Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of Hamas’s army wing in Gaza and the suspected mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, was declared dead by a senior U.S. official on Monday after an Israeli airstrike more than any week before .

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told reporters that Mr. Issa, one of Hamas’s most senior officers, had been killed. Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari mentioned on March 11 that Israeli army warplanes attacked Mr. Issa and another senior Hamas official in an underground compound in central Gaza.

Mr. Issa, who was among Israel’s most wanted men, was not only the fatality but also the highest-ranking Hamas leader killed in Gaza since the conflict began. Israeli officials described the attack as a breakthrough in their campaign to eliminate the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

But experts warned that his death would not have a devastating impact on Hamas’s leadership structure. Israel has killed Hamas’s political and military leaders in the past, only to see them quickly change.

Here’s a closer look at Mr. Issa and what his death means for Hamas and its leadership.

What role did Mr. Issa have in Hamas?

Mr. Issa, who was 58 or 59 at the time of his death, had served since 2012 as deputy to Mohammed Deif, the elusive head of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ army wing. Mr. Issa assumed the role after the assassination of another top commander, Ahmed al-Jabari.

Mr. Issa served on both Hamas’ army council and its political office in the Gaza Strip, overseen by Yahya Sinwar, the group’s highest-ranking official in the enclave. Mr. Issa was described by Palestinian analysts and former Israeli security officials as a key strategist who served a key role as a liaison between the Hamas army and political leaders.

Salah al-Din al-Awawdeh, a Palestinian analyst close to Hamas, described Mr. Issa’s role within the group as “part of the senior leadership of the army wing.”

Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, the former Israeli army intelligence chief, said Mr. Issa was simultaneously Hamas’s “protection minister,” its deputy army commander and its “strategic mind.”

What does his death mean for the group?

Aides described Mr. Issa as an important associate of Mr. Deif and Mr. Sinwar, although they said his death did not pose a threat to the group’s survival.

“There is always an alternative,” Mr. Awawdeh said. “I do not expect that the assassination of a member of the Army wing will have any impact on their actions.”

Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli army intelligence officer and expert on Palestinian affairs, said Mr. Issa’s death was a major blow to the Qassam Brigades but acknowledged that it was not “top of the world” for Hamas .

“He had a lot of expertise,” Mr. Milshtein said. “His death is a great loss for Hamas, but it is not a loss that could lead to its collapse, and it will not have any impact on it for a long time. “Every week or two they will do it.”

Mr. Milshtein added that while Mr. Issa’s opinion was valued at the highest levels of Hamas, the fact that he did not directly command fighters meant that his death did not fill a gaping hole in Hamas’s operations.

How was he described?

Mr. Issa was a lesser-known member of Hamas’ leadership, keeping a low profile and rarely appearing in public.

Gerhard Conrad, a former German intelligence officer who met Mr. Issa more than a decade ago, described him as a “decisive and calm” person who lacked charisma. “He wasn’t very eloquent, but he knew what to say and he got straight to the point,” Mr. Conrad said in an interview.

Mr. Conrad said he met Mr. Issa, Mr. al-Jabari and Mahmoud al-Zahar, another senior Hamas official, about 10 times in Gaza city between 2009 and 2011. The boys met as part of efforts to negotiate a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.

“He had the information about the prisoners in his hands,” Mr. Conrad said of Mr. Issa. “He had all the names that needed to be negotiated.”

However, Mr. Conrad said it was obvious at the time that Mr. Issa was a subordinate of Mr. al-Jabari. “He was kind of the boss of the staff,” he said.

Only after Mr. al-Jabari’s assassination did Mr. Issa’s notoriety grow, but he still sought to remain out of sight. Only a few pictures of Mr. Issa are in the public domain.

Mr. Awawdeh, the analyst, described Mr. Issa as a person who liked to “stay in the shadows” and who rarely gave interviews to the media.

In a kind of unusual interviewsMr. Issa spoke in 2021 about his role in the indirect talks that led to Israel Exchange of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for a single Israeli soldier, Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit and his hopes for a future fight with Israel.

“Even if the resistance in Palestine is monitored by the enemy for hours, it will surprise the enemy,” he told Al Jazeera at the time.

In a separate interview with a Hamas publication in 2005, Mr. Issa praised the militants who raided Israeli settlements and army bases, calling the actions “heroic” and a “superior exercise.”

What do you think about your youth?

Mr. Issa was born in 1965 in the Bureij area of ​​the central Gaza Strip, but his family comes from what is now the Ashkelon area of ​​Israel.

As a long-time Hamas member, Mr. Awawdeh said, he was concerned about the militant group that persecuted Palestinians believed to have collaborated with Israel.

Mr. Issa bounced around prisons run by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Admiral Hagari has mentioned that Mr. Issa helped plan the Hamas-led attack on October 7th. It could also be assumed that Mr. Issa carried out targeted operations aimed at infiltrating Israeli settlements during the second intifada in the 2000s, Mr. Milshtein said.

A correction has been made

March 18, 2024


An earlier version of this text misstated the surname of a former Israeli army intelligence chief. He is Tamir Hayman, not Heyman.

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