The Mossad and Shin Bet have reportedly formed a special operations center tasked with tracking down and killing members of the Hamas commando unit that led the Gaza-ruling terror group’s deadly onslaught in southern Israel on October 7.
According to the Ynet news site, the unit will be named after the World War I-era Jewish underground organization “Nili,” an acronym for a Hebrew phrase which translates as “the Eternal One of Israel will not lie.”
The report said the command center’s goal will be to take out all the Nukbha gunmen who were involved in the surprise assault two weeks ago, when some 2,500 terrorists burst into Israel by land, sea, and air under a massive rocket barrage, killing around 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians. Terrorists also took at least 210 hostages of all ages into Gaza and are holding them captive.
The Israel Defense Forces has already announced the death of several Nukbha commanders in strikes since the Hamas-led attack two weeks ago, including Billal al-Qedra, who headed the unit’s southern Khan Younis battalion, and Ali Qadhi, a company commander.
On Wednesday, the military said it killed over 10 Nukhba members while targeting top terror figures in the Gaza Strip.
With a likely ground offensive looming, Israel has warned that every Hamas member faces death but two accused masterminds of the October 7 attacks are at the top of its hit list: Hamas military commander Muhammad Deif and political leader Yahya Sinwar.
Israel has said that Sinwar is “a dead man walking” and the hunt for the two most senior Hamas leaders in Gaza is expected to be fierce.
“Hamas terrorists have two options: Be killed or surrender unconditionally. There is no third option,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Tuesday.
Hamas spokesmen have responded that the Palestinian Islamist terror group is “not scared.”
Security sources outside Gaza say Deif and Sinwar are now embedded in a network of tunnels built to resist the bombing campaign launched after the brutal attacks on communities and military bases near the border shook Israel to its core.
But the pair have spent years operating in the shadows.
Israel has singled out the 61-year-old Sinwar, who was elected Hamas leader in Gaza in 2017 after Ismail Haniyeh became the Iran-backed organization’s supreme leader. Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht called Sinwar the “face of evil” and declared him a “dead man walking.”
Sinwar was a founding member of Hamas in 1987 during the First Intifada or uprising and rose through the ranks as a fierce advocate of armed struggle.
A graduate of the Islamic University in Gaza, he learned Hebrew during 23 years in Israeli jails.
Sinwar was serving four life terms for the killing of two Israeli soldiers when in 2011 he became the most senior of 1,100 Palestinian security prisoners released in exchange for French-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Sinwar and Deif were both born in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza and added to the United States’ list of most wanted international terrorists in 2015.
Much less is known about Deif, Israel’s number one public enemy for the past two decades, during which he has been accused of organizing suicide attacks, kidnappings and other raids.
There is only one known full-face photo of the commander of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing. It is at least 20 years old. The others show him either in a mask or standing in the shadows to avoid identification.
An audio message from Deif was transmitted by Hamas media on the morning of the attacks dubbed Operation Al-Aqsa Deluge. “The rage of our people and our nation is exploding,” he said.
Deif was born Mohammed Diab al-Masri in 1965. His assumed name means “Guest” in Arabic and he reportedly never spends more than one night in the same place. Enemies have dubbed him the “cat with nine lives” as he has survived at least six attempts to kill him.
Deif’s wife and at least one child were killed in an Israeli airstrike during the 2014 Gaza war. Deif has reportedly lost one eye and been left disabled by the attempts on his life but it has not weakened his influence.
He has been involved with Hamas since the 1980s and was arrested at the start of the Second Intifada but escaped, or was released, from a Palestinian Authority prison in 2000. He became head of the Hamas military wing in 2002 and has been Israel’s bete noire ever since.
Israel has sent repeated warnings to the Hamas leadership since October 7.
“Every member of Hamas is a dead man,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said days after the October 7 massacres.
But experts say that eliminating Sinwar and Deif would severely weaken but not crush Hamas, which is Israel’s declared aim.
“Sinwar and Deif are clearly first priority leadership, the loss of which would damage Hamas, but one presumes that the group has contingencies about their loss,” said H.A. Hellyer, an international security specialist at the Royal United Services Institute in London.