All around him, his successive commanders, political and military peers and subordinates, dozens of them, have been assassinated throughout the years. But he has led a charmed life.
Now he heads the Israeli hit list, the most wanted and hunted Palestinian activist. He is the No. 1 "Son of Death," a rather biblical appellation used in Israel for those marked for assassination.
Like most inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, Deif is a child of refugees from Israel. His family comes from the village Kawkaba, now in Israel, not far from Gaza. I passed through it in the 1948 war, before it was razed to the ground.
For the Israeli Security Service, he is a prize for which it is well worth breaking the ceasefire and reigniting the war.
FOR MANY security agencies around the world, including the American and the Russian, assassination is a sport and an art.
Israel claims to hold the gold medal.
An assassination is a complicated operation. It requires a lot of time, expertise, patience and luck. The operators have to recruit informers near the victim, install electronic devices, obtain precise information about his every movement, execute their design within minutes once the opportunity presents itself.
Because of this, there is no time for confirmation from above. Perhaps the Security Service (usually called Shin Bet) got permission from Netanyahu, its sole political chief, perhaps not.
They obviously were informed that Deif was visiting his family. That was a golden opportunity. For months, indeed for years, Deif has been living underground, in the literal sense -- somewhere in the maze of tunnels his men had dug beneath the Strip. He was never sighted.
Since the beginning of this war, all the other prominent Hamas leaders have also been living under the ground. From Ismail Haniyeh down, not one of them has been seen. The unlimited command of the air by Israeli planes and drones makes this advisable. Hamas has no anti-air weapons.
It seems to me highly unlikely that Deif would risk his life by visiting his family. But Shin Bet obviously got a lead and believed it. The three strange rockets fired on Beersheba provided the pretext for breaking the ceasefire, and so the war started again.
Real aficionados of the art of assassination are not very interested in the political or military consequences of their actions. "Art for art's sake."
A propos, the last Gaza war, two years ago, started the same way. The Israeli army assassinated the de-facto al-Qassam leader, Ahmed Jaabari. The ensuing war with its many hundreds of dead was just collateral damage.
Jaabari was at the time filling in for Deif, who was convalescing in Cairo.
ALL THIS is, of course, much too complicated for American and European diplomats. They like simple stories.
The White House immediately reacted to the resumption of hostilities by condemning the Hamas launching of rockets and reaffirming that "Israel has a right to defend itself." The Western media parroted this line.