Islamic Jihad chief: Gaza commanders were killed because they carried cellphones

Dismissing claims that the terror group was infiltrated, Ziad Nakhaleh blames the ‘negligence’ of fighters who Israel was able to track

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhalah in 2022. (Wikimedia Common/Erfan Kouchari)
Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhalah in 2022. (Wikimedia Common/Erfan Kouchari)

The top leader of Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad offered rare insight into his terror group’s latest conflict with Israel, saying that senior members killed in the fighting negligently kept their cellphones with them.

Ziad Nakhaleh, who is believed to be living in Syria or Lebanon, offered the analysis during an interview with the Haya Washington website published Tuesday.

Nahkaleh was asked whether Islamic Jihad had been infiltrated, with the interviewer noting top commanders were killed despite efforts to conceal their whereabouts.

“This was done with the enemy’s technology and tracking. We committed mistakes that the enemy seized on,” Nahkaleh said, dismissing such a possibility.

The admission of mistakes was unusual for Islamic Jihad, whose messaging typically favors pathos over particulars and claims the ultimate invincibility and righteousness of its cause.

“Despite all the measures that are taken by our fighters and our commanders — who at the minimum shouldn’t use phones — unfortunately the brothers do not adhere to these necessary instructions in this field, so I am certain that there was no infiltration,” he said.

“There is complacency regarding the use of communications. Unfortunately, I say that our brothers were negligent in assessing the situation, and how the enemy monitors these devices,” Nakhaleh added in a rare rebuke.

Smoke and fire rise from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike targeting a building in Gaza, May 13, 2023. The building was owned by an Islamic Jihad official. (AP/Ashraf Amra)

His interviewer pressed him on the issue, noting “leaders were assassinated while at home,” where they had presumably adhered to a no-cellphone policy.

Nakhaleh offered a twofold explanation. Initially, he asserted the dead commanders “did not leave their homes at all.” But the Israeli military held its fire after the initial rocket launches on May 2, creating “an atmosphere of calm, and it seemed that they [the slain Islamic Jihad leaders] were able to visit their families in a secret way.”

“But unfortunately, it was without taking other security precautions, as the mobile phone is the most dangerous thing because it is a mobile spy whose carrier can be located easily by the enemy,” Nakhaleh reiterated.

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