Actually, the number of top commanders killed since Hamas ended the last cease-fire may be four. Israel insists its airstrikes killed Mohammed Deif, the chief of their armed wing and one of the main stumbling blocks to peaceful coexistence, but Hamas says the IDF only got his wife and daughter. Regardless, Israel has sent an unmistakable message with the confirmed deaths of three other high-ranking commanders:
Israeli warplanes killed three top Hamas commanders in southern Gaza on Thursday, inflicting a heavy blow on the movement’s armed wing after failing to kill its top military chief.
As the six-week war between Israel and Hamas raged on, leaving Egyptian mediated truce talks in tatters, warplanes pounded Gaza killing three members of the Islamist movement’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
The Brigades said they were “senior commanders,” identifying them as Mohammed Abu Shamala, Raed al-Atar and Mohammed Barhum and vowing to make Israel pay. …
Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency described Atar and Shamala as being among the top five most wanted Hamas militants.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon hailed their deaths as “a big operational and intelligence achievement” and warned that Israel would not hesitate to track down the rest of the group’s leaders.
In apparent retaliation, Hamas has again threatened attacks on Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport:
A Hamas warning to foreign airlines to halt flights into Tel Aviv was to take effect Thursday as a six-week war with Israel spiralled into further bloodshed after truce talks collapsed.
The warning came as Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of air strikes across Gaza again on Wednesday in response to multiple rocket attacks on southern Israel, as nine days of calm exploded into bloodshed.
The UN Security Council demanded that both sides return to the negotiating table in Cairo:
The UN Security Council later urged Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table to quickly agree on a lasting truce in Gaza.
In a unanimously adopted statement, the 15-member council “called upon the parties to resume negotiations to urgently reach a sustainable and lasting ceasefire”.
The problem with that demand is that Hamas doesn’t want a cease-fire unless it’s entirely on their terms — but they’re losing the war and the diplomatic game on top of it. The UNSC might need to direct their imperatives to Qatar, which reportedly scuttled the previous cease-fire by forcing Hamas to stick to its hard line unless Egypt offered the Qataris a seat at that table. Israel had offered some concessions in order to get a stable truce in place, but Hamas refused to bend, and ended up breaking the cease-fire unilaterally. In other words, this isn’t a situation in which both sides need to be lectured equally.
The target selection sends a big message, too. For the past several weeks, the Israelis had for the most part resigned themselves to a continuing Hamas presence, in part over fear of what might follow in its place. One need look no farther than the northern Iraqi desert to contemplate the answer to that question. Now, though, Israel seems more committed to decisively breaking Hamas rather than the “mowing the lawn” strategy early in this war. The tunnels may have convinced them, or more likely the large plot for a coup against the Palestinian Authority, but either way the specific targeting of top leadership sends a message that Israel has dispensed with worrying about the pessimistic options and now want Hamas out of the way entirely. The futility of the latest round of talks can’t have helped, either.
And it raises perhaps another, more critical question for Hamas leadership, at least those still above room temperature. How did the IDF get such good intel on the whereabouts of its leadership in Gaza, anyway? The IDF withdrew its ground troops a couple of weeks ago, which has to have limited those intel capabilities somewhat. It might be that the Israelis and the Egyptians aren’t the only people looking to get Hamas out of Gaza — and the longer Hamas prolongs this war, the more that Gazans may have a hand in ending it for good via the IDF.