Israel knew the whereabouts of Hamas terror chief Muhammad Deif last weekend, but waited to target his hideout until Hamas breached a temporary truce on Tuesday, local media reported.
According to a report Sunday on Israel’s Channel 10, Jerusalem received intelligence last weekend that the Hamas military wing head had emerged from his bunker during what was then a five-day truce to visit his wife and children. The government had solid evidence that Deif was in a building in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, it reported, and debated whether to launch an attack.
Israel ultimately decided to withhold a strike, assuming Hamas would breach the truce, as it had breached several previous truces. It targeted the building last Tuesday night, hours after Hamas resumed rocket fire at Israel.
It is still not clear if Deif survived the strike, which killed at least five people, including his wife and two children. Hamas claims he is alive, but has yet to give any proof of life. Israeli officials have said there was firm intelligence that Deif was there.
Deif has been wanted by Israel since the early 1990s, for orchestrating terror attacks said to have killed hundreds of Israelis. Many Israeli officials believe he has been coordinating the current Hamas-Israel conflict as head of the Hamas military wing. Three other senior members of the military wing’s command hierarchy were killed in an Israeli strike a day after the attack on Deif’s hideout.
Several government sources castigated the decision to wait on striking Deif, saying that he may have been able to switch his location in the interim and that Israeli forces should have targeted him immediately, according to Channel 10.
Other political officials dismissed the criticism, arguing that Israel “is not allowed to do things the other side is permitted to do,” namely break truces.
“Who would have believed us and our conclusions if we violated the truce?” one unnamed official was quoted as saying.
Last week, Lebanese media reported that a telephone call from Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal may have enabled Israeli intelligence to pinpoint Deif, who has been in hiding for years in Gaza. There was no confirmation of the report.
According to Palestinian sources cited in the report, Mashaal, who is based in Qatar, was being pressured to agree to an Egyptian ceasefire proposal but wished to consult directly with Deif, and did so contrary to established Hamas secrecy protocols.
Israel was said to have dropped several bunker-buster bombs on the Gaza building last Tuesday in the attack.
Deif survived at least four previous assassination attempts since 2002.
Lazar Berman and Stuart Winer contributed to this report.