Advocates say targeted killings are an effective deterrent without the complications associated with a ground operation, chiefly civilian and Israeli troop casualties. Proponents argue they also prevent future attacks by removing their masterminds.
Critics say the killings invite retaliation by militants and encourage them to try to assassinate Israeli leaders. They complain that the strikes amount to extrajudicial killings.
Dovish Israeli lawmaker Dov Hanin condemned the killing.
"Assassinating leaders is never the solution. In place of the leaders killed, other will grow, and we will only get another cycle of fire and blood," he said.
During a wave of suicide bombings against Israel a decade ago, the country employed the tactic to eliminate the upper echelon of Hamas leadership. During that period, Israeli aircraft assassinated the previous commander of Hamas' military wing, Salah Shehadeh, the movement's founder and spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and dozens of other Hamas military commanders.
That set off a wave of criticism from rights groups and foreign governments, particularly the strike that killed Shehadeh — a one-ton bomb that killed 14 other people, most of them children.
Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff who has supported targeted killings, welcomed the strike.
"We need to continue this policy, to find them in every place," he told Israel's Army Radio. "Israel needs to determine the agenda, not Jabari."
Mofaz warned that Israelis should expect an escalation of violence in the coming days following the assassination.
Jabari was known in Israel as the man who accompanied Schalit when the high-profile prisoner swap took place last October. Schalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid from Gaza that killed two other soldiers, was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including more than 300 convicted killers.
Jabari, nicknamed Abu Mohammed, was born in 1960 in the eastern Gaza neighborhood of Shejaiya. In 2006, he became the acting commander of the military wing of Hamas after his predecessor, Muhammad Deif, was seriously wounded in an Israeli attack.
Jabari began as a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, but switched his allegiance to Hamas after serving 13 years in an Israeli prison.
He survived four previous attempts by Israel to kill him. In one attempt in 2004 his eldest son, his brother and three other relatives were killed.
He was said to have led the bloody 2007 takeover of Gaza from Fatah forces, developing Hamas's military arsenal and its networks in Iran, Sudan and Lebanon and for his planning of the Schalit kidnapping. Hamas has ruled Gaza with an iron grip since then, and repeated attempts to reconcile with Fatah have failed.
The assassination threatened to further damage Israel's relations with Egypt, which is governed by Hamas' ideological counterpart, the Muslim Brotherhood.
On its official Facebook page, the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, called the assassination a "crime that requires a quick Arab and international response to stem these massacres against the besieged Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip."
It accused Israel of trying to "drag the region toward instability."
Israel and Egypt signed a peace accord in 1979. Relations, never warm, have deteriorated since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year.
Heller reported from Jerusalem. Additional reporting from Sarah El Deeb in Cairo.