How Israeli intel derailed Hamas’s ‘secret weapons’ for bigger war

There are broader strategic reasons why Hamas has so far stayed on the sidelines, but part of it can undoubtedly be traced to Israeli intelligence success at liquidating Hamas’s weapons experts.

Former Mossad Director Yossi Cohen (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Former Mossad Director Yossi Cohen
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
For some time, Hamas has bragged that it has all sorts of new “secret weapons” to use against Israel.
There has been a conflict going on between Israel and Gaza now for nearly two days. How come Hamas has not yet, as of press time, used these advanced “secret weapons”?
Of course, there are broader strategic reasons why Hamas has so far stayed on the sidelines, but part of it can undoubtedly be traced to Israeli intelligence’s success at liquidating Hamas’s weapons experts (though Israel has not officially confirmed this).
In December 2016, Muhammad al-Zawari was assassinated in Tunis, and in April 2018 Fadi Muhammad al-Batsh was assassinated in Malaysia. There have been other reported assassinations and undoubtedly other unreported ones.
How are these seemingly unrelated shootings, around a year and half apart across the world from each other, connected?
No one ever found a footprint, but Mossad director Yossi Cohen has dropped hints, and nearly every educated observer attributes the killings to the Mossad.
Cohen would never admit to a specific targeted killing. Yet he would give a knowing look of amusement in response to complimentary references to the Mossad’s involvement or to the men disappearing unexplainably.
The Mossad chief does like to refer to his announcement upon taking over the spy agency of a new and intensive war against Hamas’s scientists and weapons development network.
Most importantly, during Cohen’s reign, Hamas weapons experts have been hunted far and wide beyond Israel’s borders, making it clear that there is no corner of the earth where they can hide.
Ironically, the concept of taking out such weapons experts runs counter to, or at least is part of, a separate, more long-term vision, when compared to Israel’s decision to assassinate Bahaa abu al-Ata of Islamic Jihad on Tuesday.
That concept states that eliminating weapons experts has a greater long-term impact on the capabilities of terrorist groups like Hamas than eliminating even senior operational commanders.
Essentially, the reasoning is that taking out experts who can design aerial or underwater drones or other weapons for Hamas can totally end or significantly delay their ability to develop weapons that could alter the playing field itself.
In contrast, as important as al-Ata might be to Islamic Jihad, the track record is often that most terrorist groups’ operational commanders are replaced within a relatively short time, without a strategic change occurring.
Taking out these weapons experts may also take longer.
Intelligence suggests that al-Ata was being heavily tracked in recent weeks for this operation. An operation against a weapons expert in Tunis or Malaysia may take years of planning in order to infiltrate the foreign country and do so without being caught on camera.
But part of why Hamas has waited on the sidelines this long is that it has likely not succeeded in advanced weapons development as much as it had planned to.
Each time Israel – allegedly – took a weapons expert off the playing field, Hamas likely lost the knowledge they had, with no obvious replacement for an extended period.
This means that when Hamas weighs whether it is worth engaging in a general war with Israel, its picture looks like 2014, when it did not achieve removing Israel’s blockade, or possibly worse, since Jerusalem has neutralized much of Gaza’s tunnel advantage.
If Hamas had an armada of drones that it could unleash on Israel, as Iran did against the Saudis, it might have been more ready to play its cards more aggressively.
And Hamas may yet join the hostilities. But as of press time, the fact that it mostly stayed out of the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad for over 36 hours shows that Israeli intelligence’s campaign to remove Hamas weapons experts from the board has taken a long-term toll on the group’s operational and strategic capabilities.