As others slam timing as ‘political,’ Gantz backs slaying of Gaza terror chief

Blue and White leader says ‘difficult decisions’ are needed in campaign against terrorism; other opposition MKs accuse Netanyahu of ordering assassination for personal gain

Blue and White party chairman MK Benny Gantz speaks at faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Blue and White party chairman MK Benny Gantz speaks at faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Opposition leader MK Benny Gantz on Tuesday gave his support to Israel’s early-morning slaying of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander in the Gaza Strip, as terror groups responded by launching dozens of rockets at Israel, shutting down cities from the south all the way to the Tel Aviv area.

While some opposition lawmakers accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being motivated by political considerations in ordering the assassination, others called for unity in the face of the rocket attacks and urged that politics be set aside.

Gantz tweeted that the government had made the “correct decision” in ordering the targeted killing of Baha Abu al-Ata in a strike in Gaza.

“The campaign against terror is continuous and requires moments when difficult decisions must be made,” Gantz wrote. “The political leadership and the IDF made the correct decision tonight for the sake of the security of Israeli civilians and residents of the south.

“Blue and White will back every correct action for the sake of Israel’s security and will put the security of residents above politics,” Gantz continued. “Every terrorist who endangers our security should know that he deserves to die.”

Ahead of the elections, Gantz, a former IDF commander who is currently attempting to form a coalition, campaigned on taking a strong stance against attacks from Gaza. In the past he accused Netanyahu of “erasing” Israel’s deterrence versus terror groups by holding back on firm military action.

Blue and White party No. 2 MK Yair Lapid wrote that “deterrence can only be restored using force.”

Joint list Leader MK Ayman Odeh at a press conference in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Ayman Odeh, who leads the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties, slammed Netanyahu, accusing him of ordering the killing of Abu al-Ata for political gain at a time when his grasp on the premiership is the most tenuous in a decade.

“A cynical man who lost two consecutive elections will leave only scorched earth in a desperate attempt to remain in office,” Odeh tweeted. “For ten years he has risen every morning with the aim of deepening the occupation [of the West Bank] and distancing the chances for peace.”

Odeh was backed by fellow Joint List members MK Aida Touma-Sliman, who tweeted that “Netanyahu’s cynicism and cruelty know no bounds — he started a war as a political exercise” and MK Ofer Kasif, who wrote that “to save his own skin — Netanyahu resorted to the only thing he can do — kill, destroy.”

Other opposition lawmakers accused Netanyahu of political motives in deciding to order the assassination.

Labor-Gesher MK Omer Bar-Lev told Kan public radio that he was concerned the killing was ordered to prevent Gantz from forming a minority coalition.

“There were many opportunities in recent months to carry out targeted killings,” Bar Lev said, but, he claimed, Netanyahu chose not to go ahead. “Therefore, when now of all times, seven days before the end of Gantz’s mandate to form a government, they do a targeted killing — it really, really bothers me.”

Labor party MK Omer Bar Lev at a meeting of the Labor party in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90 )

Killing Abu al-Ata would “make it difficult, or prevent, Benny Gantz from forming a minority government,” Bar Lev said, apparently referring to the political and security fallout from such an action.

According to previous reports from Kan, Gantz is actively considering forming a minority government with the support of the Joint List.

Democratic Union MK Stav Shaffir tweeted, “Today it is hard to not ask questions about the timing. The security deterrent should have been restored long ago — not with an interim government, while the mandate [to form a government] is in the hands of others [Gantz], and every one of Bibi’s [Netanyahu’s] decision raises a cloud of suspicions. The situation is dangerous.”

Labor-Gesher alliance chairman MK Amir Peretz, while apparently questioning the wisdom of targeting Abu al-Ata, urged that politics be set aside.

“In these times, the most important thing is to give absolute backing to the IDF and strengthen the spirit of the residents whose steadfast standing over the years is the true strength of Israel,” Peretz said in a statement.

“We must not now engage in political questions,” he said. “There will be plenty of time for analyses and interpretations. The security of Israeli citizens is paramount, above all other considerations.”

Democratic Union MK Stav Shafir during a discussion in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on August 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Netanyahu’s Likud party said the slaying of Abu al-Ata “sends a clear message to all terrorists — no one is immune.”

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar called for political unity amid the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“The people of Israel are united in these moments, and this unity should also be reflected in the political system and will add strength to Israel,” Sa’ar said on Twitter.

“The target should be dismantling Hamas’s military infrastructure and Islamic Jihad in Gaza,” he said.

President Reuven Rivlin made a plea for political unity along with a message of support to the country’s citizens.

“This is no time for political squabbles, and those who do so bring no credit to themselves,” Rivlin tweeted. “It is time to stop such statements immediately. Israeli citizens – please listen to the life-saving instructions of the IDF Home Front Command and take good care of yourselves.

“We stand behind the security forces, who have been working for the success of this morning’s operations for a long time. I know that they, and the Israeli government that approved the operation, have Israel’s security, and only that, on their minds,” the president said.

The IDF said it carried out a strike against a building where Abu al-Ata was present in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City early Tuesday morning. It said he was planning an “imminent” attack at Iran’s behest.

In this file photo taken on October 21, 2016 Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu Al-Ata attends a rally in Gaza city. (STR/AFP)

Abu al-Ata was thought to be the powerful head of the northern Gaza branch of Islamic Jihad’s military wing, and was seen as responsible for a number of rocket attacks on the country.

The IDF ordered schools closed in southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, as terror groups in the Gaza Strip began firing rockets at cities and towns in retaliation for the assassination.

Despite two rounds of elections in recent months, a political deadlock has continued to prevent an elected government taking office in Israel. Netanyahu, who failed to form a coalition after the last round of voting in September, continues to lead an interim government.

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