Mohammad al-Daif: The “Phantom” Hamas Leader

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Gunmen from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, line up outside the house of their late leader Ahmed Jaabari, after mourners finished visiting his family to pay their condolences in Gaza City on 22 November 2012. (Photo: Marco Longari)

Published Friday, November 23, 2012

Mohammad al-Daif, general commander of Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, has been conducting special operations against Israel since the 1980s, despite numerous attempts to capture or assassinate him.

This week, he made a rare appearance on Hamas’ al-Aqsa satellite channel to announce the beginning of the “purge” of al-Aqsa Mosque. He warned Israel that he will “make the occupation pay dearly if it decides on a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.”

“Operation Stones of Shale” – Hamas’ name for its counteroffensive against Israel – was the result of sustained preparations, effort, training, and rocket production following the Israeli-dubbed Operation Cast Lead in 2008, according to Daif.

Daif, whose real name is Mohammad Diab Ibrahim al-Masri but also goes by Abu Khaled, is well-known to the Israelis.

He was the principal leader of numerous resistance operations against the Israeli occupation, including the ones in retaliation for the martyrdom of Hamas weapons expert Yehya Ayash, which killed more than 50 Israelis in the beginning of 1996.

The Phantom

Daif works in the shadows and has always been careful in his movements. His inner circle is very small. They call him the “phantom,” because he leaves his mark in resistance operations without being seen.

He chooses which comrade to contact and refuses to use modern communications equipment.

Daif first joined the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, which later became Hamas, while studying science at the Islamic University of Gaza.

He served as a field commander until he was captured by Israeli occupation forces in 1989. He spent 16 months in Israeli prisons for being part of the Qassam Brigades, established by martyred Sheikh Salah Shehadeh.

When he was released from prison, the Brigades were beginning to take on the shape of a military. Along with the martyr Yasser al-Namrouti and Ibrahim Wadi, Daif was one of its main leaders.

His leading role in the Brigades became evident following the martyrdom of Brigades commander Imad Akel in 1993.

Daif supervised the operation which led to the capture of Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman in 1994, in addition to the series of suicide operations in retaliation for the killing of Ayash in 1996. By the end of July 2000 and the eruption of the second Intifada, he led several Brigades operations, killing hundreds of Israelis.

Daif survived five assassination attempts. There are rumors that he lost his eye in one and was paralyzed in another.

He was considered such a threat to Israel that it made him part of its deal with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), demanding the authority arrest him in exchange for taking control of security in three villages in the area of occupied Jerusalem.

Between 1995 and the end of 2000, the PNA’s security forces began chasing after the Hamas cadre, but Daif categorically rejected confrontation and surrendered calmly to the Palestinian Preventive Security Service (PSS).

Despite his arrest by the PNA in the beginning of May 2000, Daif managed to escape during the second Intifada.

In a 2005 interview, Daif described Hamas’ experiments in weapons manufacturing.

“The first attempt to develop a weapon was at the end of 1991, to create a replica of a Star model pistol, but it was not successful,” he said.

In 1994, Abu Bilal al-Ghoul joined the project, bringing with him his own weapons expertise. One year later, they were joined by Ayash and the trio began developing an arsenal for the Qassam Brigades.

They manufactured bombs, several types of explosives, and developed al-Qassam and al-Battar rockets.

The Artist

Daif was born in 1965 in Khan Younis, but his family is from al-Qubaiya, a Palestinian village occupied in 1948. Although his family was poor and Daif was forced to work from an early age, he did not neglect his studies.

Those who know him personally describe him as kind, humane, and always ready to help. Many attribute this to his religiosity. He went to the mosque regularly, later becoming a prominent preacher in the West Bank.

Sources close to Daif also say it is difficult to see him as a formidable military commander who can shake the foundations of the strongest country in the region and terrorize its soldiers.

Daif gives the impression of a soft-mannered and bashful young man, but still mischievous with a sense of humor. He is simple, calm and controlled, and tends to be introspective and very patient.

In addition to his military career, Daif was also involved in establishing the first Islamic theater troupe, al-Aaedoun, or The Returnees.

He was best known for his character Abu Khaled whom he portrayed in a play called “The Clown.” The play was set in the period of transition between the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, around mid-8th century AD.


This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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