Finally this week, after over 40 days of war, Israel managed to deal Hamas a series of significant blows. On Tuesday night, after Hamas violated a ceasefire, Israel dropped five heavy pieces of ordnance on a home in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, where military wing head Muhammad Deif was believed to be hiding.
His wife, Widad, his infant son, Ali, and his daughter, Sara, were killed in the attack. As time passes and Hamas fails to provide proof of life, the chances rise that Deif, after five assassination attempts, was killed as well.
The following night, Israel, relying on what the Shin Bet security service termed “intensive operational and intelligence work,” assassinated three senior Hamas military leaders. One, Muhammad Abu Shamala, was said to be the commander of the entire southern district of the Gaza Strip. Another, Raed al-Attar, was the commander of the Rafah region. The third, Muhammad Barhoun, like al-Attar, was deeply involved in the smuggling of arms from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to Gaza. Shamala and Attar, as TOI’s Avi Issacharoff noted, were founding members of Hamas’s military wing.
That Israeli missiles reached them, a senior Israeli military source said after the strike, is evidence of what Hamas’s commanders would consider “a grave betrayal.” It is a development, which, he said, has left Hamas both deeply unsettled and “in shock.”
The official said Hamas has the most trouble trying to thwart old-fashioned human intelligence. That, he said, is “the most scary, most sensitive, most threatening” form of betrayal.
Hamas, he added, has a unit devoted to exposing collaborators. On Thursday, several hours after the assassination, Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, announced on its Arabic twitter feed that it had “swiftly arrested seven collaborators, and executed another three immediately.”
The officer said that “many dozens” of individuals have been arrested during the past several weeks on charges of collaboration and that, on July 17, four had been executed for their alleged crimes.
These so-called collaborators, the source said, corrode the mutual trust and confidence of a fighting unit like Hamas. “For them, the HUMINT is everything,” he said. “It’s the most dangerous and the most painful.”
Saw you in Sinai
In August 2013, Israel was forced to shut down its airport in Eilat for a day in the face of incoming rocket fire from Sinai. Later that same week, five Sinai-based global jihad terrorists were killed in a drone strike. Egyptian sources told the AP at the time that the missile was fired by Israel.
Of the three main means of collecting intelligence, signals, imaging and spies, Egypt, unlike, say, the US, relies predominantly on HUMINT, or human intelligence. At this point it is still unclear what, if any, role Egypt played in the recent string of assassinations in Gaza, but it does seem worth noting that security ties have grown increasingly close over the past year and that al-Attar, one of the senior Hamas commanders, was in charge of weapons smuggling from Sinai, meaning that he maintained close ties with the Bedouin tribes on the western side of the border. This fact alone would have made al-Attar deeply unpopular in Cairo.
Additionally, though, his name and that of his commander, Abu Shamala, came up in conjunction with the August 2012 Sinai terror attack, in which Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, who were sitting down to their iftar meal after a day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. The Al-Quds daily reported at the time that Egyptian intelligence sought the men for providing “indirect support to radical groups in Sinai.”
This, combined with the fact that Israel has sought these men for the better part of two decades, creates, at minimum, a pronounced confluence of interests.