The assassination of three of Hamas’s most important military commanders in an Israeli air strike is the worst and most painful blow dealt to the movement’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, in recent years.

The last time Izzadin Kassam suffered a major blow was when Israel killed its general commander, Ahmed Jabari, in November 2012.

The killing of the three Hamas commanders in a pre-dawn strike on a house in Rafah came less than 48 hours after the IAF targeted a house in Gaza City where Muhammad Deif, Izzadin Kassam’s “chief of staff,” was believed to be staying together with his wife and children.

By Thursday night it was still not clear whether Deif had been killed.

But what is already clear is that the killing of the senior Hamas commanders – Raed Atar, Muhammad Abu Shamaleh and Muhammad Barhoum – and the attack on Deif’s hideout have shattered the self-confidence of the movement’s leaders.

Deif and the three slain commanders are supposed to be among the most protected Hamas military figures in the Gaza Strip. They are rarely seen in public and spend most of their time moving from one hiding place to another.

These are not political leaders or spokesmen who do not hesitate to move around freely in the Gaza Strip and give interviews to local and foreign journalists. Only a small number of people know where the Hamas military commanders hang out.

The targeting of the Hamas commanders represents a serious intelligence blunder for the movement’s armed wing. It shows that Israel has either managed to infiltrate the group or that its has informants who are very close to Hamas’s top military brass.

A sign of the panic that has engulfed Hamas following the air strikes on its military commanders was provided by the summary execution of three Palestinian “collaborators” shortly after the assassination of the three men early Thursday.

Sources close to Hamas announced that the “collaborators,” whose identities were not revealed, had been executed by firing squad after being subjected to “revolutionary procedures.”

The sources said another four “collaborators” were being interrogated on suspicion that they had tipped Israel about the hiding place of the three commanders.

It’s naive to think the targeting of the top Hamas commanders would deter the movement or end the rocket attacks on Israel.

It’s also naive, however, to think the assassination of Hamas’s top and most experienced military commanders would not hurt the movement and its armed wing.

A long time will pass before Izzadin Kassam manages to fill the vacuum created by the departure of the three top figures and symbols whose expertise dates back to the late ’80s, when Hamas was established.

Even if the killing of the Hamas leaders does not affect the movement’s military capabilities, it is still seen as a severe moral blow to the armed wing.

A statement published Thursday by Izzadin Kassam openly admitted that the loss of its three top commanders was a “moral shock to the spirits of the members and supporters of the resistance.”

Nonetheless, the group said that despite the “moral pain,” the killings would strengthen the determination of others to step forward to succeed the slain commanders.

Finally, it remains to be seen whether the targeting of the military commanders will affect relations between Izzadin Kassam and Hamas’s political leaders.

The armed group is now urging the political leaders not to return to the Cairo cease-fire talks, lest that be interpreted as a sign of weakness and submission on the part of the movement.

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