At the time this report is being written, the fate of Mohammed Deif, the Supreme Commander of the Izz A-Din Al-Qaasam Brigades, who was targeted by an Israeli air raid on Tuesday night, August 19th, is yet unknown. Hamas’ formal spokesman announced that Israel’s attempt to kill Deif failed. On the other hand, a foreign news network quoted Israeli intelligence sources who argue that Deif was killed. A similar argument was made by some Palestinian sources as well.
Perpetrating such an attack requires two mandatory conditions. One is up to date excellent, highly reliable operational intelligence in real time. The second condition is that the decision makers evaluate that the potential benefit of such an act compensates its potentially counter-productive ramifications. In 1992 Israeli helicopters killed Abbas Al-Musawi, the Secretary General of Hezbollah in Lebanon, together with his wife and son. In 2002, an Israeli jet dropped a one ton bomb on a house in the Gaza Strip, killing Salah Sheahade, the Supreme Military Leader of the Izz A-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, together with fourteen other people including children. Israel carried out these attacks knowing that it would generate international condemnation, and that it would even lead to legal actions against Israel. Yet, this did not deter Israel from carrying out the attacks just the same. Deif’s case falls into that category as well.
Was Deif killed?
To answer that question we should pay attention to a couple of things:
First, there are indicators that suggest that Deif was associated with the house that was bombed. The fact that Deif’s wife, son and daughter were killed in the attack and the magnitude of the bombs used, indicate that the house was not the major target. It is likely to assume that the target was beneath the house – apparently a major command bunker. Moreover, the fact that among the dead reportedly was Hamas’ most senior rocket apparatus commander. These facts indicate that it is very likely that Deif was very much associated with that specific location. The fact that the attack took place means that there was very good intelligence indicating Deif was in– or beneath – the house.
Second, though formally admitting that the air raid was targeting Deif, Israel published no formal announcement regarding what happened to him. The Israeli position stems in my opinion from two reasons: One-to protect Intelligence methods and sources deployed by Israel for the gathering of both operational intelligence prior to the attack and intelligence regarding the outcome of the attack; Two, to enable Hamas maneuvering space.
What is the maneuvering space Hamas needs and why is Israel interested in providing Hamas with such space?
Had a formal announcement been made, either by Israel or Hamas, confirming Deif’s death, Hamas would have to retaliate on a much larger scale compared to the scale of attacks they have launched thus far. At this point, such a retaliation is counterproductive to Hamas’ interests. Though the truce collapsed and fire resumed in the last days, both sides have an interest to pursue the negotiating channel and to avoid further escalation that will spin out of control. Therefore, keeping the fate of Deif following the attack vague, enables Hamas a larger maneuvering space. In a possible context it should be mentioned that on the very day following the attack, Hamas announced it had launched a shore to sea missile targeting an Israeli gas platform in the Mediterranean Sea. Hamas’ announcement was denied by Israel. Yet, the fact Hamas chose that timing to publish the announcement regarding a military operation that has substantial ramifications and is totally different in comparison to the military characteristics of the round thus far, may indicate the attempt by Hamas to “retaliate” (though it did not take place) without generating further escalation. In other words – to create the larger maneuvering space.
Third, in two cases Palestinian speakers – either by mistake or deliberately – described Deif as “Shahid” meaning a Martyr.
Fourth, Hamas’ formal spokesman announced that “Deif will lead the army who will liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.” Such a declaration resembles the declaration made by Al-Qaeda following the killing of Osama Bin Ladin.
In my evaluation Mohammed Deif was indeed killed.
As of now, it is likely that both Israel and Hamas will keep a policy of vagueness regarding the fate of Deif. It is possible that sometime in the future Hamas will formally announce Deif’s death, perhaps it will be presented in the context of “following a severe injury.“
Deif’s biography has an interesting yet less known component – Deif had an artistic character. In his days as an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood Student Union in the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip, Deif was involved in directing and playing in a theatre he established in the Gaza Strip. His artistic affiliation was manifested later on in some theater plays produced by Hamas. Deif was playing the role of an Israeli Jewish settler.
It seems as if Deif has left the stage.