Marwan Issa is the U.S.-designated deputy commander of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing. Some sources claim Issa was named the group’s leader following the death of Ahmed Jaabari in an Israeli attack in 2012. However, Issa remains deputy commander to Hamas leader Mohammed Deif, but serves as a representative for the Brigades in Hamas’s political bureau.Elior Levy, “Head of Hamas' military wing makes rare appearance,” Ynetnews, March 1, 2015, https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4632278,00.html; Adnan Abu Amer, “Hamas won't give up military wing despite agreement,” Al-Monitor, May 2, 2014, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/qassam-weapons-hamas-fatah-reconciliation.html#ixzz6ZWmOjonx; Brandon Friendman, “Another Gaza War?” Foreign Policy Research Institute, November 13, 2018, https://www.fpri.org/article/2018/11/another-gaza-war/.
Born in a refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, not much else is known about Issa’s years about before joining Hamas. According to scholars at the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Issa was previously responsible for Hamas’s special operations unit where he associated closely with the external leadership. Issa reportedly led the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades in the central Gaza Strip.“Elections to the Hamas Political Bureau in the Gaza Strip: Overview and Significance,” Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, February 22, 2017, https://www.terrorism-info.org.il/Data/articles/Art_21158/E_035_17_312810974.pdf.
Furthermore, Issa was incarcerated in Israel for five years for his involvement in terrorist attacks. However, no specific dates or information regarding his participation in terrorist attacks have been made available regarding his detention. It is further alleged that Issa survived an Israel Defense Force (IDF) attempt to assassinate him in 2006.“Elections to the Hamas Political Bureau in the Gaza Strip: Overview and Significance,” Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, February 22, 2017, https://www.terrorism-info.org.il/Data/articles/Art_21158/E_035_17_312810974.pdf.
On November 14, 2012, the IDF carried out several airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, killing Ahmed Jaabari, the leader of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Issa was also targeted in the strikes but survived.Bill Rogio, “Israel Kills Top Hamas Military Commander in Gaza Airstrike,” Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, November 14, 2012, https://www.fdd.org/analysis/op-eds/2012/11/14/israel-kills-top-hamas-military-commander-in-gaza-airstrike/.
In a rare appearance at a conference organized by an undisclosed think tank linked to Hamas in March 2015, Issa addressed a February 3, 2015 ruling by the Egyptian court that blacklisted the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as well as Hamas as a terror group.Elior Levy, “Head of Hamas' military wing makes rare appearance,” Ynetnews, March 1, 2015, https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4632278,00.html. Issa claimed Hamas was not seeking a military confrontation with Israel, but sought to double its force for a future confrontation by manufacturing its own rockets. He also claimed that Hamas sought to forge regional alliances that would allow it to procure additional arms.“Elections to the Hamas Political Bureau in the Gaza Strip: Overview and Significance,” Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, February 22, 2017, https://www.terrorism-info.org.il/Data/articles/Art_21158/E_035_17_312810974.pdf; Elior Levy, “Head of Hamas' military wing makes rare appearance,” Ynetnews, March 1, 2015, https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4632278,00.html.
In January 2019, Hamas operatives reportedly discovered and disassembled spyware equipment placed in a home adjacent to that of Issa’s. The device was allegedly placed by a “collaborator” who sought to record audio from Issa’s home and send it to Israel in an effort to circumvent recent changes in Issa’s use of communication technology. The “collaborator” was allegedly arrested by unidentified Palestinian operatives, who later discovered a larger network of spyware across the Gaza Strip.Adam Rasgon, “Hamas Claims to Foil Israeli Attempt to Spy on One of its Gaza Leaders,” Times of Israel, January 21, 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-claims-it-foiled-israeli-attempt-to-spy-on-military-leader-in-gaza/.
On September 10, 2019, the U.S. Department of State designated Issa as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for his role in Hamas.“Terrorist Designations under Amended Executive Order to Modernize Sanctions to Combat Terrorism,” U.S. Department of State, September 10, 2019, https://www.state.gov/terrorist-designations-under-amended-executive-order-to-modernize-sanctions-to-combat-terrorism/.
In February 2020, it was reported that Israel planned to assassinate Issa and Hamas leader Yahya al-Sinwar. Upon learning of the plot, Egyptian intelligence officials traveled to Israel to persuade them not to carry out the assassinations. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades responded that their leaders do not fear assassination and will continue pursuing their resistance against Israel.“Egypt warned Israel not to assassinate Hamas leaders in Gaza,” Middle East Monitor, February 19, 2020, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200219-egypt-warned-israel-not-to-assassinate-hamas-leaders-in-gaza/.
In January 2021, former Hamas commander Basel Salahiya alleged that Israel created 430 tunnels into Gaza in preparation for a surprise attack. He accused senior Hamas leaders, including Issa, of being aware of the tunnels’ existence but keeping the knowledge secret from the Palestinian public. Hamas officials, however, stated that Salahiya’s allegations were false, and seek to “hurt the morale of Hamas operatives and the Palestinian public in the Gaza strip, in light of his removal from the organization.”Baruch Yedid, Disgraced Hamas Commander Claims IDF Has Attack Tunnels Running into Gaza,” Jewish Press, January 6, 2021, https://www.jewishpress.com/news/eye-on-palestine/hamas/disgraced-hamas-commander-claims-idf-has-attack-tunnels-running-into-gaza/2021/01/06/.
The U.S. Department of State designated Marwan Issa as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on September 10, 2019.“Terrorist Designations under Amended Executive Order to Modernize Sanctions to Combat Terrorism,” U.S. Department of State, September 10, 2019, https://www.state.gov/terrorist-designations-under-amended-executive-order-to-modernize-sanctions-to-combat-terrorism/.