Israel refers to last week’s catastrophic Hamas strike as its 9/11 moment. Palestinian insurgent Mohammed Deif, the attack’s covert planner, refers to it as the Al Aqsa Flood.
The word used by Israel’s most wanted man in an audio clip aired as Hamas launched hundreds of missiles from Gaza on Saturday signified the strike was retaliation for Israeli attacks on Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa shrine.
According to a source close to Hamas in Gaza, Deif began organizing the operation that has killed more than 1,200 people in Israel in May 2021, following an attack on Islam’s third holiest shrine that infuriated the Arab and Muslim world.
“It was triggered by scenes and footage of Israel invading Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, beating worshippers, dragging elderly and young men out of the mosque, attacking them, ” a person familiar with the matter said. “All this fuelled and ignited the anger.”
The invasion of the mosque compound, which has long been a hotspot for conflict in Jerusalem over issues of sovereignty and religion, helped spark 11 days of war between Israel and Hamas.
More than two years later, Saturday’s attack, the largest breach in Israeli defenses since the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1973, prompted Israel to declare war and unleash retaliatory attacks on Gaza, killing almost 800 people by Tuesday.
Deif, who has survived seven Israeli murder attempts, the latest recent in 2021, rarely talks and rarely appears in public. When Hamas’ TV station announced on Saturday that he was due to speak, Palestinians knew something big was about to happen.
“Today, Al Aqsa’s rage, the rage of our people and nation, is exploding.” “Today is your day, mujahedeen (fighters), to make this criminal understand that his time has come,” Deif stated in the tape.
There are only three photographs of Deif: one of him in his twenties, one of him disguised, and one of his shadow, which was used when the audio cassette was aired.
Deif’s location are unclear, although he is most likely in Gaza, somewhere in the tangle of tunnels beneath the enclave. According to an Israeli security source, Deif was actively engaged in the attack’s preparation and execution.
ONE MASTERMIND, TWO BRAINS
According to a Hamas source, the decision to plan the strike was made jointly by Deif, the commander of Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades, and Yehya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, but it was unclear who was the architect.
“There are two brains, but there is one mastermind,” the insider added, adding that only a few Hamas leaders were aware of the plot.
According to a regional source familiar with the group’s thinking, Iran, Israel’s sworn foe and an important source of finance, training, and weaponry for Hamas, knew only in broad strokes that the movement was planning a major operation but did not know the timing or details.
According to the source, while Tehran was aware of the planned attack, it was not addressed in any joint operations rooms comprising Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorists Hezbollah, and Iran.
“It was a very tight circle,” stated the person.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, stated on Tuesday that Tehran was not engaged in the attack on Israel. Washington has stated that, while Tehran was involved, there was no information or proof pointing to Iran’s direct involvement in the assaults.
The strategy, as imagined by Deif, entailed a lengthy period of deceit. Israel was encouraged to think that Hamas, an ally of Israel’s arch-foe Iran, was not interested in starting a war and was instead focused on economic growth in Gaza, where the organization is the ruling party.
However, as Israel began offering economic incentives to Gazan employees, Hamas soldiers were being trained and drilled, frequently in full view of the Israeli military, according to a source close to the organization.
“We have been preparing for this battle for two years,” said Ali Baraka, Hamas’s chief of external affairs.
In his audio, Deif stated calmly that Hamas has repeatedly warned Israel to stop its atrocities against Palestinians, free detainees who he claimed were beaten and tortured, and stop expropriating Palestinian property.
“Every day, the occupation raids our villages, towns, and cities in the West Bank, killing, injuring, destroying, and detaining people.” Simultaneously, it confiscates hundreds of acres of our land, uproots our people from their homes to create colonies, and maintains a criminal siege on Gaza.”
For well over a year, there has been unrest in the West Bank, a region roughly 100 kilometers (60 miles) long and 50 km broad that has been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute since Israel took it in 1967.
Deif stated that Hamas had pushed the international community to cease the “crimes of occupation,” but Israel had increased its provocations. He also stated that Hamas had previously sought Israel for a humanitarian bargain to release Palestinian detainees, but that this had been denied.
“In light of the organizing of occupation and its denial of international laws and resolutions, and in view of American and Western backing and international silence, we’ve determined to put an end to all this,”
Born Mohammad Masri in the Khan Yunis Refugee Camp during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the militant commander changed his name to Mohammed Deif after joining Hamas during the first Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in 1987.
According to a Hamas source, he was arrested by Israel in 1989 and detained for roughly 16 months.
Deif graduated with honors from the Islamic University of Gaza, where he studied physics, chemistry, and biology. He had a passion for the arts, serving on the university’s entertainment committee and appearing on stage in plays.
Deif rose through the Hamas ranks, developing the group’s tunnel network and bomb-making capabilities. He has been at the top of Israel’s most wanted list for decades, accused of personally killing scores of Israelis in suicide attacks.
Staying in the shadows has been a matter of life and death for Deif. According to Hamas reports, he lost an eye and had significant damage in one leg during one of Israel’s assassination attempts.
In 2014, an Israeli attack murdered his wife, 7-month-old baby, and 3-year-old daughter.
His survival while leading Hamas’ military branch has made him a Palestinian folk hero. In videos, he is either disguised or only a shadow of himself is seen. According to a source close to Hamas, he does not utilize modern digital devices such as smartphones.
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