Bahaa Abou Al-Ata…A Name Deeply Engraved within the Israeli Mind
Abou al-Ata was responsible for removing the “Master of Israeli Security” from the podium in an embarrassing fashion, which Netanyahu viewed as a personal insult.
The decision taken by “Israel” to assassinate Bahaa Abou al-Ata, the leader of the northern region in the Quds Brigades – the military faction of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine -, was certainly not a normal event. It took place on the dawn of Tuesday, 12 November 2019, and showcased a string of complicated Israeli calculations given that this assassination would be the first targeting a resistance commander since 2012, and occurred amidst a lack of tension or war.
Thus, the two Israeli institutions, the political and military, were aware that taking this decision would certainly break the equation sanctified by the Palestinian resistance, which stipulates that any assassination equals a war.
Subsequently, the assassination of Abou al-Ata, for “Israel”, was a declaration of a military battle with the resistance in Gaza. And certainly, the Israeli intelligence assessments know very well that the shrapnel of the Gaza rockets in that battle will not be confined to the borders of the settlements around the Gaza Strip and the south, but will rather reach deep into the “Gush Dan” area, the most densely populated center in the occupied lands.
Nonetheless, this scenario occurred in the battle of “Sayhat al-Fajr” (The Cry of Dawn) which the al-Quds Brigades fought against "Israel."
Two years after the assassination of Bahaa Abou al-Ata, the question still remains: what was the Israeli view of the Palestinian leader’s personality? And what did it represent in the Israeli mindset of both military and political institutions?
Amos Gilad, head of the Israeli Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) and former director of policy and political-military affairs at the Ministry of Security, answered when asked about Bahaa Abou al-Ata by saying: “He was the chief motivator for the Islamic Jihad’s operation, and possesses a strong and bold personality.”
Israeli Occupation Army Spokesman Heidi Zilberman did not diverge from Gilad’s assessment, saying to journalists following the assassination of Abou al-Ata that “Israel” understands well that the martyr was “a wild element, mostly working according to a point of view paradoxical to regional interests.” This confirms that the occupation dealt with the resistance leader as a major hurdle to its regional plans, the most important of which were:
The First: “Israel” was in need of cooling down the Gaza front through understandings of instilling calm in exchange for humanitarian facilitations (on a humanitarian level). This approach turned, two years after the assassination of Abou al-Ata, into a full-fledged plan put forward by the Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid, and adopted by his government, titled “Security in exchange for Economy”, away from any political dimensions related to the Palestinian rights as a people under occupation.
The Second: The political leadership of the Israeli occupation at the time, represented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, considered that the continuation of the “ninth hour” strategy -of which martyr Abou al-Ata was the icon- that maintains a state of perpetual conflict through engagement with “Israel,” negatively affects the impetus of some normalizing countries to steer towards "Tel Aviv", which Netanyahu considered a major goal of his regional policies. Moreover, the name of Bahaa Abou al-Ata was engraved deeply in Netanyahu's mind at two instances that had great impact on his policies and personality.
The first instance was Abu al-Ata’s crucial role in sanctifying the eye for an eye equation with the occupation, which came in defense of the peaceful protesters who were being assaulted during their “Return Marches” by the IOF. This equation engendered successive rounds of military escalations, becoming the main reason behind the toppling of Netanyahu’s government in November 2018 following the resignation of the then-Minister of Security, Avigdor Lieberman, who opposed accepting a ceasefire with the resistance in Gaza right after the “Ashkelon Hell” battle. Lieberman viewed this “compromise” as a capitulation on the part of Netanyahu's government.
The second instance was al-Ata’s responsibility for removing Netenyahu, the so-called “master of Israeli security,” from the podium in an embarrassing fashion in front of his electoral audience in “Ashdod”. This incident was considered by the former PM as a personal insult to him that affected his entire political future, especially with the wide circulation of Abou al-Ata’s picture in Israeli media. Although this circulation aimed to send a threat to the Palestinian leader in order to hinder his work, the continuation of al-Quds Brigades, under his leadership, in the engagement strategy, made him a permanent presence in the Israeli media. Every time Bahaa Abou al-Ata's photo is published, the Israeli public recalls the humiliation of Netanyahu and his escape from Abou al-Ata's missiles to the shelter.
The Third: At the time, “Israel” was seeking to focus its efforts on the northern front and the Iranian nuclear project, taking advantage of the presence of US President Donald Trump in office. However, as the Gaza front continued to heat up through the engagement strategy, the occupation considered that the Islamic Jihad, as an effective part of the resistance axis, impeded these Israeli endeavors. Therefore, the Israeli occupation planes tried to assassinate in Damascus the commander of the military department in the Islamic Jihad movement, Akram al-Ajouri, whom "Tel Aviv" calls the military mastermind of the al-Quds Brigades, in tandem with their assassination of Abou al-Ata, who was considered the most powerful executive commander in the Brigades. Thus, “Israel” would have dealt a simultaneous double blow to the military mind and arm of the Islamic Jihad, in order to paralyze the military capacity of the al-Quds Brigades.
This strategy echoes the mistakes made in 1995 when former Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin decided to assassinate the founder of the Islamic Jihad movement and its first secretary-general, Dr. Fathi Shaqaqi, believing that the movement was solely based on the person of Shaqaqi.
However, less than six months later, the Islamic Jihad was carrying out its first operations in "Tel Aviv," in response to the assassination of martyr Shaqaqi, under the leadership of Dr. Ramadan Shallah back then, may God rest his soul in peace.
In the case of Bahaa Abou al-Ata, the Jihad movement, led by its Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhala, did not wait extensively to prove to “Israel” the failure of its expectations: Half an hour after Abou al-Ata’s assassination, al-Quds Brigades fired a rocket barrage in the direction of the "Gush Dan" area, announcing the start of the “Sayhat al-Fajr” battle.