Mohammed Deif became the architect of Operation Badia Al-Aqsa. Photo/SOT
GAZA – Israel calls Hamas’ devastating attack last week a 9/11 moment. The secret mastermind behind the attack, Palestinian fighter Mohammed Deif, called it Operation Al Aqsa Storm.
The phrase Israel’s most wanted man used in an audio recording broadcast as Hamas fired thousands of rockets out of the Gaza Strip on Saturday suggested the attack was in response to Israel’s assault on the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
It was in May 2021, after a raid on Islam’s third holiest site that outraged the Arab and Muslim world, when Deif began planning an operation that has killed more than 1,000 people in Israel, according to sources close to Hamas in Gaza.
How did Mohammed Deif mastermind Operation Al-Aqsa Storm? Here are 5 facts.
1. Triggered by the Israeli attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque
“Operation Al-Aqsa Storm was triggered by scenes and footage of Israel storming the Al Aqsa mosque during the month of Ramadan, beating worshipers, attacking them, dragging old people and young people out of the mosque,” said the source, reported by Reuters. “All of this fuels and fuels anger.”
The storming of the mosque compound, which has long been a flashpoint for violence over issues of sovereignty and religion in Jerusalem, helped trigger 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
More than two years later, Saturday’s attack, the worst breach in Israel’s defenses since the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict, prompted Israel to declare war and launch a counterattack on Gaza that has killed more than 800 people as of Tuesday.
A survivor of seven Israeli assassination attempts, the most recent in 2021, Deif rarely speaks and never appears in public so when the Hamas TV channel announced that he would speak on Saturday, Palestinians knew something important was happening.
2. Involved in Planning and Operations
“Today the fury of Al Aqsa, the fury of our people and nation, exploded. “Our Mujahideen (warriors), today is your day to make these criminals aware that their time is over,” Deif said in the recording.
There are only three images of Deif: one in his 20s, another in a mask, and an image of his shadow, which was used when the audio recording was broadcast.
Deif’s whereabouts are unknown, although he is likely in Gaza in the maze of tunnels beneath the enclave. Israeli security sources said Deif was directly involved in the planning and operational aspects of the attack.
3. 2 Brains, 1 Architect
Sources close to Hamas said the decision to prepare the attack was taken jointly by Deif, who leads Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades, together with Yehya Sinwar, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, but it was clear who the architect was.
“There are two masterminds, but there is one mastermind,” said the source, adding that information about the operation was known only to a handful of Hamas leaders.