The late Ahmed Jaabari was the leader of the military wing of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood movement that took power after a coup in Gaza. The several thousand men under his command served as a kind of secret police force, far more powerful than the other Islamist or tribal armed groups in Gaza. More powerful too than political leaders like Ismail Haniya or Khalid Mashaal, who in effect are civilians.
Over the last few days the Hamas military wing has fired 115 missiles and rockets out of Gaza into Israel. A number like that reflects the state of politics. In the usual run of things only a few rockets are fired, not enough to do more than prove that Hamas is active, and certainly not enough to warrant an armed Israeli response. 115 in a few days is a very different matter. Hamas leaders can only have wanted to test out the balance of power after the American election. They may well have concluded that Israel would not dare respond for fear of President Obama’s condemnation. In which case, they could fire off another 115. They have a fail-safe option as well. They are confident of the support of the parent Muslim Brotherhood group now in power in Egypt. The Egyptian leadership is bound to condemn Israel in public, for otherwise it will be exposed as hypocritical — talking enmity with Israel but in practice inactive.
Taking out Jaabari, Israel has drawn a line. Token rockets, yes perhaps, a barrage, no. Jaabari lived underground out of precaution. To have identified his whereabouts accurately and to have struck the car he was in is a feat requiring the highest levels of intelligence and technical skills. The pity of it is that previous Hamas leaders have deceived themselves that this strategy of violence will eliminate Israel, only to pay for such folly with their lives. Each time a master terrorist like Jaabari is killed, they swear they will open the gates of hell on Israel, only to find that they are herding themselves through those very gates.