Tel Aviv - Israel’s assassination of Hamas leaders Mohammed Abu Shamala, Raed al-Attar and Mohammed Barhoum in Rafah’s al-Sultan neighborhood on Thursday marks a major strategic shift in the Hamas/Israeli conflict.
Israel, facing increased Western criticisms of lopsided body counts between Israelis and Palestinians, has begun focusing on terminating specific Hamas leaders.
The targeted killings of Hamas leadership came a day after an assassination attempt on Mohammed Deif, the top commander of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.
Hamas has ridiculed Israel for failing to kill Deif, however, the terrorist organization has produced no evidence that their military chief is still alive.
While IDF has reported killing nearly 1,000 rank-and-file Hamas fighters during the current conflict, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were also killed in the war started by Hamas when it kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers.
Because Hamas stores weapons in, and fires rockets from, Palestinian public venues like schools, mosques and hospitals, and has been accused of using human shields to protect its fighters, Israel has apparently changed its approach to defeating Hamas to one of targeting the individual leaders of the terrorist organization.
In an interview published Thursday between Josef Federman of the Associated Press and Hari Sreenivasan of PBS, the change in strategy was discussed at length.
When asked about Israel’s targeting of individual leaders of Hamas, Federman said, “Yes, it seems to be quite a sophisticated intelligence operation. You heard the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, praising his intelligence services. I think what made this so interesting is that these three men were underground.
They have been in hiding for the duration of this war over the past month or so. And from what we understand, they literally — they came out of a tunnel. They had been in hiding. And, in a matter of minutes, Israel tracked them down and killed them. So that tells you something about Israel’s tracking abilities.”
“We reported today that a member of Hamas took responsibility for the kidnapping and killing of those three teenagers that really started this newest round of conflicts. Was that a surprise in the region?” Sreenivasan asked.
“It was a big surprise, because Hamas has been keeping quiet about this,” said Federman.
“They have — actually, they have been very proud — or they have praised the kidnapping repeatedly, but they have always been careful to say that they didn’t do it or they didn’t know who did it. Suddenly, one of Hamas’ top people, an exiled leader who lives in Turkey, is claiming responsibility.
That seems to change the equation in many ways, because now Hamas is essentially admitting that they are — they played a role in setting off this whole chain of events that led to this war.”
Meanwhile, Hamas has abdicated some of its negotiations authority to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who rules Palestine outside of the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is the elected arm of government.
“We also see some developments elsewhere in the region. Qatar, a — the Gulf country, a close ally of Hamas, is hosting the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas’ leader, Khaled Meshaal, this evening. So there is some hope on that end,” said Federman.
However, the principle demands of both sides remain polarized and un-negotiable. Hamas is demanding an Egyptian Israeli blockade be lifted to allow resources into Palestine.
Meanwhile, that’s not likely to happen because both Egypt and Israel believed lifting the blockade will encourage those who supply Hamas rockets and other weaponry to step up their weapons-smuggling operations.
For its part, Israel demands an immediate cease-fire of rockets and other attacks on Israel and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Hamas has publicly announced the destruction of Israel as a goal of the terrorist organization.