As Israel enters Day 14 of its operation aimed at halting Hamas from firing rockets and tunneling into its territory, the apparent mastermind behind the group's "military" wing Izz ad-Din al-Kassam Brigades, Mohammed Deif, remains as shadowy a figure as ever.
I do not know if the subterranean cities throughout Gaza are his idea or part of Iranian and Hezbollah doctrine carried to fruition by Hamas.
While satellite news stations such as CNN, SKY and others show pictures of dazed civilians and injured children and terribly tragic scenes of death and mayhem – no camera is allowed to show Hamas gunmen.
Only Hamas's mild-mannered, fire-breathing, spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri appears before the cameras.
Hamas's political leadership is in hiding as is its "military" echelon.
They are in tunnels running underneath apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, UN compounds, and mosques -- equipped with electricity and running water.
Some tunnels are used internally for communication, others lead to bunkers – such as one under Shifa Hospital where senior Hamas leaders are believed to be holed up.
Ambulances are available when they need to move from point to point.
Still other tunnels are dug from within homes on the Gaza side into Israel. These are intended – as we've in recent days – to be used for infiltration into Israel.
Hamas desperately wants to carry out a major terrorist strike before the current round of fighting ends. This could be a mass slaughter of Israelis or a kidnapping.
Hamas claimed a kidnapping overnight. Whether this was a communications glitch by them or part psychological warfare, I do not know.
The current round of fighting is tied to the Hamas kidnapping of three teenagers in Gush Etzion. Recall Hamas had been calling for such a kidnapping. It praised the kidnapping. The kidnapper/murderers are affiliated with Hamas and obviously their ability to avoid capture all this time reflects support from the Hebron Hamas branch. Officially, Hamas claims it did not directly order the operation.
As a guerrilla/terrorist strategist, Deif has taken a multi-pronged approach to the conflict: shooting rockets at Israel with a special effort made at hitting metropolitan Tel Aviv (for the emotional impact). He's used rudimentary drones. Sent commandos by sea. Dispatched (repeatedly) squads of terrorists via tunnels.
Anything to kill Jews -- anywhere in Israeli-occupied "Palestine."
Hamas has ordered Gaza's civilians to ignore Israeli warnings (by phone, leaflet, radio and text) and insisted they stay in the neighborhoods where its rocket launchers and tunnels are located – to protect these vital assets.
The civilians serve a double purpose: they protect and camouflage rocket launchers and arsenals. And when they are killed in the process they provide fodder for Palestinian propagandists and their "useful idiots" in the media.
Deif was born in 1965 in the Gaza Strip. He became active in the Muslim Brotherhood – the parent organization of Hamas—in 1989, soon joined Hamas and then Izz ad-Din al-Kassam Brigades.
He was an acolyte of Yahya Ayyash, one year his senior, known as the Engineer.
Ayyash was liquidated in 1995.
Keep in mind that this was after Yitzhak Rabin had installed Yasser Arafat in the West Bank and Gaza. He'd been exiled in Tunisia after being allowed to escape from Beirut (under pressure from Ronald Reagan).
Deif, Ayyash's understudy, moved up in the ranks after Imad Akel, Izz al-Din al-Kassam commander, was killed in 1993.
Again, it is important to emphasize that Hamas grew popular and potent precisely when Israel offered massive concessions to the Palestinians under the Oslo agreements.
The PLO (under Arafat and now under Mahmoud Abbas) have pursued the phased plan for the destruction of Israel. They are prepared to sign deals and accept whatever territory Israel will fully abandon. Obviously, not even Abbas will recognize the right of the Jewish people to a national home anywhere in the Middle East. But he is willing to think in the long term and "accept" Israel for now.
Hamas opposes such half measures.
Deif became the top Hamas military commander in the wake of the targeted killing of Salah Shehade in 2002.
Since the Engineer was killed, though, Deif has played a role in just about every major Hamas operation against Israel -- from the kidnapping and murder of IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman in 1994 to a string of heinous bus bombings, to the development of Hamas rocket capabilities.
Naturally, Israel tried repeatedly to assassinate him.
For instance, in 2002, he lost an eye in such an attempt. In 2006, another try left him wheelchair bound with a spinal injury.
When Ahmed Jabari met his demise in 2012 Deif resumed his role (if he ever really gave it up) as the organization's top strategist.
Now, as Israel begins to bury its fallen soldiers – and we can anticipate more funerals in the days ahead – it is clear that Hamas has taken a major hit.
What we don't want is a premature ceasefire.
Regrettably, US Secretary of State John Kerry (Poof, as I call him) is on the way to the region right now with just that in mind.
Like the administration he is part of, Kerry is a "soft" friend of Israel. His heart is not in it.
Israel needs time to degrade Hamas. Now that Egypt is not allowing weapons into Gaza – which it did through the Mubarak years – we stand a chance at "demilitarizing" the Strip.
But this will take time.
It is clear that Hamas wants to keep fighting because it continues to unleash barrages of rockets at Israel. It has nothing to lose -- except dead Gazans which is of no importance to its fanatics.
The more launchers and rockets and tunnels the IDF can destroy, meanwhile, the better.
The more Hamas assets can be killed -- the better.
Afterwards, the IDF must move in and out of Gaza as needed just as it does in Judea & Samaria. It is time to stop making a fetish about operating in Gaza. I myself have been guilty of this thinking. But now I see that we need freedom of operation in Gaza.
Israel does not want to rule over the Strip, and does not want – not now anyway – to topple Hamas. The alternative to Hamas is the feckless Mahmoud Abbas (who lost the territory to Hamas in a violent ouster) or the even more fanatical Salafis and company.
What the IDF can do in Gaza is not in the realm of slam dunk – you know, like the US in Iraq.
This is an ongoing problem -- the result not of disengagement but of Oslo -- that Israeli policymakers must not again allow to get so out of hand.