Who is Mohammed Deif?. Israel refers to the horrific Hamas attack from last week as its 9/11 moment. Mohammed Deif, a Palestinian fighter and the covert planner of the attack, refers to it as the Al Aqsa Flood.
As Hamas launched tens of thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip on Saturday, the word Israel’s most wanted man used in an audio tape aired suggested the strike was retaliation for Israeli incursions at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa shrine.
Also Read: What is Hamas?, Introduction of Hamas
Deif started preparing for the operation that has killed 1,200 people in Israel and injured more than 2,700 in May 2021, according to a source close to Hamas, following a raid on Islam’s third holiest shrine that infuriated the Arab and Muslim world.
According to the source in Gaza, “it was sparked by scenes and footage of Israel storming Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, beating and attacking worshippers, and dragging elderly and young men out of the mosque.” All of this stoked and fueled the fury.
Israeli authorities erected obstacles at a fortified Old City gate prior to the 2021 battle. However, Palestinians claimed the obstacles impeded their right to assemble during the holy month. They claimed it was done to keep order. Palestinian worries that their neighbors would expel them from their houses fueled tensions.
It was this raid on the mosque compound that helped spark 11 days of warfare between Israel and Hamas in Jerusalem over issues of religion and sovereignty.
After more than two years, Saturday’s attack—the greatest breach of Israeli defenses since the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict—led Israel to declare war on Gaza and conduct retaliatory airstrikes that resulted in 1,055 fatalities and more than 5,000 injuries.
On Wednesday, Israel claimed to have killed at least a thousand Palestinian gunmen who had crossed into Gaza.
Deif is an Israeli who has survived seven murder attempts, the most recent of which occurred in 2021. As a result, Palestinians were aware that something important was about to happen when Hamas’ TV station announced he would be speaking on Saturday.
“Al Aqsa’s fury, as well as the rage of our people and country, is bursting today. The recording features Deif saying, “Today is your day, mujahedeen (fighters), to show this criminal that his time is up.
There are only three images of Deif: one in his 20s, another of him masked. And an image of his shadow, which used when the audio tape was broadcast.
The whereabouts of Deif are unknown, though he is most likely in Gaza in the maze of tunnels under the enclave. An Israeli security source said Deif directly involved in the planning and operational aspects of the attack.
Palestinian sources said one of the homes Israeli airstrikes hit in Gaza belonged to Deif’s father. Deif’s brother and two other family members killed, according to the sources.
Two brains, one mastermind
The source close to Hamas said the decision to prepare the attack taken jointly by Deif, who commands Hamas’s Al Qassam Brigades. Along with Yehya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza. But it was clear who the architect was.
“There are two brains, but there is one mastermind,” the source said, adding that information about the operation known only to a handful of Hamas leaders.
Secrecy was such that Iran, Israel’s sworn foe and an important source of finance, training and weaponry for Hamas, knew only in general terms that the movement was planning a major operation and did not know the timing or the details, a regional source familiar with the group’s thinking said.
The source said that while Tehran aware a major operation prepared. It not discussed in any joint operation rooms involving Hamas, the Palestinian leadership, Iranian-backed Lebanese militants Hezbollah, and Iran.
“It a very tight circle,” the source said.
Iran’s top authority Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Tehran not involved in the attack on Israel. Washington has said while Tehran was complicit, it had no intelligence or evidence that points to Iran’s direct participation in the attacks.
The plan as conceived by Deif involved a prolonged effort at deception. Israel led to believe that Hamas, an ally of Israel’s sworn foe Iran, not interested in launching a conflict and was focusing instead on economic development in Gaza, where the movement is the governing power.
But while Israel began providing economic incentives to Gazan workers. The group’s fighters trained and drilled, often in plain sight of the Israeli military, a source close to Hamas said.
“We have prepared for this battle for two years,” said Ali Baraka, the head of external relations for Hamas.
Speaking in a calm voice, Deif said in his recording that Hamas had repeatedly warned Israel to stop its crimes against Palestinians, to release prisoners. Whom he said abused and tortured, and to halt its expropriation of Palestinian land.
“Every day the occupation storm our villages, towns and cities in the West Bank and raid houses, kill. Injure, destroy and detain. At the same time, it confiscates thousands of acres of our land. Uproots our people from their houses to build settlements while its criminal siege continues on Gaza.”
Deif said Hamas had urged the international community to put an end to the “crimes of the occupation”. But Israel had stepped up its provocation. He also said Hamas had in the past asked Israel for a humanitarian deal to release Palestinian prisoners, but this rejected.
“In light of the orgy of occupation and its denial of international laws and resolutions, and in light of American and western support and international silence, we’ve decided to put an end to all this,” he said.
Born as Mohammad Masri in 1965 in the Khan Yunis Refugee Camp set up after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War . The militant leader became known as Mohammed Deif after joining Hamas during the first Intifada. Or Palestinian uprising, which began in 1987.
Hamas’s 1988 founding charter called for Israel’s destruction, and the group is branded a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Egypt and Japan.
Although Hamas leaders have at times offered a long-term truce. Or Hudna in Arabic, in return for a viable state on all the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967, Israel regards this as a ruse.
Deif was arrested by Israel in 1989 and spent about 16 months in detention, a Hamas source said.
He earned a degree in science from the Islamic University in Gaza, where he studied physics, chemistry and biology. He displayed an affinity for the arts, heading the university’s entertainment committee and performing on stage in comedies.
Rising in Hamas ranks, Deif developed the group’s network of tunnels and its bomb-making expertise. He has topped Israel’s most wanted list for decades. Held personally responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings.
For Deif, staying in the shadow has been a matter of life or death. Hamas sources said he lost an eye and sustained serious injuries in one leg in one of Israel’s assassination attempts.
His wife, 7-month-old son, and 3-year-old daughter were killed by an Israeli air strike in 2014.
His survival while running Hamas’s armed wing has earned him the status of a Palestinian folk hero. In videos he is masked, or just a shadow of him is seen. He doesn’t use modern digital technology such as smart phones, the source close to Hamas said.
“Also he is elusive. He is the man in the shadows.”