed for a longer-term agreement between Israel and Hamas.

The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service had prepared a plan to kill Abu al-Ata two years ago, but there were arguments over the proper timing. The army thought (and still thinks) that priority should go to tensions in the north, whereas Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman thought Abu al-Ata should be killed the moment it became possible. But until recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the security cabinet sided with the army.

The army’s concern was that if fighting erupted following the assassination, there was no way to predict how much damage it would cause or how long it would last. Since the air force could deal with Abu al-Ata’s weapons (rockets, snipers and drones), it argued, it was better to live with his attacks than to risk undermining preparedness for a possible war in the north.