As an official ceasefire between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups took hold 9 p.m. Israel time, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared Wednesday that Operation Pillar of Defense had been completed successfully.
Evaluating Israel's progress in degrading Hamas's ability to terrorize Israeli civilians, firstly by targeting Hamas's military hierarchy and secondly by directly depriving the Iran-backed terror group of its weapons, Barak stated "all our objectives were reached, taking out the Fajr rockets, rocket launching pads, and Hamas offices."
Operation Pillar of Defense began after Hamas escalated the amount and type of weapons it fired against Israeli soldiers and civilians throughout October and into November, with the group launching hundreds of rockets and mortars and using anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Israeli officials urged deescalation and emphasized that continued rocket fire risked Israel renewing its targeted assassinations against Hamas's military leaders.
When Palestinian groups failed to deescalate, Israel opened Operation Pillar of Defense by targeting Hamas's "Chief of Staff" Ahmed Jabari. Over the next hour, the IAF largely eliminated Hamas's carefully-built stockpile of advanced Iran-provided Fajr 5 missiles.
The immediate successes forced Hamas to scramble to rebuild its shattered morale. The group subsequently attempted to blanket Israeli population centers with rockets and mortars, but their efforts were complicated by the unprecedented success of Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. The continuing need to boost morale may partially explain why Hamas leaders were quick to declare the ceasefire a victory, even as foreign policy analysts noted that as a substantive matter Hamas "didn’t accomplish anything."
The IAF engaged in more than 1,500 strikes against pre-identified and other targets, an order of magnitude higher than the 150 targets struck by the IAF during all of Israel's 2008 Operation Cast Lead. Israeli sources reported strikes on 19 senior command centers, operational control centers, and Hamas's senior-rank headquarters, as well as on hundreds of underground rocket launchers, 140 smuggling tunnels, 66 terror tunnels, dozens of Hamas operation rooms and bases, 26 weapon manufacturing and storage facilities and dozens of long-range rocket launchers and launch sites.
In addition to eliminating Jabari, Israel also targeted senior Hamas operatives and commanders in charge of Hamas's terrorist activity in the southern Gaza Strip and Hamas's air defense unit. Israel also targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives, including Ramiz Harb, head of propaganda, Baha Abu al-Ata, commander of PIJ's Gaza City Brigade, Tissir Mahmoud Mahmedd Jabari, a senior operative, and Halil Batini, a senior operative in charge of long-range rocket operations. As of November 20, some 30 Hamas and PIJ operatives had been killed in IDF attacks.
Hamas now bears the dual burden of rebuilding its leadership structure as well as its weapons arsenal, even as Israel has indicated a willingness to target the highest leadership of Hamas's military echelon.