Brigades chief Ezzedin al-Qassam since July 2002, joined Hamas in 1990 and has survived several Israeli attempts to assassinate him over the past 20 years
Behind today’s attack on Israel is the ‘ghost’ of Gaza. Very few have direct contact with him and there are even doubts about his real identity: Mohammad Deif is the military commander of Hamas, the man who today 7 October 2023 announced the start of an unprecedented “military operation” against Israel.
Who is Mohammad Deif, head of Hamas
Brigade leader Ezzedin al-Qassam from July 2002 joined Hamas in 1990 and has survived several Israeli attempts to assassinate him over the past 20 years. In a raid in 2014 he lost his wife and seven-month-old son, while the most recent known attempt to eliminate him dates back to Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021.
Deif is the mastermind of the rocket launch strategy against the Jewish state and the construction of tunnels to infiltrate men and weapons. He is considered the most inflexible opponent of the ceasefire with Israel. Born in Khan Younis more or less 60 years ago, Deif is actually a ‘ghost’ for both Israelis and Palestinians: the last photo of him dates back to 2001, when he was released from a PA prison.
No one even knows if Mohammed Deif is his real name, indeed, some claim that he was born as Mohammed al-Masri and that he took the ‘battle name’ by which he is known from a character he had played on the theater at the time of university. Because Deif, as a science student at the Islamic University of Gaza, really liked being an actor and had founded a group, called “The Returners”, in reference to the Palestinians’ desire to return to the land where they lived before the birth of the State of Israel.
A passion, that of acting, which Deif maintained even after becoming a Hamas militant – after his ‘initiation’ with the Muslim Brotherhood, of which the Islamic resistance movement is an offshoot – lending his face in propaganda videos of the group.
In 1990 he was arrested for the first time by the Israelis, who however released him shortly after. And since then he has actively participated in the creation of the al-Qassam Brigades, demonstrating particular skill with weapons, in particular with rockets and bombs.
In 1996, after the death of the Hamas ‘engineer’, Yahya Ayash, killed by the Israelis with a cell phone packed with explosives, Deif – whose name in Arabic means ‘guest’ – took on an increasingly central role in the Brigades and in planning of attacks against the “Zionist enemy”. At the same time he disappeared from circulation, while in 2002 he reappeared as leader of the armed wing of Hamas, becoming, according to the intelligence of the Jewish State, the mastermind of all the bloodiest suicide attacks against Israeli buses and restaurants in the 2000s.
It was during that time that he survived numerous attempts to kill him, attempts that would have left him blind in one eye and in a wheelchair. And which contributed to increasing the legend around his character, who the Palestinians consider a hero, also due to his frugal lifestyle. “He keeps a low profile and lives hidden among the people – said Imad Falouji, a former Hamas leader and founder of the Brigades, one of the few who can boast of having met him – He moves around with different identities and different passports and so far he has managed to hide because he travels with a very small circle of people. That’s why he’s still alive.”
His strategy, in addition to the development of increasingly sophisticated rockets to hit Israel, also includes the creation of a force of fighters trained to infiltrate through the tunnels and strike. Deif is also believed to be very close to Tehran.