NewsYehez Aman's role in Hamas intelligence and counterintelligence

Yehez Aman's role in Hamas intelligence and counterintelligence

The attack of October 7 was coordinated by the Hamas intelligence. What is Yehez Aman?
The attack of October 7 was coordinated by the Hamas intelligence. What is Yehez Aman?
Images source: © Getty Images
8:09 AM EDT, October 29, 2023

Founded in 1987, Hamas has been entangled in conflict with Israel since its inception. On October 7th, Hamas militants executed one of the largest attacks in history, targeting southern Israel, causing fatalities and taking hostages. This came as a surprise to the Israelis, an outcome made possible by the instrumental role of Hamas's intelligence and counterintelligence unit - Yehez Aman.

All national liberation organizations under occupation must have structured security systems in place. This includes intelligence responsible for reconnaissance and gathering information, and counterintelligence seeking agents and informers.

For instance, this was the case with the Irish Republican Army. It also had its structures, and members of this "counterintelligence" were notorious for their brutal elimination of British traitors and informants, often involving torture. The lesser-known GAL, or the Anti-Terrorist Liberation Group that fought the Basque ETA, also followed a similar pattern.

The same holds true for Hamas. Fighting for the liberation of Palestine, Hamas launched a massive attack on southern Israel on October 7. The casualties numbered in the thousands, with considerable credit for this "achievement" going to the lesser-known sub-unit of Hamas - Yehez/Jihaz Aman.

Let's start with the basics. Colonel Uri Halperin, a retired Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officer, tells that Hamas's military organization is composed of "slightly less" than 50,000 people. This number includes militants, police members of the Gaza Strip under Hamas supervision, and the aforementioned intelligence and counterintelligence units.

Halperin knows what he's talking about. Aside from his previous tenure in the IDF, he also holds a high rank within Israel's intelligence community. He has served as his country's defense attaché at NATO and has advised two Israeli prime ministers on intelligence services. Currently, he works at one of Israel's arms companies.

What exactly is Hamas? Founded in 1987, this organization also has its security structures. This is an efficient, well-organized, yet little-known formation. It came into existence even before the formal establishment of Hamas. Originally called the 'Security Department', this organization is the aforementioned Yehez/Jihad Aman.

Terrorism expert from Collegium Civitas, explains that Hamas is currently divided into three main divisions. The first, Da’wa (Base), is responsible for charitable activities. The second division is Yehez Aman, and the third division is the Martyr Izz Al-Din al-Kassam Brigades (assault groups). Ninety percent of Hamas's activities are aid-related (kindergartens, schools, clinics, hospitals, etc.); nonetheless, its notorious terrorist structure is the most well-known.

The Security Apparatus, the best trained and most secret cell of the organization, operates between these divisions. This cell consists of two members: the first, Mahd ("Glory"), is responsible for the personal protection of Hamas dignitaries and intelligence and counterintelligence. The second, Majmouath Jihad u-Da’wa (Holy War and Preaching Group), is responsible for enforcing compliance with conservative religious principles - explains expert.
Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar
Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar© Getty Images | Laurent Van der Stockt

The strength of this unit is estimated to be between 200 to 500 individuals. The members of Yehez Aman do not participate in terrorist activities or street fighting. The Security Apparatus is deeply entrenched within the structure of Hamas and is responsible for relations with Hezbollah, where Hamas benefits from the training camps of the Party of God in the Bekaa Valley, in Lebanon.

The VIP protection training mirrors that offered by the special unit training services of many countries. Yehez Aman is responsible for counterintelligence operations, and it extinguishes Israeli informants while implementing misinformation.

When looking at this conflict as opposition between the main actors, Yehez Aman's most formidable adversary is the Israeli Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service. It must be acknowledged that with the October 7th attack, Yehez Aman emerged victorious in the "battle" with Shin Bet. Yehez Aman carried out reconnaissance of Israeli military placements along the Gaza Strip border, disrupted communication between Israeli units, and caused diversion from the land offensive with significant rocket fire - continues expert.

