Mohammed Deif is a Palestinian militant and supreme military commander of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. He has been the Israeli military’s ‘most wanted’ man since 1995. He became the most prominent Hamas fighter in July 2002 after Israel assassinated Salah Shehade, leader of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri The Economic Times was born in 1965 (age 58 years; as of 2023) in Khan Yunis, Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip. At the time of his birth, his mother was staying at the Khan Yunis Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip which was set up after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He came from a low-income background and had to temporarily leave school to help support his family. He initially worked alongside his father in the textile and upholstery industry, later establishing poultry farming and taking on a job as a driver. Mohammed’s association with the Hamas movement began in late 1987. Later, he returned to school and earned a science degree from the Islamic University in Gaza (1988). He studied subjects like physics, chemistry, and biology. He liked the arts and was in charge of the university’s entertainment committee. Mohammed created the Islamic theatre group al-Ayedun and acted in various plays. The Hindustan Times While studying biology at the Islamic University, he became head of the Muslim Brotherhood Student Union, from which Hamas was founded in 1987. For decades, he has stayed in different houses every night to avoid being tracked, and killed, by Israel. Due to his nomadic lifestyle, he came to be known as Mohammed Deif or El Deif, which means guest in Arabic. The Economic Times
Parents & Siblings
He was born to a Palestinian refugee family hailing from Al-Qubeiba who were forced to leave their village during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Deif’s mother died in January 2011. In 2023, Mohammed Deif’s brother Abd al-Fattah Diab was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his father’s home.
Wife & Children
In 2011, he got married to Widad Asfoura. Together, they had two children, a daughter named Sara and a son named Ali. Widad, Ali, and Sara were killed in an air strike in 2014. At that time, Sara was three years old and Ali was a 7-month-old infant.
In 1987, after the outbreak of the First Intifada against Israel, Hamas was founded by Palestinian imam and activist Ahmed Yassin. First Intifada was a sustained series of protests and violent riots carried out by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and Israel in frustration over Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 1989, Israel detained Deif, leading to his 16-month imprisonment without a trial for his alleged involvement in the military activities of the movement. In 1990, Deif joined Hamas through his long-time associates Yahya Ayyash and Adnan al-Ghoul. Hamas is the Sunni Islamist political and military organization that governs the Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories.
In mid-1991, Mohammed and his colleagues established the military wing of Hamas called al-Qassam Brigades. The al-Qassam Brigades were opposed to the peace process embraced by Yassir Arafat, then-leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the 1993 Oslo Accords that were supposed to pave the way to a two-state solution of a new Palestine living in peace alongside Israel. As a result, Deif organised countless terrorist attacks against Israel in the 90s that killed numerous people to derail the peace process. In 1994, Deif played a crucial role in the abduction and murder of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers Shahar Simani, Aryeh Frankenthal, and Nachshon Wachsman. Deif learned the skill of assembling IEDs (improvised explosive devices) from his mentor Yahya Ayyash, who was killed in 1995. Following Ayyash’s death in 1995, Deif started working as “The Engineer” in the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed military wing. In 1996, Deif masterminded the Jaffa Road bus bombings in Jerusalem in which Hamas suicide bombers blew up two buses using explosives prepared by Adnan Awul, killing around 45 people. The five suicide bombers he sent into Israel in March 2000 were killed by Yamam, Israel’s national counter-terrorism unit. Deif was arrested by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s security forces in May 2000. He escaped from jail in December 2000. In 2002, he took over as commander of the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades after Israel assassinated Salah Shehade.
As the Israeli and Egyptian control over Gaza’s borders tightened over time, Hamas developed military means like rockets to fight back. Deif is considered to be the co-designer of the Qassam rocket. In 2005, Dief’s video surfaced on the internet in which he promised “hell” for Israel after its pullout from the Gaza Strip. He said,
Today you have left the hell of Gaza in shame but have not gotten out completely, as you continue to occupy Palestine….We tell the Zionists who have tarnished our soil, we tell you that all of Palestine will become a hell.”
In 2006, an Israeli F16 aircraft attacked a house where senior Hamas leaders were holding a meeting in which Deif suffered a severe spinal injury. Following this incident, Ahmed Jabari took on the role of acting commander for the Hamas military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. On 8 September 2015, the United States Department of State added Deif to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. In 2021, Deif sent a clear and final warning that if Israel goes through with the eviction of dozens of Palestinians in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Hamas “will not stand by helplessly and the enemy will pay a heavy price.” In 2023, Deif masterminded a series of coordinated attacks codenamed “Al-Aqsa Flood.” Around 5,000 rockets were launched from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip against Israel. Additionally, 2,500 Palestinian militants breached the Gaza–Israel barrier, massacred and set fire to civilian communities, and attacked IDF military bases near the Gaza Strip.
Attempts to Kill Deif
By 2023, Deif had managed to escape seven assassination attempts over the course of 20 years, which included five Israeli air strikes. In 2001, Israel first attempted to assassinate Deif. In the first assassination attempt on his life, it’s believed that he suffered the loss of one eye, and in the subsequent one, he lost a part of his arm, which left him with a disability. There were reports of his death in an Israeli air strike on 27 September 2002, but soon an Israeli intelligence official confirmed that he survived the attack. On 12 July 2006, an Israeli F16 aircraft struck a residence where senior-ranking Hamas officials were holding a meeting. Deif managed to survive the explosion but sustained severe injuries to his spine. On 19 August 2014, an air strike conducted by the Israeli Air Force on a house in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Radwan in Gaza City killed his wife, his 7-month-old son, and his 3-year-old daughter. Amid the events of Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, reports indicated that the Israeli military made two attempts to assassinate Deif within the span of a week, yet on both occasions, he narrowly escaped at the eleventh hour.
- In February 2006, Israeli media allegedly reported that Deif, dissatisfied with the truce declared by Hamas, considered leaving Hamas to join newly forming Al-Qaeda groups in the Gaza Strip. However, the Ezzadeen al-Qassam Brigades denied this move.
- After Deif’s wife, Widad Asfoura, was killed in an air strike in 2014, Deif’s mother-in-law said she would be honoured if Deif were to marry her two other daughters. She said,
Should Deif request the hand of any of my other daughters, I will happily consent and even if she, too, is martyred I will consent to the third. It is an honor to have Deif a husband to any of my daughters and be a father to their children.”
- He is often referred to as “the cat with nine lives” for escaping the numerous assassination attempts on his life. Business Standard His other names include Abu Khaled. The Free Press Journal