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Analysis

PA intercepted Israeli drone transmissions during Second Intifada

Ex-head of Palestinian security in Gaza says intercepts helped PA thwart assassinations of Hamas leaders; Israeli official confirms report

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

AMMAN, Jordan — The Palestinian Authority managed to intercept Israeli drone transmissions a decade ago that helped Palestinian groups thwart several Israeli assassination attempts against Hamas leaders, a former head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force in Gaza revealed in an investigative TV report to be aired on Israeli television.

The segment, set to air Monday evening, focuses on the search for shadowy Hamas commander Muhammad Deif.

Speaking to The Times of Israel in the Jordanian capital of Amman along with Ilana Dayan of Israel’s “Uvda” TV program, Samir Masharawi of the Preventive Security Force said he observed one of the Israeli assassination attempts against Deif in September 2002 from a special control room he established in Gaza that was able to receive the transmissions of the Israeli drone used in the attack.

According to Masharawi, a few months after the Second Intifada broke out, in early 2001, a Palestinian security officer approached him and told him he believed he could intercept the photographs transmitted by Israeli drones, given the appropriate equipment. Masharawi gave him the green light to set up such a system, and the officer complied. According to Masharawi, this capability improved over time.

Hamas military wing commander Muhammad Deif
Hamas military wing commander Muhammad Deif

An Israeli security source confirmed that, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Palestinians in Gaza were able to intercept transmissions during the early 2000s, as they were not yet being encrypted.

After the control center was set up in one of Gaza’s high-rises, Palestinian security forces were able to receive images from live Israeli drone transmissions. Masharawi, then the deputy to Gaza’s Fatah security chief Mohammad Dahlan, said that in this way he and his men managed to thwart assassinations against Hamas leaders.

He related an incident in which his men observed drones following a car located at Gaza’s Islamic University. The Palestinian security forces discovered that the vehicle belonged to one of the heads of Hamas, Ibrahim al-Makadmeh, and he was alerted through representatives of the terror group who maintained contact with the PA during that period. One of the Hamas leaders who received that warning from the Preventive Security Force was the former prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh. Makadmeh was later assassinated in March 2003.

Masharawi said it was often unclear what the drones were tracking. He said that the photographs showed houses or cars, but it often took a great deal of effort to discern the location of the sites. His men often went out on patrol in areas that looked similar to those in the photographs, he said, in an effort to track the next assassination target.

In 1995 and 1996, Masharawi conducted negotiations with Mohammad Deif on behalf of Fatah leader Yasser Arafat, in an effort to halt the terror attacks against Israel and encourage him to join ranks with the PA’s security forces. The talks with Deif progressed in the right direction, he said, and the Hamas leader was willing to consider this option.

Moreover, for many months, Masharawi claimed, there were no terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas’s military wing. But the assassination of terror operative Yahya Ayyash, a master bombmaker responsible for multiple terror attacks against Israelis, in January 1996 torpedoed the Masharawi-Deif talks. Masharawi said he heard of Ayyash’s death from Deif himself, who called to inform him personally of the news. Later, Masharawi, along with Deif, Dahlan and Fatah leader Sami Abu Samhadana, arrived at the apartment where Ayyash was killed.

After the assassination,the PA tried to quell tensions, and Arafat called for a meeting with Deif. Masharawi arranged a meeting at Arafat’s Gaza office, but after the meeting Deif insisted he would have to retaliate for the assassination of Ayyash.

Deif survived multiple assassination attempts by Israel, lived in hiding and was believed to be paralyzed from onew or more of the Israeli attempts on his life. He was last targeted by Israel during Operation Protective Edge in a strike that claimed the lives of his wife and child. Hamas claimed Deif survived the strike, though no signs of life have been offered since the summer.

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