Israeli security officials knew all about Haitham Mishal.
During the past three years, the 24-year-old succeeded in building himself up into an independent terrorism service, available to the highest bidder. Not a member of any terrorist organization himself, he did not act out of ideological motives. He was in it for the money.
Mishal was not a full-time terrorist. He actually was employed in the Hamas offices in Gaza. His terrorist activity was conducted after regular work hours. Moonlighting to supplement his monthly paycheck.
But his work was on a high level of expertise. He built various types of explosive devices and long-range missiles, not for Hamas, which was already well-staffed, but for other groups with less resources.
In the past two to three years, Hamas has reined in its own rocket launchings and has sought to restrain other terrorist groups as well, in an effort to gain recognition in Europe and the U.S. In addition, the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas’s desire to win its support, was a restraining factor.
The others had to seek support from outside Hamas, and Mishal was the address. His tools of destruction were sold not only within Gaza but in the Sinai as well. He was the supplier of rocket launchers to the World Jihad group operating in the peninsula which fired on Eilat recently, and he had requisitions from them for more of the same.
Operation Pillar of Defense left the terrorists in Gaza in a state of shock. There was absolute quiet at the conclusion of the operation last November, but it didn’t last as long as had been hoped. Terrorist organizations that had not gone along with Hamas in the ceasefire agreement soon began to be active again.
After rockets began to fall again, in particular the attack on Eilat, the IDF had no choice but to respond. The question was only how, and against whom.
Due to sensitivities in relations with Egypt, the terrorist targets in Sinai were for the time being out of bounds. So it was decided to hit them indirectly, through their supplier.
The resumption of rocket fire was slowly eroding the deterrent effect of Operation Pillar of Defense. The targeted assassination of Haitham Mishal was aimed at halting that erosion, and to send a message to all the terrorists in the area, both in Gaza and Sinai, that the IDF will find them.
Secondly, Mishal was killed because he was not sitting idly, but was busy preparing additional terror attacks. In just the last ten days, ten missiles and a number of mortars were fired across the border into Israel. That which began as a trickle, was beginning to threaten all that had been accomplished in Operation Pillar of Defense.
Israel knew what was going on in Gaza, and had updated the Egyptians, which was understood by them also as a warning that Israel would not passively accept rocket attacks either from Gaza or Sinai. Details about Mishal’s activities were passed to the Egyptians, so that they would in turn reach Hamas, who were expected to stop him.
However, Hamas did nothing to stop him. When Israeli intelligence determined in recent days that Mishal was actively preparing further missile attacks, it was decided the time had come to act.