Jabari, who was the commander of Hamas' military wing and the mastermind behind Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit's abduction and captivity in subhuman conditions for over five years, was assassinated a year and one month after Schalit was released in a prisoner swap with Hamas.
The Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm quoted Jabari as saying that he knew once Schalit was released he would be a dead man walking.
But the Schalit abduction was only the tip of the iceberg. Jabari, who was known as the Hamas chief of staff, had been involved in the planning and execution of hundreds of terror attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. During his reign as the commander, Jabari turned the Hamas military wing from a collection of armed gangs into an organized military with a chain of command and a host of skilled fighters. He also concentrated Hamas efforts on firing rockets into Israel and carrying out terror attacks on military and civilian targets adjacent to the Gaza border fence.
"Abu Mohammed" Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari was born in 1960 in Gaza. His family had moved to Gaza from Hebron 30 years prior, after reconciling with another family that the Jabari clan had been feuding with. Before he turned 17, Jabari began taking his first steps in Palestinian terror groups. At first, he belonged to a terror cell affiliated with the Fatah movement.
In 1982, Jabari, who studied history at the Islamic University in Gaza, took part in several terror attacks against Israelis, and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. During his time in Israeli prison he learned fluent Hebrew and grew more devout in his Muslim beliefs. He joined up with several other inmates and established al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya ("the Islamic Group") which renounced Israel's right to exist. This group essentially served as the organizational foundation for Hamas as a nationalist Palestinian organization based on the spirit of Islam, which supports armed struggle against Israel.
In 1995, when Jabari was released from prison, he joined Hamas. He served as a senior field commander until he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority in 1998 and put back in jail. With his release, as the Second Intifada erupted, Jabari was appointed deputy to Salah Shehade, then the commander of Hamas' military wing and also a relative (Jabari's son was married to Shehade's daughter). Jabari was well connected with other senior members of the organization as well. He was friendly with Adnan al-Rol, the man who developed the Qassam rocket, and he was married to the daughter of Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, the leader of Hamas after Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
He survived previous attempts on his life
As deputy commander of the military wing, Jabari took part in the planning of suicide attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis. When Shehade was assassinated in 2002, he was replaced by Mohammed Deif, and Jabari retained his deputy post. Two years later, Israeli forces tried to assassinate Jabari. His home was bombed and his son Mohammed, brother Hussein and three other family members were killed instantly. Jabari himself sustained light injuries.
In 2006, Deif survived an assassination attempt, but was rendered completely paralyzed. Jabari was appointed to replace him, but out of respect for his friend he adopted the title of "acting commander" and refused to be known as the supreme commander. In a rare television interview that year, Jabari said "I don't have a position. I am a jihad fighter."
2006 was the year that Jabari burst into Israeli awareness when he masterminded the Schalit abduction. In the years following the abduction, Jabari oversaw the talks with Israel surrounding a prisoner exchange deal, but he also opposed such a deal. On more than one occasion he defied the Hamas leadership in Gaza, thanks in part to his good relationship with Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal, who was based in Damascus at the time.
In 2007, Jabari filled a central role in Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza and the forcing of Fatah forces from the region. His role in the takeover served to elevate his status in Gaza, giving him the confidence to plan and execute terror attacks on his own without the approval of the Gaza leadership, even when Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was opposed to such operations. Israel considered assassinating Jabari during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 but the assumption was that he was hiding under the Shifa hospital in Gaza, so the IDF avoided targeting him.
How Jabari was assassinated
The operation was meticulously planned, based on precise intelligence, and most importantly, founded on the element of surprise. It began with cutting off the head — Ahmed Jabari — possibly the most important individual in the Hamas organization. The objective of the operation was this: to shock and severely cripple the terror organization that rules the Gaza Strip.
The operation, which has been named Operation Pillar of Defense (named after the biblical pillar of cloud that guided the Israelites in the desert), began on Wednesday, shortly after 4 p.m. Jabari was driving a Kia in Gaza and was not aware of the aircraft that was constantly monitoring his moves.
Only after the target was positively identified as Jabari, the order was given and the aircraft fired a missile, destroying the vehicle completely.
Immediately afterward, Israel Air Force aircraft targeted dozens of long-range missile caches in Gaza, including reserves of Fajr-5 rockets (with a range of up to 75 kilometers — capable of being fired from Gaza into central Israel). The air force destroyed some 15 rocket depots across the strip, eliminating hundreds and possibly thousands of weapons. The rockets had been smuggled for years into Gaza via secret tunnels from Sinai and through the Rafah tunnels, with the assistance of Iran, with hopes that they would be kept hidden from Israeli intelligence.
Waiting for an opportune moment
It took the Hamas leadership several hours to regain their composure after the assassination and destruction of their long-range rocket reserves. But experts believe that Jabari's assassination will not be critical blow to Hamas' ability to command its field units.
The operation was approved several days ago by Israeli military and diplomatic officials. The wait was only for an opportune moment that would ensure a deadly hit. The fact that Israel feigned willingness to enter a cease-fire apparently inspired complacency, prompting Jabari to come out of hiding, unlike during Operation Cast Lead. Indeed, the Israeli intelligence was accurate and a fatal hit was made possible.
Shortly after the assassination, the Hamas government issued an obituary saying "the Palestinian government in Gaza is fully blaming the Zionist enemy for this criminal assassination of a great commander, shahid Ahmed Jabari — one of the central symbols of Palestinian resistance. This was a blatant violation, and an escalation of the Zionist violence in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is considering several possible responses."
Hundreds attend Jabari funeral
Despite the ongoing violence and repeated attacks on Gaza over 1,000 people marched in the funeral on Thursday. Mourners ran while carrying the body of the assassinated Hamas military leader called for revenge. Some armed men fired their machine guns into the air.
Jabari's body, draped in white fabric smeared with his blood, was carried by activists on a stretcher through the main street of Gaza toward the main mosque where worshippers will pray for his soul before walking him to burial in the martyrs' cemetery.
"You won," cried a Hamas activist in a loudspeaker. "Three Zionists were killed today and yet what is coming will be greater," the activist added.
A second Gaza war has loomed on the horizon for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes grew increasingly more intense and frequent.
Israel's Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 began with a week of air attacks and shelling, followed by a land invasion of the blockaded coastal strip, sealed off at sea by the Israel Navy. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed and 13 Israelis died.