Ahmed Jabari, the commander of the military wing of Hamas, the man who held Gilad Shalit’s right arm as he escorted him out of Gaza, was killed today in a joint Shin Bet and Israeli Air Force operation.
For the past 10 years Jabari has been the commander of the military wing of the organization. He was promoted to that post in everything but title on September 26, 2002, when an Israeli Hellfire missile slammed into the car carrying the previous commander, Mohammed Deif, who was seen crawling out of the smoldering vehicle, badly injured, and has never returned to a true command position.
Jabari was an unlikely successor. Born in 1960 in the village of Saja’iea, Gaza, he was the son of a family from Hebron that had been forced to leave the West Bank on account of a blood feud. Living in Gaza without the support of an extended family leaves one with little clout. Moreover, his first anti-Israel moves were made, at age 17, under the auspices of Fatah, not Hamas.
In 1982 he was arrested by Israeli forces. In Israeli prison he learned Hebrew but also grew fervently religious and asked to be switched to the Hamas wing of the prison. According to Shlomi Eldar’s new book, “Getting to Know Hamas,” Jabari refused to sign a commitment to cease and desist from terror activity and was therefore not released from prison along with Fatah prisoners during the early days of the Oslo Accords.
He served his complete term of 13 years and was released back to Gaza, in 1995, a full member of Hamas.
At first he was given a position caring for released prisoners. But as was the case throughout his career, the combination of targeted killings within the Izz Ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and time spent in prison pushed him up the leadership ladder.
He was involved in the awful terror bombings committed by Hamas after the assassination of Yehia Ayash, “the Engineer,” in 1996, claiming the lives of 59 Israelis.
In October 1998, after helping execute a terror attack on a school bus in the settlement of Kfar Darom that killed two Israeli children, he was arrested by the Fatah security forces and jailed in Gaza.
There he befriended the late head of Hamas in Gaza, Abed al-Aziz Rantisi, who appointed him the liaison between the military wing of the organization and its spiritual founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
He was also linked through marriage to the nucleus of Hamas leadership. His son, Muhammad, married the daughter of Salah Shehadeh, a top Hamas military chief who was assassinated by Israel in 2002.
His true rise to power, however, came on June 25, 2006. Jabari sent a Hamas squad along with members of the Popular Resistance Committee and Army of Islam to tunnel into Israel. They killed two Israeli soldiers and took Gilad Shalit hostage in Gaza. The move was made, Eldar wrote, despite the firm opposition of political leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Shalit was released on October 18, 2011, in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. This was an enormous victory for Jabari and the hard-line camp within Hamas. “After the deal was sealed, Jabari, the military commander of Hamas,” Eldar wrote, “became… the unrivaled leader of the Gaza Strip and Hamas.”