Hamas admits naval officer spied for Israel

Acknowledgment follows denial he passed information before defecting.

A Palestinian woman wearing the headband of Hamas' armed wing takes part in a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, near Israeli Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip July 9, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
A Palestinian woman wearing the headband of Hamas' armed wing takes part in a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, near Israeli Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip July 9, 2020
After denying such reports, Hamas has now confirmed that one of its naval commanders fled to Israel after providing it with intelligence.
Abu Mohammed, a Hamas military spokesman, told The Media Line that the defector was a junior officer in the organization’s highly regarded naval unit.
The daring escape was first reported on Saturday by the Saudi news channel Al Arabiya, which said the officer and his brother escaped with a laptop and surveillance equipment as part of a 72-hour operation led by Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
Hamas immediately issued a statement calling the report "fake news" benefitting Israel, and harshly criticized the news outlet.
"The aim [of the report] is to harm the Palestinian people and [damage] their confidence in the resistance and liberation project," Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said at the time. “Al Arabiya is promoting rumors that serve the occupation by destabilizing the home front in Gaza.”
Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia has been trying to quash. The kingdom has also drawn closer to Israel in recent years although the countries do not maintain official ties.
Alaa Al-Rimawi, an expert on internal Hamas politics based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, told The Media Line that the Saudi channel had ulterior motives.
"This report came after the Saudi-Israeli rapprochement,” Rimawi said, adding that the Saudi government was “targeting all elements close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement or [other] movements for change in the Arab world, regardless of whether they are nationalist or Islamic."
Hamas political bureau member Musa Abu Marzouk told a Lebanese news channel on Wednesday that "what was reported by the media about leaders … accused of collaboration is incorrect.”
Abu Marzouk revealed in an interview on Al Mayadeen television in Lebanon that Hamas arrested several "collaborators with the occupation" but that neither they nor the "escapee" held leadership positions.
Abu Mohammad, the Hamas military spokesman, told The Media Line that several officials in the organization’s internal security service also stood accused of spying for Israel.
Rimawi says Hamas and Israel are constantly working at "penetrating" each other’s defenses.
"Hamas penetrated the mobile devices of Israeli soldiers. On the other hand, the occupation [Israel] managed to penetrate Hamas, and this is not a secret," he said.
Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, prides itself on recruiting talented individuals for its military and other wings, and providing them with intensive training. The organization is highly secretive and its senior officials rarely make public appearances.
Gonen Ben-Yitzhak, a former operative for Israel’s Shin Bet internal security apparatus, told The Media Line that the defection of the Hamas naval officer was nothing to celebrate.
"When a source is exposed, it's not a victory,” he said.
“The intelligence person is the handler,” he explained, “and [as a former intelligence person] I want my source to remain in his position without being exposed or having to defect, because you lose a source and you never know whether… you will be able to recruit someone as good."
Since Hamas wrested control of the impoverished enclave from the Palestinian Authority and its dominant Fatah movement, Israel has had a tougher time recruiting sources in the Gaza Strip, Ben-Yitzhak said.
"It seems like Israel is losing the intelligence war against Hamas,” he added.
He points to Hamas’s kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006.
“For five years, Israel didn’t know where he was and didn’t have the ability get to him. We needed to pay the price and release [Palestinian] prisoners in order to get him back," he said.
One of Israel’s successes in the intelligence war was its recruitment of Hamas leader Hassan Yousef’s son Mosaeb, whose code-name was the Green Prince. Mosaeb worked undercover for the Shin Bet for 10 years.
Ben-Yitzhak says that while the Green Prince was not a Hamas member, he was close to his father and provided reliable intelligence.
He adds that since the defector passed on valuable information, his rank was irrelevant, at the same time noting, however, that Hamas’s naval commandos have not accomplished much despite their elite status.
"We see that Hamas hasn’t been very successful in hurting Israel through the water border," he said.
Hamas’s Interior Ministry has now issued strict orders prohibiting journalists, politicians and leaders of armed groups in the Gaza Strip from appearing on the Al Arabiya channel. Gaza production and media-service companies are also barred from working with it.
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