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What we know about a secret Israeli unit targeting Hamas terrorists

A new unit was created within Israel's intelligence community, with a mandate to hunt down Hamas leaders, two sources tell Scripps News.
What we know about a secret Israeli unit targeting Hamas terrorists
Posted at 7:36 PM, Nov 02, 2023

A secret unit in Israel's intelligence apparatus is called NILI, a Hebrew acronym for a Biblical phrase that translates to “The Eternal One of Israel Will Not Lie.” It was assembled quickly to hunt down terrorists after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, two sources familiar with the development tell Scripps News.

"It's going to be using a variety of capabilities, both in gathering the information and being able afterwards to target all of the different Hamas terrorists, but they're very focused on the top echelon," says Ret. Col. Miri Eisin, former deputy head of Israel's Combat Intelligence Corps. 

The name NILI traces back to one of the world’s first underground Jewish spy rings. It helped bring an end to the Ottoman Empire’s rule of Palestine in World War I.

Today, NILI's endgame may resemble Operation Wrath of God, a covert assassination program led by the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service. One by one, and over years, Israeli operatives tracked down and killed Palestinians who murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics games in Munich.

Scripps News is told this covert unit exists inside the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence agency — but other agencies will share information that could lead to operations in Palestinian territories or on foreign soil, with no plans of stopping until the last Hamas leader is killed.

Sources say the unit will use all sources of intelligence, as well as DNA from the ground and whatever else they can, to identify and locate members of Hamas. 

"They presented the evidence themselves," says Eisin. "They put on GoPros. They filmed themselves. They used the victims' Facebook page, Facebook Live and telephones to livestream in the victims' telephone to the victims' families the crimes against humanity that they enacted." 

"This isn't a question of the high moral ground," she adds. "It's of putting asymmetry between a homicidal terror organization and a country that has lots of warts and pimples, but it really just wants to defend itself against that homicidal terror organization." 

SEE MORE: FBI director warns of increased terror risk amid Israel-Hamas conflict

The Israel Defense Forces say they and the Shin Bet have killed dozens of officers: from Asem Abu Rakaba, the head of Hamas' aerial array, who directed the paraglider invasion on Oct 7, to Shadi Barud, another planner who led Hamas' military intelligence. It's unclear if NILI was involved.

The IDF is also steadily declassifying parts of what it knows, including an assessment that Hamas operates command and control cells under Gaza's al-Shifa Hospital.

"This is where they direct rocket attacks, command Hamas forces, Hamas terrorists operate inside and under Shifa Hospital and other hospitals in Gaza with a network of terror tunnels. Hamas also has an entrance to those terror tunnels from inside the hospital wards," Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, Spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, recently told journalists. 

A U.S. official familiar with the intelligence confirms to Scripps News that the U.S. has long considered the site to be Hamas' headquarters.

David Scheffer, a former U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues, tells Scripps News that Israel's wartime calculus is made more complex by Hamas using civilians as human shields and by Hamas taking more than 200 people hostage. 

"Israel has to make calculations hour by hour, day by day, in how it confronts Hamas on the ground," he says. "As long as they can substantiate that they have done their due diligence in their decision-making, then they can protect themselves against allegations under international law."

He says moral questions lie in complicated, life-or-death math.

"The moral ambiguity would be, do we risk killing 20 civilians for the sake of killing 15 hardened Hamas militants? What's that calculation? ... If you really want to inject a moral calculus on this whole thing, what you do is you start with Oct. 7. What was the morality of the Hamas attack on the Israeli civilian population on Oct. 7? Where was morality that day?"

So far, Israel has shown it is willing to kill civilians in the pursuit of Hamas targets — a mission now supported by the new unit.

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