Fighting Invading Israeli Forces: Who Are Hamas ‘Nukhba’ Fighters?

The Al-Qassam Brigades are the military wing of the Palestinian Resistance Movement Hamas. (Image: Palestine Chronicle)

By Robert Inlakesh

The Hamas armed wing is under the command of Mohammad Deif, who has masterminded various successful offensive operations against Israel. 

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, or simply the Qassam Brigades, are the armed wing of the Palestinian Resistance Movement Hamas and were behind the October 7 offensive against Israel, named Operation al-Aqsa Flood by the group’s leader. 

Now engaged in defensive ground operations, the armed group is using guerilla warfare tactics throughout the Gaza Strip to combat Israel’s invading army.

The Qassam Brigades were officially established in 1991 and were led by its commander, Salah Shehadeh, until his brutal assassination in 2004. 

The Hamas armed wing has since been under the command of Mohammad Deif, who has masterminded various successful offensive operations against Israel. 

Today, the Qassam Brigades are the most powerful Palestinian Resistance group and lead the ‘Joint Room’ in the Gaza Strip, under which a myriad of smaller armed movements and military wings of different Palestinian political parties coordinate.

Mujamma al-Islamiyyah

Although the Hamas armed wing was not officially operational prior to the early 1990’s, the group’s precursor, known as the Mujamma al-Islamiyyah, did possess a security arm that developed cells of operatives, known as the Majd, formed in 1985; a project co-founded by Yahya Sinwar, the current Hamas leader in Gaza. 

Salah Shehadeh, who would go on to found the Qassam Brigades, was tasked with forming small groups of operatives around that period, which occurred after the release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from Israeli detention in a prisoner exchange. 

What Shehadeh’s exact mission at this time was and whether he was successful, is still an object of historical debate.

Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam

The Qassam Brigades are named after Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, who is regarded as the first Palestinian resistance leader. 

He is seen as having inspired the ‘Arab Revolt’ of 1936-9 against the British Mandate army and Zionist militias, after he was martyred in a firefight with British occupying soldiers. 

Out of Jenin, the Sheikh led a group of armed fighters, some of whom were ill-treated laborers in Haifa, convincing them to take the path of an armed Jihad against Zionist ambitions to conquer Palestine. 

Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam was so influential that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement, also originally called its armed wing ‘al-Qassam’, before changing it later to Saraya al-Quds.

Axis of Resistance

In 1992, the Qassam Brigades received the backing of Hezbollah and began opening contacts to obtain the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

This was the unintended consequence of a mass deportation in December of that year, when Israel transferred some 415 Palestinians from the 1967 occupied territories to southern Lebanon, including prominent figures within Hamas. 

Opening an alliance with nations like Syria, Iran and groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah, aided in strengthening the tactics of the Qassam Brigades.

Today, the Qassam Brigades are estimated to have between 30,000 to 50,000 combat ready fighters. 

It possesses specialized units that manage border control, intelligence gathering, offensive and defensive ground operations, an air defense team, airforce (hand-gliders), the frogmen (naval force), drone operations, explosives manufacturing, tunnel defenses, special forces for prisoner security, anti-tank guided-missile units, medical, all-female and rocket launch teams. 

There is even a specially designated choir, media teams and the Qassam Brigades spokesperson is the iconic masked figure Abu Obeida. 

Nukhba Commandos

Perhaps the most feared of all the Qassam Brigades fighters are its Nukhba commandos, these special forces units are highly secretive in nature. 

Israel has given past estimates that the force could be around 1,500 men strong, although this is a guess. 

It is said that the Nukhba commandos are trained in Iran, they are also said to have gained battle experience in Iraq, Syria and coordinate closely with Lebanese Hezbollah. 

Israel accuses the Nukhba of leading the operations on October 7, during which around 400 Israeli combatants were eliminated. 

The Nukhba are pegged with not only defeating Israel’s Givati Brigades in a standup fight, but even engaging and killing members of Israeli special forces units. 

Israeli media have also alleged that Nukhba commandos managed to continue infiltration operations after Israeli forces had re-captured the settlements surrounding Gaza.

It is important to keep in mind that Israel does not understand the true extent of the military power of the Qassam Brigades. 

The armed wing of Hamas specially chooses its fighters for their given roles, many of whom are individuals who have had family members murdered by Israel. 

Strict Standards

Due to its strict standards, it is believed that the second strongest group in Gaza, belonging to PIJ, is actually larger in its manpower. 

The discipline of the Qassam Brigades fighters have been well observed, as fighters are not even permitted to smoke cigarettes and they follow their Islamic doctrine with seriousness. 

The group has managed to mass manufacture anti-tank warheads, which have evolved over time through the ingenuity of the Qassam Brigades weapons manufacturers, creating the Yasin-105 missile, which has managed to successfully damage/destroy hundreds of Israeli tanks. 

Sniper teams have also proven successful in combating Israeli soldier formations. 

The Qassam Brigades have successfully prepared booby-traps, detonated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), used anti-personnel weapons and engaged with Israeli forces with light weapons.

There are various estimates that have been produced on the number of domestically produced rockets that are in the possession of the Qassam Brigades, what seems to be certain is that it is in the tens of thousands, possibly in excess of 100,000. 

However, the rockets do not possess the capabilities of their allies, such as Hezbollah, and are viewed as strategically important, but physically ineffective. 

In addition to its Gaza based operations, the Qassam Brigades are also rooted in Lebanon and Syria, while they manage small cells to carry out occasional operations in the occupied West Bank.

(The Palestine Chronicle)

– Robert Inlakesh is a journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker. He focuses on the Middle East, specializing in Palestine. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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