Mohammed Deif

Mohammed Deif, born Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, is the leader of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. He has been on Israel’s “most wanted” list for more than 20 years. Deif’s mentor was Yehya Ayyash, “the engineer” renowned for building Hamas bombs and other weaponry.“Profile: Hamas Commander Mohammed Deif,” BBC News, September 26, 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2284055.stm. Israel has attempted to kill Deif on multiple occasions, but he has escaped each time.Judah Ari Gross, “IDF twice tried, failed to kill Hamas military chief Muhammad Deif last week,” Times of Israel, May 19, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-twice-tried-failed-to-killed-hamas-military-chief-muhammad-deif-last-week/.

According to the al-Qassam Brigades’ website, Deif’s real name is Mohammed Diab. The website claims that he chose the name “Deif” because it means “guest” —an appropriate title for a man who moves “from village to village and from place to place” under the constant lookout of Israeli security forces.Jethro Mullen and Brian Todd, “Gaza Crisis: Who’s Who in Hamas,” CNN, July 31, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/15/world/meast/hamas-leaders-whos-who/.

Israeli authorities credit Deif with masterminding al-Qassam’s rocket launching techniques, as well as the suicide bus bombings, soldier kidnappings, and tunnel-digging techniques. Sudarsan Raghavan, “Mohammed Deif, the shadowy figure who heads Hamas’s military wing,” Washington Post, August 2, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/mohammed-deif-the-shadowy-figure-who-heads-hamass-military-wing/2014/08/02/ed68c46e-1a85-11e4-85b6-c1451e622637_story.html. Many view Deif as a major obstacle to peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. During the Gaza-Israel war in the summer of 2014, Deif was responsible for launching attacks during humanitarian ceasefires. Sudarsan Raghavan, “Mohammed Deif, the shadowy figure who heads Hamas’s military wing,” Washington Post, August 2, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/mohammed-deif-the-shadowy-figure-who-heads-hamass-military-wing/2014/08/02/ed68c46e-1a85-11e4-85b6-c1451e622637_story.html. According to retired General Giora Eiland of the Israel Defense Forces, Deif “is against the cease-fire because he believes every day they continue to fight is another achievement for them.” Sudarsan Raghavan, “Mohammed Deif, the shadowy figure who heads Hamas’s military wing,” Washington Post, August 2, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/mohammed-deif-the-shadowy-figure-who-heads-hamass-military-wing/2014/08/02/ed68c46e-1a85-11e4-85b6-c1451e622637_story.html.

According to Imad Falouji, a former senior Hamas leader, Deif is “very quiet. He keeps a low profile and lives hidden among the population. He moves with different passports and different identities…. He’s successful until now because the circle around him is very small. That is why he is still alive.” Sudarsan Raghavan, “Mohammed Deif, the shadowy figure who heads Hamas’s military wing,” Washington Post, August 2, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/mohammed-deif-the-shadowy-figure-who-heads-hamass-military-wing/2014/08/02/ed68c46e-1a85-11e4-85b6-c1451e622637_story.html. Ehud Yaari, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agrees: “Deif has been in a position of power the entire time," he said. "Some may not have noticed it because he has been hiding in the shadows.”Nidal al-Mughrabi and Mayaan Lubell, “Has Hamas military chief, Mohammed Deif, escaped death again?” Reuters, August 20, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/20/us-mideast-gaza-deif-idUSKBN0GK1OW20140820.

Deif has been the target of Israeli airstrikes on numerous occasions, and has escaped each time, although not unharmed. He is partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, with only one arm and one eye. Sudarsan Raghavan, “Mohammed Deif, the shadowy figure who heads Hamas’s military wing,” Washington Post, August 2, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/mohammed-deif-the-shadowy-figure-who-heads-hamass-military-wing/2014/08/02/ed68c46e-1a85-11e4-85b6-c1451e622637_story.html. An Israeli targeted airstrike against Deif in the summer of 2014 resulted in the death of Deif’s wife and their two children.Nidal al-Mughrabi and Mayaan Lubell, “Has Hamas military chief, Mohammed Deif, escaped death again?” Reuters, August 20, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/20/us-mideast-gaza-deif-idUSKBN0GK1OW20140820.

