The Gaza Strip witnessed an Israeli-Palestinian military escalation May 3-5 that led to the killing of four Israelis and 31 Palestinians, including Hamas cadre Hamed al-Khudari and various Islamic Jihad figures, as Israel raided 350 targets in Gaza and Palestinian factions fired 690 rockets at Israeli towns.
This escalation came after the Israeli army killed three Palestinians in eastern Gaza on May 3. In response, a Palestinian sniper shot two Israeli soldiers on the same day, causing them moderate injuries.
On May 5, the Israeli air force assassinated Khudari, 34, when it bombed his car near the Sidra area in central Gaza City.
Khudari's killing is the first such Israeli assassination since the end of the Gaza war in August 2014. This raises questions about what led Israel to return to the assassination policy and opt for Khudari in particular. In previous decades, Israeli intelligence carried out assassinations of senior Palestinian leaders both inside and outside the Palestinian territories.
While the Israeli army said May 5 that Khudari was responsible for funneling funds from Iran to Hamas and contributed to the development of the movement’s military capabilities, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced May 6 that Khudari was its field commander.
Mahmoud Mardawi, a Hamas leader and a former military commander, told Al-Monitor, “Israel believes that the funneling of funds to Hamas poses a threat to its security because such funds allow the movement to acquire military tools at a time when Israel is making exceptional efforts to dry up its funding sources. Not every assassination carried out by Israel is based on valid information. Some operations lead to the killing of innocent people. Israel carried out assassinations in order to place pressure on Hamas amid its failure to stop the rockets targeting its military positions. Hamas started implementing strict security measures to avert further assassination attempts.”
Hamas does not disclose the security measures that it takes because these should remain secret. But in order to follow precautionary security measures, Palestinian cadres targeted by Israel abstain from staying in one location for long hours. They switch transportation and communication tools, they make fewer telephone calls and limit their appearances in public places.
Khudari's assassination was extensively covered by Israeli media outlets. These portrayed the operation as an achievement for both the army and the security services given the huge amount of funds Khudari had funneled to Hamas.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Khudari channeled large amounts of money to Gaza. Meanwhile, Maariv said Khudari was assassinated because he played a key role in transferring money to the military wing of Hamas.
According to the Walla website, an Israeli air force officer said that several aircraft took part in Khudari’s assassination.
Israeli army spokesman Ronin Manlis told Walla that the assassination was based on intelligence information that has been circulating for a while and that the killing directly targeted the transfer of funds from Iran, among others, to Gaza.
Independent Arabia said Khudari’s assassination serves as a message to Hamas leaders that they could be targeted as well. The newspaper added that Israel had found out about Khudari’s movements.
In addition to running the Hamed Exchange Company, Khudari was a commander in the military wing of Hamas and one of its very discreet and cautious members, the newspaper said.
On June 21, then-Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered the designation of the Hamed Exchange Company as a terrorist organization.
Saleh al-Naami, a Palestinian expert on Israeli affairs, told Al-Monitor, “Khudari was assassinated as part of an Israeli strategy aimed at diminishing Hamas’ capabilities and boosting Israel’s deterrence ability. We expect Israel to carry out further assassinations, knowing that these would lead to a full-scale war.”
Ibrahim Habib, professor of security studies at Al-Awda University College in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Israel's resumption of assassination operations against Palestinian leaders means that it is seeking to negatively affect the movement’s activities and operations while confusing its political and military leadership. Moving forward, I expect Israel to carry out assassinations against Hamas’ political and military leaders. This would require more camouflaging techniques and a limited use of technology in communication because it is due to Hamas’ communication mistakes that Israel manages to get its information.”
Egyptian sources told the London-based New Arab newspaper May 9 that Israel had vowed to carry out further assassinations against Hamas, although this would accelerate the breakout of an overall confrontation between the two parties.
For his part, Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi, the chief of the Israel Defense Forces’ Southern Command, said May 5 that the policy of killing terror activists “is expected to continue.”
Iyad al-Bazm, spokesman for the Hamas-run Ministry of Interior in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor, “The security services in Gaza are engaged in a struggle with the Israeli intelligence, which is recruiting agents to monitor resistance activists in preparation for their assassination. We are religiously pursuing these agents in a bid to deprive Israel of any intelligence information that could help it track down military cadres in Gaza.”
Khudari's assassination highlights the seriousness the funneling of funds to Hamas represents.
Mohammed Abu Jiyab, editor of Al-Eqtesadia in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Tracking down Hamas’ funding sources is an Israeli priority. Not only is Israel fighting the rockets’ manufacturer but also the parties that are paying for these rockets.”
Wassef Erekat, a Palestinian military expert in the West Bank and a former PLO artillery commander, told Al-Monitor, “Khudari’s assassination is proof that Israel is not working based on a systematic plan but rather impulsively. The coming period will witness assassinations against members of the resistance’s commandos and against those operating the artillery, the missiles and the naval force. This requires less technical communications and field movements and additional camouflaging techniques.”
While the assassination of Khudari shows that Israel is no longer hesitant to carry out assassinations against Palestinians, it has also served as a wake-up call for Hamas; it shows that Israel could start a confrontation by assassinating a Hamas cadre. While Hamas does not desire such a scenario, it will be embarrassing and difficult for it to stand idly by if Israel assassinates one Hamas fighter after another.