HOW DID it start? Stupid question.
Conflagrations along the Gaza Strip don't start. They are just a continuous chain of events, each claimed to be in "retaliation" for the previous one. Action is followed by reaction, which is followed by retaliation, which is followed by ...
This particular event "started" with the firing from Gaza of an anti-tank weapon at a partially armored jeep on the Israeli side of the border fence. It was described as retaliation for the killing of a boy in an air attack some days earlier. But probably the timing of the action was accidental -- the opportunity just presented itself.
The success gave rise to demonstrations of joy and pride in Gaza. Again Palestinians had shown their ability to strike at the hated enemy.
HOWEVER, the Palestinians had in fact walked into a trap prepared with great care. Whether the order was given by Hamas or one of the smaller more extreme organizations -- it was not a clever thing to do.
Shooting across the fence at an army vehicle was crossing a red line. (The Middle East is full of red lines.) A major Israeli reaction was sure to ensue.
It was rather routine. Israeli tanks fired cannon shells into the Gaza Strip. Hamas launched rockets at Israeli towns and villages. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis rushed to their shelters. Schools closed.
As usual, Egyptian and other mediators went into action. Behind the scenes, a new truce was arranged. It seemed to be over. Just another round.
The Israeli side did everything to get back to normal. Or so it seemed. The Prime Minister and the Defense Minister went out of their way (to the Syrian border) to show that Gaza was off their minds.
In Gaza, everybody relaxed. They left their shelters. Their supreme military commander, Ahmad Ja'abari, climbed into his car and drove along the main street.
And then the trap closed. The car bearing the commander was blown up by a missile from the air.
SUCH AN assassination is not carried out on the spur of the moment. It is the culmination of many months of preparation, gathering of information, waiting for the right moment, when it could be executed without killing many bystanders and causing an international scandal.
Actually, it was due to take place a day earlier, but postponed because of the bad weather.
Ja'abari was the man behind all the military activities of the Hamas government in Gaza, including the capture of Gilad Shalit and the successful five-year long hiding of his whereabouts. He was photographed at the release of Shalit to the Egyptians.
So this time it was the Israelis who were jubilant. Much like the Americans after the Osama bin-Laden assassination.