Israel-Gaza conflict: Hamas leaders do their best to stay hidden – but still expect to die

Commander-in-chief, Mohammed Deif, has survived four assassination attempts since 2002

Jerusalem

As the leader of the Hamas military wing, one can expect to die in office. The trick is to postpone Israeli assassination for as long as possible.

Up to and perhaps including the Israeli air strike on his home in Gaza City late on Tuesday, Mohammed Deif was successful in doing this, using secrecy and luck to outwit and elude the Israeli intelligence agencies.

Mr Deif, the commander-in-chief of Hamas’s army, must have followed some basic rules, according to a former Mossad official. He never held meetings or gave orders face to face, using messengers instead; he made sure only trusted people knew where he was; he changed hideouts and vehicles constantly; and he did not keep a mobile phone so he could not be traced.

He is also believed to have used techniques to misdirect the Israelis, such as by having false information about his whereabouts discussed over non-secure communications systems.

The senior Hamas political leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and other political leaders such as Mahmoud Zahar have also gone into the secret life of hiding from Israeli assassination since the start of the Gaza war. This has left Gaza with only junior leaders appearing in public, such as the young Hamas spokesmen Sami Abu Zuhri and Mushir al-Masri. The Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal, whom Israel tried to assassinate in 1997, takes stringent security precautions although living far away from Gaza in Qatar.

Rockets being fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza strip into Israel today Rockets being fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza strip into Israel today
Four times since he took over from his assassinated predecessor Salah Shehadeh, in 2002, Mr Deif escaped from assassination attempts, though he was injured in the last one in 2006. His wife, Widad, and seven-month-old son, Ali, died in the Israeli air strike, which Hamas says Mr Deif survived.

Barak Ben-Tsur, a former head of the Shin Bet security agency’s research division, said: “I don’t know Deif’s situation now but I wouldn’t gamble that he’s completely safe.”

Video: Fighting continues as peace talks break down

Fox News quoted Israeli intelligence sources as saying that Israel believed Mr Deif was dead. After the previous attempt on his life, in 2006, it took months before Israel was able to verify that he had been injured but not killed.

The former Mossad official said it would be surprising if Mr Deif was at home with his family because that would be an obvious target for Israel.

Yaacov Perry, the Science Minister and former Shin Bet chief, said: “If there had been intelligence that Mohammed Deif was not in that house, we would not have blown it up.”

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