The attempt to kill Muhammad Deif, the head of Hamas’s military wing, is one component of a wider strategy to reassert Israeli deterrence, former Israel Navy chief V.-Adm. (res.) Eliezer Marom told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Keeping senior terrorists on the run forces them to go on the defensive and spend less time trying to murder Israeli civilians, Marom added. “There is no difference between the political and military wings. None of them should be immune. Anyone who incites or works toward killing Israeli civilians is a fair target,” he said.
“Just as the US hit Osama bin Laden, the same fate should meet Deif, and [Hamas political wing chief Ismael] Haniyeh,” he added. Deterrence is the core of Israel’s security doctrine, Marom said, and targeting Hamas’s leadership plays a vital part in achieving this goal.
Israel sought to exit the current conflict through negotiations with Hamas that came too early, before deterrence was achieved, he said.
Only after Hamas internalizes the fact that it cannot defeat “this small but extraordinarily powerful country” can negotiations be considered, Marom argued. Seeking talks with Hamas now goes against Israel’s core security principles, he said.
“I’m glad the government brought the negotiators home [from Cairo]. The government should tell the army: go and achieve deterrence. The IDF performed very well until now, but we haven’t yet reached that goal.”
Marom pointed to the fact that Hezbollah has maintained quiet on the northern border for eight years, ever since the Second Lebanon War, and that the terrorist organizations are weakened in the West Bank, as proof that the same situation can be reached in Gaza.
“The IDF has many tools to achieve this. An operation against Deif is definitely a step in the right direction. It must be combined with other operations.
Later, if we decided that a long-term arrangement is desirable, negotiations can then be held. But talking to Hamas now is very wrong,” he said.
Yoram Schweitzer, who heads of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that whether Deif was seriously wounded or killed, the attack is significant and painful for Hamas. “It’s proof of operational capabilities, and a boost to Israeli morale. But this won’t make Hamas fall apart,” he said.
Deif is an “operational, strategic leader,” and his killing or severe injury would hurt Hamas, Schweitzer said. “It is an indication of intelligence infiltration. But he will be replaced if he cannot lead anymore.
Either by one figure or a few.”
Deif had commanded the Izzadin Kassam Brigade in the Gaza Strip since the 1990s, and stood behind a long series of terrorist attacks on Israelis. In recent years, he oversaw the construction of Hamas’s tunnel networks, and focused on kidnappings of Israelis as a strategic weapon.
“Deif also planned Hamas’s armament program. I view him as being higher than a chief of staff, though lower than a defense minister,” Schweitzer said.
The attack is a message to Hezbollah that Israel will not hesitate to kill senior terrorist leaders, he said.