The Israel Defense Forces attempted to kill the head of Hamas’s military wing, Muhammad Deif, at least twice over the past week and a half of fighting, but both times he escaped unscathed, according to the Israeli military.
This information was only permitted to be published on Tuesday night and was publicly confirmed by IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman on Wednesday morning.
“I think by now he knows,” Zilberman quipped.
The details about the strikes on Deif, which took place sometime since last Monday, were not immediately known.
Throughout the IDF’s ongoing campaign in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, the military has said that one of its primary goals is killing top leaders of the terror group, who have largely gone into hiding to avoid IDF strikes. Deif in particular has been named as a potential target.
Though Israeli defense officials believe that the current operation, dubbed Guardian of the Walls, has largely achieved the IDF’s goals — namely substantially weakening Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second most powerful terror group in Gaza — military officials on Tuesday night told Channel 12 that they hoped to press on with the fighting specifically to continue hunting Deif and other top Hamas commanders.
The elusive Hamas military wing leader Deif has been on Israel’s most-wanted list for over 25 years for his involvement in the planning and execution of a large number of terror attacks, including many bus bombings in years past. The Israeli military considers Deif to be a skilled field commander.
Before Israel’s two failed attempts this month, Israeli security services tried to kill Deif at least five times over the years. The first such attempt took place in 2001, a second in 2002, costing him his eye, and a third a year later. Another strike was conducted in 2006 in which he was seriously injured, losing both of his legs and one arm.
In 2014, during that year’s Gaza war, Israel again attempted to kill Deif, but narrowly missed him, killing instead his wife, infant son and 3-year-old daughter. Though Israel initially believed that Deif too had been killed in the strike, he was later determined to have indeed survived.
On Sunday, the head of the IDF Southern Command, Eliezer Toledano, who has played a key role in waging the battle against Hamas in Gaza, said that Deif, as well as Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, could be targeted by Israeli strikes.
“Muhammad Deif and Yahya Sinwar, were, and remain, in Israel’s sights,” Toledano said in an interview with Channel 12 news.
Amid increasing talks of a possible ceasefire, Toledano told Channel 12 news that the more time the army has to carry out its military goals against terror targets in the Strip, the better.
Sinwar is second only to Hamas politburo head Ismail Haniyeh in the terror group’s hierarchy. He spent decades in an Israeli prison after being convicted in 1989 of conducting the kidnapping and execution of two Israeli soldiers.
Known by his Israeli interrogators as “the Butcher from Khan Younis” due to his enthusiastic execution of Palestinians alleged to have collaborated with Israel, Sinwar was released from jail as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.
On Saturday night, the IDF said it had bombed Sinwar’s home, saying it served as “terrorist infrastructure.”
Considered radical even within Hamas, Sinwar is infamous for his key role in founding Hamas’s military wing and security services. The Izz al-Din al-Qassem brigades and Majd, respectively, have committed numerous terror attacks against Israelis, as well as killing Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel.
However, despite his hardline views, Sinwar is considered one of the leading voices in Hamas pushing for a long-term ceasefire agreement with Israel.