May 27, 2021 | Policy Brief

Israel Eliminates Key Members of Hamas and PIJ Commands

May 27, 2021 | Policy Brief

Israel Eliminates Key Members of Hamas and PIJ Commands

As part of its military operations against terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip during the recent war, Israel targeted key leaders and commanders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). The elimination of these senior figures is part of an effort by Israel to degrade its adversaries’ command-and-control structures and limit their capacity for future operations.

Hamas and PIJ fired almost 4,400 rockets at Israel over 12 days, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). An earlier IDF statement said Israel had faced “the highest daily rate of rocket fire … in the history of the country.” The rockets targeted Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other Israeli cities, with the goal of inflicting maximum casualties on the civilian population. Thirteen Israelis were killed during the war.

In cooperation with Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, the IDF executed numerous targeted killing operations against Hamas and PIJ leaders in order to disrupt the firing of rockets by degrading the command-and-control structures of the organizations.

On May 12, the IDF launched an airstrike in Gaza City, killing Bassem Issa, the highest-ranking member of al-Qassam Brigades – the military arm of Hamas – killed since the 2014 war in Gaza. Issa was the commander of the Brigades’ Gaza City battalion, the Shin Bet stated.

Alongside Issa, several prominent al-Qassam Brigades members were killed in the airstrike. They included Jama’a Tahla, the head of Hamas’ cyber command, who was also responsible for improving the accuracy of the group’s rockets; Jamal Zabeda, the head of research and special projects in Hamas’ munitions production department; and Hazzem Hatib, the chief engineer of the group’s munitions department.

A dozen other members of Hamas’ research-and-development division were killed in a separate strike that destroyed their facility, according to the Shin Bet statement.

The Shin Bet noted that Issa and several other al-Qassam Brigades commanders belonged to a military council headed by the Brigades’ chief of staff, Muhammad al-Deif.

PIJ’s military wing, Saraya al-Quds, also suffered losses of prominent commanders.

On the second day of the conflict, the IDF targeted a structure in Gaza City, killing Sameh Fahim Hashem al-Mamlouk, the head of the missile unit of the PIJ northern brigade. Also killed in the airstrike were Kamal Tayseer Salman Qureiq, a field commander of a missile unit in PIJ’s Gaza brigade, and Muhammad Yahya Muhammad Abu al-Ata, according to a statement published by the group.

Ata is the brother of Baha Abu al-Ata, the former commander of PIJ’s northern brigade, who was killed in 2019 in a targeted operation by the IDF and Shin Bet.

On May 17, PIJ acknowledged on its website that Hussam Abu Harbeed, the commander of the northern brigade, was killed by an IDF airstrike earlier in the day.

Harbeed was responsible for firing rockets at Israeli civilians, including a recent anti-tank guided missile attack against a civilian vehicle during the opening days of the conflict, according to a statement by the IDF.

There could still be more targeted strikes. The head of the IDF Southern Command, Eliezer Toledano, stated Monday that the IDF could target Muhammad al-Deif and Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar, whose home the IDF targeted in an airstrike on Sunday.

In a recent interview, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel’s goal was to “do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet and the security of people and deterrence. We’re trying to degrade Hamas’ terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again.”

Israel’s allies and partners, chief among them the United States, should unequivocally back this targeted campaign. Israel has proven its ability to eliminate terrorist targets with minimal civilian casualties. Continuing this campaign may be one of the key ways Israel can keep its citizens safe from the threat posed by terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.

Joe Truzman is an analyst and contributor at the Long War Journal (LWJ), a project of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). He also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Joe, LWJ, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Joe on Twitter @Jtruzmah. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @LongWarJournal and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Israel Jihadism Military and Political Power Palestinian Politics The Long War