As we continue to monitor the sustainability of the current cease-fire, it is a useful time to reflect on one of the key triggers to the latest Gaza conflict: The Nov. 14 assassination of Ahmed Jabari, chief of Hamas' armed wing, the Izz al-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, and architect of the group's Iranian-made Fajr-5 rocket program.
Various commentators in the Israeli media have written about Jabari's past cooperation with Israel. Stratfor sources in the region claim that Jabari's fondness for money and women made him an ideal person to work with. In addition to working with the Israelis to a limited extent, he also allegedly worked with the Iranians and Qataris and was rumored to be on the payroll of all three countries' intelligence services (this information could not be verified, but the fact that Jabari played a major role in the Fajr-5 program strongly supports the claim that he was working with Iran). Jabari was also believed to be integral to the negotiations over the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. For several years, Israel viewed Jabari as essential to maintaining the balance of power in Gaza.
This was especially true after 2006, when Hamas had just risen to political power but had to fight a civil war with Fatah to control Gaza. Even then, Hamas had become economically isolated by the Israeli blockade and politically alienated in the Arab world. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Hamas paid a high price. The Israeli military operation left more than 1,000 Palestinians dead and devastated much of the infrastructure in Gaza. Hamas at this time made a conscious decision to avoid major confrontations with Israel and would occasionally clash with more radical groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad that insisted on sustaining attacks. Israel took advantage of Hamas' predicament and sought out figures such Jabari, who carried significant clout in the group's military operations and could be incentivized to help secure the border and contain Hamas' military activities.
But that cooperation obviously ended, as evidenced by the Israeli decision to assassinate him. A Stratfor source connected to Hamas explains that Jabari's move to discontinue cooperation with Israel came during the Arab unrest, as Hamas began to realize its growing strength with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the heavy military support it was receiving from Iran at the same time. No longer able to rely on Jabari to police Gaza and likely aware that Jabari's cooperation with Iran had turned critical, Israel presumably made the decision to eliminate him, sparking seven days of mortar and rocket fire, including, most importantly, the Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets that Jabari was instrumental in bringing to Gaza.
Jabari's story in many ways represents the potential shift in the balance of power that we are currently witnessing in the Israeli-Palestinian theater. If the cease-fire holds, and if Israel doesn't follow through with a military campaign that devastates Hamas, then Hamas can walk away from this conflict with a major symbolic victory as the only militant group that has demonstrated the capability to attack the Israeli heartland from its home base. To wit, the risk Hamas took in arming itself with the Iranian-made Fajr-5s may well have been worth it. This is a dynamic that many Israelis fear, as can already be seen in the rising domestic opposition to the Israeli Cabinet's decision to agree to the cease-fire in the first place.