Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had last year blocked the targeted killing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata, a move carried out by the Israel Defense Forces earlier Tuesday.
“A year ago, Netanyahu resisted [Abu al-Ata’s] targeted killing and sat back. I thought even a year ago that his time had come, but the prime minister forcibly prevented it,” Liberman told the Walla news site.
According to Channel 12, Israel’s top military brass were opposed to the strike at the time, prompting Netanyahu to abandon the plan.
In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israeli Air Force jets fired precision ammunition at a building in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City where PIJ senior commander Abu al-Ata was located, eliminating him and killing his wife, in a joint operation by the IDF and Shin Bet security service.
According to the IDF, Abu al-Ata was the true “senior commander” of the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, having ordered the group to carry out most of the significant rocket and border attacks from the Palestinian enclave in recent months and planning to carry out more.
Shortly after his assassination, terrorists began launching over 160 of both short- and long-range rockets, the majority of them at the Israeli communities around Gaza and a smaller number at major cities in central Israel throughout the morning. In response, the IDF launched a campaign of retaliatory airstrikes against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza.
Netanyahu said in a televised press conference that the security cabinet had discussed carrying out an operation to target “ticking time bomb” Abu al-Ata over the past few months, and that a final decision was made 10 days ago with the understanding that the IDF and Shin Bet would carry out the operation at an opportune time.
Some opposition lawmakers have accused Netanyahu of being motivated by political considerations in ordering the strike, while others have called for unity in the face of the rocket attacks and urged that politics be set aside.
Israeli military officials hinted at having Abu al-Ata on their kill list in recent weeks, leaking his name and picture to the media in what was widely seen as a tacit threat. The targeted killing of a Palestinian leader in Gaza is a rare event.
Liberman served as defense minister until last November when he announced his resignation, saying Netanyahu was “capitulating” to terror after a ceasefire was struck between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza following a fierce two-day barrage of over 400 rockets fired by Hamas and other terror groups toward Israel.
Liberman then pulled his Yisrael Beytenu’s six MKs from the coalition in protest of the government’s handling of border violence with the Gaza Strip, prompting the ongoing political crisis which could see the country head for a third round of elections in less than a year.