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

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

With his death, Mr. Issa, who was among Israel’s most wanted men, became the most senior Hamas leader killed in Gaza since the war 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 replaced.

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

What role did Mr. Issa play 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 leader of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing. Mr. Issa assumed the role after the assassination of another top commander, Ahmed al-Jabari.

Mr. Issa served on both Hamas’s military council and its political office in Gaza, which was headed 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 played a key role as a liaison between Hamas’ military and political leaders.

Salah al-Din al-Awawdeh, a Palestinian analyst close to Hamas, described Mr. Issa’s position in the group as “part of the front rank of the military wing’s leadership.”

Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, the former head of Israel’s military intelligence, said Mr. Issa was simultaneously Hamas’ “defense minister,” deputy military commander and “strategic head.”

What does his death mean for the group?

Experts described Mr. Issa as a key 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 a replacement,” Mr. Awawdeh said. “I do not believe that the assassination of a member of the military wing will have any impact on its activities.”

Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli military 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 “the end of the world” for Hamas .

“He had a lot of experience,” Mr. Milshtein said. “His death is a great loss for Hamas, but it is not a loss that will lead to its collapse and will not affect it for a long time. They’ll get over it in a week or two.”

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 the fighters meant that his death did not leave a gaping hole in Hamas’s operations.

How was he described?

A lesser-known member of Hamas’ leadership, Mr. Issa kept a low profile and rarely appeared 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 men met as part of brokering a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.

“He was the master of the data on the prisoners,” Mr. Conrad said of Mr. Issa. “He had all the names to negotiate.”

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

Only after Mr. al-Jabari’s assassination did Mr. Issa’s notoriety grow, but he was still keen to remain out of sight. Few images of Mr. Issa are in the public domain.

Mr. Awawdeh, the analyst, called Mr. Issa a man who liked to “stay in the shadows” and rarely granted interviews to the media.

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

“Even if the resistance in Palestine is under 24-hour surveillance by the enemy, 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 military bases, calling the actions “heroic” and a “progressive activity.”

What is known about his early life?

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

According to Mr. Awawdeh, he was a Hamas member for decades and was involved in the militant group that persecuted Palestinians believed to have collaborated with Israel.

Mr. Issa spent time in prisons operated by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Admiral Hagari said that Mr. Issa helped plan the October 7 Hamas-led attack. Mr. Issa is also believed to have planned 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 article misstated the name of a former head of Israeli military intelligence. He is Major General Tamir Hayman, not Heyman.

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