In the world of clandestine warfare, few names carry the mystique of Mohammed Deif. The commander of Hamas’s military wing is shrouded in secrecy, earning him the moniker “The Guest” and, sometimes, “the cat with nine lives.”
A Shadowy Figure
Mohammed Deif is the elusive architect behind Hamas’s strategic moves, and his ability to evade Israeli assassination attempts is legendary. His very name, “Deif,” which means “guest” in Arabic, reflects his evasive tactics. Deif regularly changes his location, spending nights with different sympathizers to elude detection.
A Rare Public Appearance
However, after Hamas’s recent surprise attack on Israel, Deif emerged from the shadows in a recorded video message. In this message, he announced the commencement of “Operation Al Aqsa Storm” and passionately called on Palestinians to join the struggle. Deif cited numerous grievances, including the 16-year blockade of Gaza, Israeli raids in the West Bank, violence at the disputed Al Aqsa holy site, settler attacks on Palestinians, and the expansion of settlements, as the reasons behind the offensive.
The Making of a Commander
Deif’s journey with Hamas began around 1990 when he acquired bomb-making skills under Yehya Ayyash, also known as “the engineer.” He was accused of orchestrating numerous suicide bombings starting in 1995, resulting in the deaths of dozens of Israelis. Deif is credited with designing the Qassam rocket and establishing an intricate network of tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip.
A Low Profile for Survival
What sets Deif apart is his low profile, a key factor in his survival. There are few public photos of him, showcasing his secretive nature. He keeps a small inner circle, lives among the population, uses various passports and identities, and maintains a down-to-earth image among Palestinians, reflecting their interests.
The Cat with Nine Lives
Deif has been Israel’s most-wanted figure since 1995, surviving numerous assassination attempts. However, he bears the scars of his escapes, including partial paralysis, the use of a wheelchair, and the loss of an eye and an arm in an attack. An Israeli airstrike in 2014 targeted Deif, resulting in the tragic deaths of his wife and two children.
A High-Value Target
Deif remains a high-value target, continually sought by the Israeli military. The United States has designated him as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).
Early Life and Acting Career
Born Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al Masri in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the 1960s, Deif’s early life remains shrouded in mystery. He pursued a science education at the Islamic University of Gaza, where he even dabbled in acting with a theatre group called The Returnees.
Breaking the Silence
Deif broke his years-long silence in 2021, issuing a warning to Israel regarding Hamas’s demands concerning Jerusalem. This led to an 11-day conflict resulting in casualties on both sides. Prior to this, he had remained unheard for seven years.
Mohammed Deif remains an enigmatic figure, a shadowy strategist guiding Hamas’s actions from the shadows, and a name that continues to intrigue and unsettle.