Hamas’s chief of staff alive and active, Israel confirms
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Hamas’s chief of staff alive and active, Israel confirms

Muhammad Deif survived last summer’s assassination attempt and is overseeing rehabilitation of group’s offensive capabilities

Palestinians carry the body of a Hamas militant killed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah, July 17, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians carry the body of a Hamas militant killed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah, July 17, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Top Hamas terror commander Muhammad Deif is alive and has returned to active participation in the high command of the Islamist group’s military wing, according to Israeli intelligence assessments.

Deif, 51, was targeted in an August 19 IDF strike on a home in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of the Gaza Strip last summer, during the 50-day war there. His wife and two children were killed in the bombing. Deif’s fate was not disclosed, although Hamas was quick to report that he had survived.

The long-time commander of Hamas’s military wing has survived five Israeli assassination attempts. In September 2002 he emerged, wounded, from the charred remains of a vehicle that had been hit by an IAF missile. In 2006, he was wounded again, reportedly losing his limbs in an additional IAF strike.

During the last days of the war in Gaza in the summer, the Shin Bet produced concrete evidence of Deif’s whereabouts on the bottom floor of a home on al-Ramal Street in Gaza City. At nine in the evening of August 19, the Air Force was cleared to drop bombs on the home and demolish it. According to an October episode of Israel’s top investigative news program, “Uvda,” the two bombs meant to reach the bottom floor did not detonate. Although there was no concrete evidence of Deif having survived yet again, a senior Shin Bet officer, identified only as R, made his disappointment plain without confirming directly that Deif was alive.

As head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Deif was responsible for planning and executing a long string of terror attacks that killed dozens or even hundreds of Israelis. He is one of Israel’s most sought-after targets for assassination.

Hamas military wing commander Muhammad Deif
Hamas military wing commander Muhammad Deif

According to Israeli sources, Deif was the key planner of a massive Hamas operation to attack an Israeli village on the Gaza border — possibly Kibbutz Kerem Shalom — and take soldiers and civilians hostage. The operation was allegedly planned months before the war in Gaza, and was intended to force Israeli leaders to respond with a massive ground assault in the Strip, where Hamas had spent months rigging explosives and digging tunnels that would allow its fighters to exact a steep cost from any IDF incursion force.

Deif’s plans were stymied not by Israel, but by the political leadership of Hamas, which ordered the operation canceled, according to Israeli assessments. During the fighting, the Qassam Brigades tried to launch the operation a few times despite the opposition of the political wing, but were unable to carry it out once massive Israeli forces were operating in Gaza.

Deif’s apparent recovery comes amid sustained efforts by Hamas to rebuild its offensive capabilities against Israel, including the conscription of new fighters, rehabilitating its cross-border attack tunnels and restocking its rocket arsenal with longer-distance rockets. All those efforts are hampered by Egypt’s persistent targeting of Hamas’s cross-border tunnels into Sinai by Egypt.

Relatives of 27-year-old Widad Deif, the wife of Hamas's military commander Mohammed Deif, carry her body during her funeral procession at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on August 20, 2014. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Relatives of 27-year-old Widad Deif, the wife of Hamas’s military commander Mohammed Deif, carry her body during her funeral procession at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on August 20, 2014. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

According to Israel, Hamas has been able to purchase building materials from private Gaza citizens who were allowed to import the materials to rebuild their homes and businesses but then resold them on Gaza’s black market.

Israeli assessments suggest that Hamas is divided over its strategic direction, with its top political leader, Qatar-based Khaled Mashaal, seeking to rehabilitate the group’s ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia as a way to end Hamas’s stifling economic and political isolation. Deif and other military commanders on the ground in Gaza advocate a closer alliance with Iran, which supplies the Gaza-based group with funds and materiel for its fight against Israel.

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