Reassessing the Immunity of Hamas Leadership

For years, Israeli governments have refrained from pursuing targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders, offering them a de facto immunity despite recommendations from the Shin Bet and the Mossad. The prevailing Israeli notion that "Hamas is deterred" led to the abandonment of a crucial counterterrorism strategy. It's high time for a reevaluation.


Former Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, recently disclosed in a Channel 12 interview on December 23 that a political decision was made not to eliminate the Hamas leadership based in Qatar.

While he remained silent on whether this decision applies to Hamas leaders in Turkey and Lebanon, Cohen’s revelation raises questions about the motivations behind disclosing such sensitive information on television.

Could it be an attempt to shift responsibility onto Benjamin Netanyahu’s past actions as he reenters political life?

Up until October 7, the Hamas leadership, both abroad and in the Gaza Strip, seemed to enjoy an ambiguous immunity from Israeli actions.

Notably, the Shin Bet has repeatedly proposed a “beheading” plan to various Israeli Prime Ministers, including the current head Ronen Bar, suggesting the elimination of top Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.

However, this proposal has been consistently rejected, driven by concerns of escalation and the misguided belief that “Hamas is deterred.”

In contrast to the Shin Bet, the Mossad has occasionally been involved in the elimination of lower-ranking Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives in Lebanon but has refrained from similar actions in Turkey.

Istanbul hosts a significant building housing the military wing of Hamas, operated by individuals involved in terrorist activities against Israel since 2011.

Despite Israel’s request, Turkish President Erdogan has refused to close this branch, asserting its lack of terrorist activity.

This branch is a vital target for Israeli intelligence, housing a large listening room that spies on Israel, with operatives passing information to Hezbollah and Iran.

Despite Turkey’s support for Hamas terrorism, Israel opted to normalize relations with Turkey approximately two years ago.

However, this move, based on an assumption that proved mistaken, has left Israel dealing with a leader, President Erdogan, whose anti-Israel sentiments have become increasingly apparent, particularly during the recent conflict.

Erdogan now fears the potential elimination of senior Hamas officials on Turkish soil following explicit threats from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Galant, and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar.

The immunity granted to Hamas leadership over the years has been a significant mistake, eroding deterrence and allowing them to inflict serious harm on Israel, as witnessed on October 7.

In 1999, Salah Shahada, head of Hamas’s military wing in the Gaza Strip, acknowledged that nothing is more discouraging to Hamas leaders than being eliminated by Israel.

Ironically, Shahada himself was assassinated by Israel in July 2002.

Israel relinquished a potent preemptive weapon by abandoning targeted assassinations, only now realizing the mistake and revisiting this strategy, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

Eliminating senior Hamas officials abroad should not be dismissed.

While immediate action in Qatar or Turkey might be impractical due to heightened security measures, there are alternative locations where the Mossad, with its extensive knowledge and surveillance capabilities, could pursue these individuals.

Israel must adopt a policy of targeting the Hamas leadership abroad, even if it takes years, to hold them accountable for the severe damage inflicted upon Israel by the group.

Yoni Ben Menachem Senior Middle East Analyst

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem is a Middle East senior analyst ,a journalist and
the former CEO of the Israel Broadcasting Authority(IBA). He has
decades of experience in written and video journalism. Ben
Menachem’s path in the media world began as a producer for
Japanese television in the Middle East. After that, he held many key
positions in the media The Israeli: CEO of the Israel Broadcasting
Authority, director of “Kol Israel” Radio, reporter on West Bank and
Gaza Strip affairs, political reporter and commentator, commentator
on Middle East affairs and editor-in-chief and presenter of the
program “Middle East Magazine”. 

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