A history lesson

In order to better comprehend Hamas's operations, it's necessary to delve into its history. A former high-ranking officer of the Internal Security Agency, who prefers remaining anonymous due to his involvement in identifying threats from Muslim communities in the country, explains.

Originally, Dzhiaz Aman incorporated a counterintelligence service for tracking and eliminating traitors, as well as a militia maintaining order in Gaza. In 1987, the Muslim Brotherhood's armed cells initiated the first attacks against Israel. The primary hindrance to these operations was pro-Israeli collaborators in the Palestinian community. Therefore, Madjd, intended as the strike force of the pre-existing Security Department, was established - begins the anonymous high-ranking officer.

Madjd's role was to track Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel, arrest them, and deliver justice. "Delivering justice" naturally included the physical elimination of traitors. Prior to the establishment of Hamas, however, there was a group of Palestinian Jihad Warriors, coordinated by the Muslim Brotherhood, involved in armed actions in the Gaza Strip.

In 1991, Madjd, the Security Department, and the groups of Palestinian Jihad Warriors were united. All these units were then incorporated into the al-Kassam Brigades, as our source continues. The Brigades continued Madjd's tasks, which included kidnapping and executing suspected collaborators but quickly broadened their list of targets to include Israeli civilians. In modern military terminology, such actions are referred to as "kinetic". Nonetheless, the analytical task of identifying and exposing traitors was still carried out by the Internal Department.

Counterintelligence and intelligence

As Hamas expanded its influence, the creation of foreign support and financing cells led to the rising importance of the External Security unit (Aman Kharidzhi) - the intelligence department, alongside the Internal Security (Aman Dakhili) unit – the counterintelligence department.

The cells of the latter are positioned on the West Bank of the Jordan. They operate in areas of autonomy within Israel and several countries worldwide, including the US and the European Union, where Palestinian centers, organizations, support groups, and Muslim charitable organizations are active. Agents from Hamas's intelligence unit reach these locations with their primary objectives being to raise funds, purchase weapons, organize pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli demonstrations, and work towards improving the organization's image.

Hamas built this entire system following Iranian methodology. It utilizes all available methods - human intelligence (HUMINT), cyber intelligence, and even signals intelligence (SIGINT) - explains Colonel Halperin.

Halperin contends that the Palestinians capitalised on Israel's goodwill. Israel permitted them to work within its borders, but the Palestinians exploited this opportunity to gather crucial information which aided the October 7 attack.

October 7 - A Day of Fury

For many months, General Maslaha's formation was involved in the reconnaissance of areas that would become the target of the October 7 attack this year. They also actively engaged in spewing disinformation aimed at assuring Israeli security services that Hamas was disinterested in further military action against them and would consider renouncing violence in return for financial aid.

This perception of possible "improved" relations made Israeli authorities issue thousands of work permits to Gaza residents and increase trade. Consequently, this facilitated the Internal Security Forces in surveying areas of Israel neighboring the Gaza Strip and recruiting Israeli Arabs. As we now know, this situation culminated in Hamas's October 7 attack. The following Thursday, the Israeli Defense Forces announced the death of Shadi Barud, deputy to Sami Nofal, who was implicated in planning the attack on Israel, during the said attack.

Colonel Halperin warns that Hamas possesses long-range missiles that can endanger the entire country. These missiles are capable of reaching as far as the city of Safed in northern Israel. If possible, Hamas would develop projectiles with chemical warheads or a dirty bomb. Halperin stresses that such threats are no longer hypothetical in light of the events three weeks ago.

"It is clear - any hazardous object, anything that can be weaponized, that falls into the hands of Hamas, will be used by them with the intent to kill Israelis. The destruction of Israel is explicitly described in the 1988 Hamas Charter - adds the officer. "

As expert said, Hamas won the October 7 battle. He adds that the Izz ad-Din al-Kassam Brigades would not have been able to acquire the large volumes of weapons or organise the operation logistically without going unnoticed by Israeli services.

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