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August 16, 2014 8:01 pm
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‘Hamas’s Bin Laden’ Mohammed Al-Deif Lives Underground, Credited for Building Al-Qassam Brigades Into Military Force, Claims 25,000 Fighters

avatar by Joshua Levitt

A Hamas festival in Gaza. Photo: WikiCommons.

A Hamas festival in Gaza. Photo: WikiCommons.

“Hamas’s Osama Bin Laden,” in the words of Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, was born Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, in Khan Younes, in 1948, and is now the unchallenged commander-general of Hamas’s military wing, the Ezz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades.

Today known as Mohammed Al-Deif, the Hamas military leader has not been photographed since graduating from the Islamic University in Gaza, where he was indoctrinated by the first generation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, after which he joined the ranks of Al-Qassam Brigades and become its top fighter after Israel assassinated previous commander Emad Akl, according to a profile by Egypt’s Al Ahram Weekly published on Friday.

Under Al-Deif’s leadership, Hamas’s army has been professionalized, it’s created rocket-building facilities and now claims 25,000 fighters.

“Unlike his predecessors, Al-Deif does not engage in politicking, or even appear in public. He is a man who lives underground, or in the training camps and fields in Gaza, when necessary,” Al Ahram Weekly said. “The only time he made a public appearance was in a documentary film made by Al-Jazeera four years ago. And even then his face was masked. But behind that mask, one was struck by the strength of his voice, the methodical nature of his military mind, the determination to develop a special force in the guerrilla warfare that the Palestinian resistance is waging…”

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Al-Ahram Weekly cited Khaled Al-Azbat, an operations planner in the Al Qassam Brigades, as describing how five years ago Al-Deif reshaped “the Brigades in the manner of a modern army, with formations and lines of command very like the standing armies one finds in the region. There are divisions ranging from battalions, companies and platoons to special operations forces to armaments units. He has even developed a form of military academy with a department for military studies, research and planning.”

In 2000, Al-Deif laid the foundations for manufacturing weapons after smuggling routes into Gaza were closed. “According to Al-Azbat, Al-Deif took advantage of the Arab Spring period to engineer a qualitative shift in Hamas’s armament capacities, which Israel is currently targeting, ‘though it will never succeed in destroying them, no matter how hard it tries.’ He also applied the lessons derived from the resistance in the war in Lebanon, and benefited from Iranian technologies in manufacturing arms in spite of international restrictions.”

Al Ahram Weekly described Al-Deif as “a living legend” in Gaza, where people have heard of him, but never met him. “Al-Deif remains unidentifiable even within Hamas circles, apart from his comrades in arms. This is necessary for security reasons,” Gazan scholar Mohammed Abu Shaar told Al Ahram Weekly. The newspaper said Abu Shaar described Al-Deif as “the military brain of the so-called war council in Gaza, which is made up of most military branches. In addition, he currently commands at least 25,000 fighters.”

“Just before the war in the summer of 2012, the Israeli occupation forces assassinated Ahmed Al-Jaabari,” Al Ahram Weekly said. “Al-Jaabari, who surfaced only once following a prisoner exchange, was another version of Mohammed A-Deif. There is still some confusion between the two, say sources close to the Hamas leadership. Al-Jaabari had caused some perplexity as to which of them was the number one or number two man in the Qassam Brigades. He had said that such things made no difference in the field of jihad.”

Al-Deif is believed to be the mastermind behind the five-year kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and “using the same strategic shrewdness, he was also able to build many tunnels below the border into Israel.”

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