In early May 2021, Israel’s supreme court was deliberating a decision on the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in a legal dispute over land rights and rent payments.Tzvi Joffre, “Jerusalem Day festivities shaken by rockets, violent riots,” Jerusalem Post, May 10, 2021, https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/jerusalem-day-riots-break-out-on-temple-mount-667735; Aaron Boxerman, “Supreme Court delays session on Sheikh Jarrah evictions amid Jerusalem violence,” Times of Israel, May 9, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/supreme-court-delays-session-on-sheikh-jarrah-evictions-amid-jerusalem-tensions/. On May 4, Deif issued his first public statement in over seven years. In the statement, Deif stated that he was sending a “clear, final warning” that Israel would pay a “heavy price” at the hands of Hamas if Israel evicts Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.Fares Akram, “Shadowy Hamas commander warns Israel over Jerusalem,” Reuters, May 5, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/hamas-israel-jerusalem-middle-east-bc7ea9ca8e503e45f711c5c6ed8fb124. As Palestinian protested the expected decision on May 10, Hamas launched 150 rockets from Gaza toward Israeli border communities. Hamas demanded Israel remove its forces from both the Temple Mount and the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood and set a deadline of that evening.Felicia Schwartz and Dov Lieber, “Israel Strikes Hamas Targets After Rockets Fired at Jerusalem,” Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/israeli-military-says-rockets-fired-from-gaza-toward-jerusalem-11620646448; Nidal Al-mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller, “Israel airstrikes kill 20 in Gaza, Palestinians say, after militants fire rockets at Jerusalem,” Reuters, May 10, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-airstrikes-kill-20-gaza-palestinians-say-after-militants-fire-rockets-2021-05-10/.

In response to the rocket attacks, Israel launched a widescale military mobilization against Gaza called Operation Guardian of the Walls. Israel struck Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) targets throughout Gaza while Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets toward Israel as the conflict continued into its second week.Anna Ahronheim, “Rocket fire continues despite talk of an imminent ceasefire,” Jerusalem Post, May 20, 2021, https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/rocket-strikes-ashkelon-house-leaving-26-year-old-with-light-injuries-668657. Israel attempted to kill Deif at least twice during the first week and a half of the conflict, but he escaped both attempts.Judah Ari Gross, “IDF twice tried, failed to kill Hamas military chief Muhammad Deif last week,” Times of Israel, May 19, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-twice-tried-failed-to-killed-hamas-military-chief-muhammad-deif-last-week/. On May 20, 2021, Ismail Ghaani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, wrote to Deif to praise Hamas’s actions while referring to Deif as a “living martyr.”Seth J. Frantzman, “IRGC head praises Hamas commander Deif as ‘living martyr’ – analysis,” Jerusalem Post, May 20, 2021, https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/irgc-head-praises-hamas-commander-deif-as-living-martyr-analysis-668656. According to Israeli media reports, the military continues to seek Deif’s assassination.“IDF said pushing for assassination of Muhammad Deif, other Hamas commanders,” Times of Israel, May 18, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/idf-said-pushing-for-assassination-of-muhammad-deif-other-hamas-commanders/.

Hamas and Israel declared a ceasefire on May 21 after 11 days of fighting. On May 22, Hamas held a military parade in Gaza City to celebrate its perceived victory. A senior Hamas commander told Israeli media a new round of fighting would begin if Israel targeted either Deif or Hamas’s Gaza political leader, Yahya Sinwar.Wafaa Shurafa and Samy Magdy, “Hamas defiant with military parade, appearance of top leader,” Associated Press, May 22, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/hamas-israel-middle-east-health-coronavirus-pandemic-6ea82ef3966ccd0cee3dce815730d130; “Hamas’s Sinwar emerges to claim victory; group warns against hits on leaders,” Times of Israel, May 22, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamass-sinwar-emerges-to-claim-victory-group-warns-against-hits-on-leaders/.

 
United States

The U.S. Department of State designated “Muhammed Deif” a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on September 8, 2015.“Terrorist Designations of Yahya Sinwar, Rawhi Mushtaha, and Muhammed Deif,” U.S. Department of State, September 8, 2015, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/09/246686.htm.

Israel

Listed on Israel’s “most wanted” list in 1995.Amos Harel, “Who Is Mohammed Deif?” Haaretz, April 10, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-who-is-mohammed-deif-1.5260209.

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