How Hamas continues to resist after commanders are slain

Analysis: resilient structure helps group rebound after attacks on leadership

Israel's killing of three Hamas commanders has neither halted rocket fire from Gaza nor prompted the organisation to sue for a ceasefire. Israel estimated 150 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza since it bombed a house in Rafah where the men were staying; 500 since the truce collapsed a week ago.

Three of the most senior leaders of the al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas's military wing) in Rafah – Mohamed Abu Shamalah, Raed Attar, and Mohamed Barhoum – were promptly replaced by officers in the chain of command.

Following the collapse of ceasefire talks in Cairo a week ago, Israel also targeted the family home in Gaza city of the wife of Mohamed Deif, overall commander of the al-Qassam Brigades, killing her and two of their children. Hamas responded by firing 175 rockets into Israel, the heaviest bombardment since the conflict began on July 8th.

Price of ceasefire

Although death stalks Hamas leaders, they continue to insist on an end to Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza as the price of a ceasefire. Khalil al-Hayya, Hamas’s negotiator at the Cairo talks, lost a son, daughter-in-law and grandson in this conflict, another son in 2008, and two brothers in 2007.


Israel has routinely slain senior Hamas figures. Bomb maker and West Bank commander Yahya Ayyash was killed in 1996; Hamas's co-founders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2004; military commanders Nizar Rayan and Abu Zakaria al-Jamal in 2009; and al-Qassam's deputy chief Ahmed Jabaari in 2012.

Hamas is resilient because it has dedicated leaders, a nationalist cause that appeals to Palestinians, and a structured organisation with political and military wings.

While its charter calls for Palestinian rule in all of Palestine, Hamas has said it is prepared to accept a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Leaders in exile

Khaled Meshaal, chief of Hamas's politburo, its highest political body, is based in Qatar, his deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk in Cairo. Gaza and the West Bank have local leaders; many in the West Bank are in Israeli prisons. Gaza's de facto prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and his cabinet resigned when the Fatah-Hamas consensus government assumed office in June, but Hamas remains in charge.

The al-Qassam Brigades, established in 1987, was named after Izzedin al-Qassam, a Syrian preacher who attempted to resist British and French colonialism in the Levant and was killed in Palestine in 1935. Al-Qassam is subordinate to the political leadership but has consderable operational independence. The relationship has been described as being similar to Sinn Féin’s connection with the IRA.

Hamas units operate as separate cells; commanders are compelled to live underground, fighters to keep their membership secret. Al-Qassam has a fairly effective intelligence operation which, Israel admits, knows when senior Israeli officers visit locations near Gaza.

Kibbutz Nahal Oz was targeted by mortars on Friday when chief-of-staff Benny Gantz was touring.

Four-year-old Daniel Tregerman died, the third Israeli civilian fatality and the sole child. A Thai national was also killed. At least 2,111 Palestinians have died, 600 of them children.

Hamas firepower

Israeli officials estimate 4,000 missiles have been fired into Israel in the conflict and claim this comprises 70 per cent of Gaza’s arsenal of homemade rockets, mortars, and medium range Iranian- and Russian-made rockets anti-tank weapons and machine guns.

Israel also claims to have struck workshops where rockets are made and storage areas, degrading Hamas’s ability to manufacture and protect weapons.

But Hamas appears to be in no hurry to agree to a ceasefire unless the siege and blockade of Gaza end, indicating that Gaza’s arsenals could be larger than Israel suggests.