Top Gaza terror leaders decided on Oct. 6 to launch assault

Hamas planned Oct. 7 from before 2014, with final decision made by 5 leaders – report

Sources close to leadership of terror group’s armed wing describe planning and execution of devastating onslaught; training briefly frozen after 2014 war, okay given in 2021

Palestinian terrorists take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the border fence with Israel from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinian terrorists take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the border fence with Israel from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The October 7 onslaught began with 70 terrorists who carried out a surprise assault at several points along the border of the Gaza Strip, according to sources close to the leadership of Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades military wing.

The sources told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in a report published Wednesday that the terrorists involved in the devastating attack were selected from among hundreds of elite commandos from all over Gaza, and underwent training for a number of years, along with continuous testing to gauge their skills.

Some 1,200 people were slaughtered and around 240 others dragged to Gaza as hostages — mainly civilians — when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst into Israel on October 7, rampaging through communities and army bases in the south.

The London-based newspaper said that plans for the devastating assault on Israeli towns close to the Gaza border began years earlier — prior to Operation Protective Edge in 2014 — but major efforts to train and prepare were frozen with the outbreak of fighting and stayed on hold for a year at that point.

After another military conflict, Operation Guardian of the Walls, in May 2021, Hamas decided to implement the plan.

The Saudi-owned newspaper said that the terror group was so determined to keep details of the plan under wraps to prevent potential leaks to Israeli intelligence that even many of the battalion commanders weren’t told what was happening. The terrorists recruited for the operation were not told what they were training for, and were made to swear an oath of secrecy.

The report said that the final decision launching the assault was made by just five senior members of Hamas — Gaza military leader Yahya Sinwar, armed-wing commander Muhammad Deif, Muhammed Sinwar (brother of the Hamas leader), senior member of Hamas politburo and Sinwar confidant Rawhi Mushtaha, and Ayman Nofal, a member of the terror group’s General Military Council and the head of its military wing’s Central Gaza Brigade, who was killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza in October.

Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas’s Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Ayman Siam, the head of Hamas’s rocket firing array — also killed in an Israeli strike in October — was told to prepare to launch hundreds of rockets to coincide with the start of the assault.

Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that those responsible for the preparations told the lower-level commanders three days before the assault that the “equipment” had been put in place for the start of the attack, without telling them when it was to be launched. Meetings were then held with commanders of the regional brigades, and tasks were assigned without telling them when and where exactly the plan was to be implemented.

On October 6, the five top leaders decided that the onslaught was to take place the next day.

The decision was made due to a combination of factors, including the fact that the border area was relatively quiet, and it was the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Hamas terrorists seen training to attack Israel in a mock kibbutz built in Gaza (Screen capture/YouTube: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The report said that it was only at this stage that many Hamas leaders inside and outside Gaza were briefed on the upcoming operation, and told to go into hiding in line with the terror group’s usual security procedures during times of conflict.

The sources said that while top Hamas terrorists politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh and his deputy, Saleh Al-Arouri (killed in an alleged Israeli strike in Beirut earlier this month), had known about the existence of a plan for an “exceptional attack,” they were not given precise details or the timing.

The report said the two were only informed a few hours in advance that the assault was to take place, at the same time the other Hamas officials were informed.

Ismail Haniyeh, right, the head of the Hamas political bureau, shakes hands with his deputy Saleh al-Arouri, upon his arrival in Gaza from Cairo, Egypt, in Gaza City, August 2, 2018. (Mohammad Austaz/Hamas Media Office via AP)

Sources told the newspaper that at midnight on October 6/7, the field commanders received instructions to begin preparations and to move gunmen into position for the onslaught to be launched at dawn.

The terrorists detonated explosive devices that were specially prepared to blow up openings in the border fence at previously identified weak points. At the same time, other terrorists crossed the border using hang gliders, and still others  launched a naval assault.

The terror group’s initial plan had been to carry out a “major qualitative attack” in which a number of Israel Defense Forces soldiers would be taken captive, the newspaper reported.

However, the sources said that Hamas was surprised by the ease with which it toppled the Israeli military’s defenses in the area surrounding the border, meaning that it was able to quickly kill, wound and kidnap a large number of soldiers.

An hour and a half after the start of the assault, Hamas decided to send further elite forces across the border to give support to the terrorists already inside the border towns.

Blood is seen splattered in a child’s room following a massive Hamas terror onslaught in Kibbutz Nir Oz, Oct. 19, 2023 (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

After that, the coordinator of the armed wings of the Al-Qassam Brigade notified further groups that they could join the operation, assigning specific tasks to each faction.

Hamas commanders ordered the terrorists to keep the Israeli forces engaged as much as possible to allow the kidnapping of more hostages to Gaza.

Over half of the hostages still remain in captivity in the Strip.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 23,000 people have been killed in the war sparked by the onslaught, though these figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 8,500 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7, and that it seeks to minimize civilian casualties.

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