JERUSALEM – The son of one of Hamas' founders served as a top informant for Israel for more than a decade, providing top-secret intelligence that helped prevent dozens of bombings and other attacks against Israelis, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
Mosab Hassan Yousef, dubbed as "the Green Prince" by his handlers, was one of the Shin Bet security service's most valuable sources, Israel's Haaretz daily said. His reports led to the arrests of several high-ranking Palestinian figures during the violent Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, according to the newspaper.
Yousef's father — Sheik Hassan Yousef — was a founding member of the Islamic militant group Hamas in the 1980s. He is currently serving a six-year sentence in an Israeli prison for his political activities.
The younger Yousef converted to Christianity and moved to California in 2007.
If the Haaretz report is true, the revelation would deal another setback to Hamas, which is reeling from the assassination of a top operative in Dubai last month. There have been reports that a Hamas insider assisted the killers.
Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri told a Gaza Web site that he would not address the younger Yousef's claims, and accused Haaretz of "fabrications and lies."
Yousef's memoir, "Son of Hamas," is being published next week in the United States by Tyndale House Publishers.
Yousef could not be immediately contacted for comment, but an excerpt from the book on his Facebook page plugs it as "a gripping account of terror, betrayal, political intrigue, and unthinkable choices." It describes Yousef's journey as one that "jeopardized Hamas, endangered his family, and threatened his life."
It also says Yousef's relationship with the Shin Bet helped thwart an Israeli plan to assassinate his father.
Speaking with Haaretz, Yousef said Shin Bet agents first approached him in prison in 1996 and proposed he infiltrate the upper echelons of Hamas. He did so successfully and is credited by Israel with saving hundreds of Israeli lives.
Yousef told the paper he hoped to send a message of peace to Israelis, though he remained pessimistic about the prospects for ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He had particularly sharp comments for Hamas, the Iranian-backed movement that seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and has been branded a terrorist organization by Israel and the West.
"Hamas cannot make peace with the Israelis. That is against what their God tells them. It is impossible to make peace with infidels," he told Haaretz.
Shin Bet officials declined comment on the Haaretz article, but the techniques described in the report — recruiting a potential agent in jail and targeting a family member of a valuable target — are believed to be common tactics used by the agency. A former high-ranking Shin Bet official said he was not familiar with Yousef, but noted that only a handful of agents would even be aware of such a valuable source.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The dramatic defection of someone of Yousef's stature is a huge setback to Hamas, says Martin Kramer, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a conservative Jerusalem-based think tank.
"This obviously is the sort of thing that makes Hamas wonder whether there aren't still more informers in their ranks," he said.
While sure to damage Hamas, the book's publication could also embarrass Israel, said Ehud Yatom, a former top Shin Bet official.
"If the story is true, then he saved the lives of hundreds of people, but the damage in revealing how he was recruited and how he operated could cause great damage," he told Israel's Army Radio. "The damage that could be caused is in the little secrets of the recruitment process."
Yousef's family members were not immediately available for comment.