Sinwar helped start the war in the Gaza Strip. Now that's the key to his end game.


JERUSALEM — After Hamas attacked Israel in October, igniting war in the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders described Yahya as the group's top official in the region. Beautify, as a “dead man walking”. Believing him to be the mastermind of the raid, Israel has made Sinwar's killing a major target for its devastating counter-attack.

Seven months later, Sinwar's survival is a sign of the failings of Israel's war, which has destroyed much of Gaza but left largely intact Hamas' top leadership and most of the prisoners taken during the October offensive. Failed to release.

Even as the Israeli authorities seek to kill him, they are forced to negotiate with him, albeit indirectly, to free the remaining hostages. According to Hamas, Israeli and US officials, Sinwar has emerged not only as a strong-willed commander but also as a shrewd negotiator who has prevented a victory on the battlefield by bringing Israeli ambassadors to the negotiating table. . Some spoke on condition of anonymity about Sinwar's sensitive intelligence assessments and diplomatic negotiations.

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Although the talks are being mediated by Egypt and Qatar, it is Sinwar — who is believed to be hiding in a network of tunnels under Gaza — whose consent is essential to Hamas negotiators. , before they would agree to any concessions, according to some of the officials.

Hamas officials insist that Sinwar does not have final authority over the group's decisions. But while Sinwar does not technically have control over the entire Hamas movement, his leadership role in Gaza and his powerful personality make him very important to how Hamas operates, to allies and enemies alike. in accordance.

“No decision can be made without consulting Sinwar,” said Salah al-Din al-Awda, a Hamas member and political analyst who befriended Sinwar when they both visited Israel in the 1990s and 2000s. I was in jail. “Sinwar is not an ordinary leader, he is a powerful person and an architect of events. He is not some kind of manager or director, he is a leader,” Al-Awda added.

Sinwar has rarely been heard from since the start of the war, unlike other Hamas officials based outside Gaza, including Ismail Haniya, the most senior civilian official of the movement. US and Israeli officials say that although he is nominally Haniyeh's junior, Sinwar has been central to Hamas's behind-the-scenes decision on a permanent cease-fire.

Waiting for Sanwar's approval often slows the pace of negotiations, according to officials and analysts. According to US officials and members of Hamas, Israeli strikes have severely damaged Gaza's communications infrastructure, and sometimes it takes a day for Sinwar to get a message and a day to receive a reply.

For Israeli and Western officials, Sinwar has emerged during the talks, which stalled again in Cairo last week, as a ruthless adversary and a skilled political operator, capable of analyzing Israeli society and tailoring his policies. appear to be adapting accordingly.

As the architect of the October 7 attacks, Sinwar masterminded a strategy that he knew would provoke a fierce Israeli response. But in Hamas's calculus, the deaths of many Palestinian civilians – who did not have access to Hamas' underground tunnels – were a necessary price for maintaining the status quo with Israel.

According to people briefed on the intelligence, US and Israeli intelligence agencies spent months trying to figure out Sinwar's motives. Analysts in both the US and Israel believe that Sinwar is primarily motivated by a desire to seek revenge and weaken Israel. Intelligence analysts say that the well-being of the Palestinian people or the establishment of a Palestinian state appears secondary.

An understanding of Israeli society

Sinwar was born in Gaza in 1962 to a family that had fled their home, along with hundreds of thousands of other Palestinian Arabs who fled or were forced to flee during the wars surrounding the establishment of the state of Israel. were

Sinwar joined Hamas in the 1980s. He was later imprisoned for killing Palestinians he accused of apostasy or collaborating with Israel, according to Israeli court records from 1989. Sinwar spent more than two decades in Israeli detention before being released in 2011, along with more than 1,000 other Palestinians. For an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas. Six years later, Sinwar was elected leader of Hamas in Gaza.

While in prison, Sinwar learned Hebrew and developed an understanding of Israeli culture and society, according to fellow former prisoners and Israeli officials who supervised him in prison. According to Israeli and US officials, Sinwar now appears to be using this knowledge to sow division in Israeli society and increase pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

They believe that Sinwar timed the release of some of the Israeli hostage videos to stoke public anger at Netanyahu during key stages of the ceasefire talks.

Some Israelis want the remaining hostages released even if it means agreeing to Hamas's demands for a permanent ceasefire that would keep the group and Sinwar in power. But Netanyahu has been reluctant to agree to an end to the war, partly because of pressure from some of his right-wing allies, who have threatened to resign if the war with Hamas ends. Is.

If Netanyahu has been accused of dragging out the fight for personal gain, so has his arch-nemesis, Sunwar.

Israeli and US intelligence officials say Sinwar's strategy is to prolong the war until it damages Israel's international reputation and its relationship with its main ally, the United States. reached. As Israel faced intense pressure to avoid launching an operation in Rafah, Hamas fired rockets at a border crossing near Rafah last Sunday, killing four Israeli soldiers.

If it was a ploy by Hamas, it paid off: Israel launched an operation on the Rafah border last week, and against that backdrop President Joe Biden launched his toughest crackdown on Israeli policy since the war began. Criticized. Biden said he would stop some future arms shipments if the Israeli military launched an all-out assault on the city's urban core.

US officials say Sinwar is likely in tunnels controlled by Khan Yunis, the next largest city in the north – intelligence that could undercut the Israeli argument for military action in Rafah.

Projecting a picture of unity

Hamas and its allies deny that Sinwar or the movement is trying to capitalize on the plight of Palestinians.

“Hamas' strategy is to stop the war for now,” said Ahmad Youssef, a Rafah-based Hamas veteran. To stop the genocide and massacre of the Palestinian people.

US officials say Sinwar has expressed disdain for his colleagues outside Gaza, who were not fully informed of the October 7 attack by Hamas. US officials also believe that Sinwar approves of military operations by Hamas, although Israeli intelligence officials say they are unsure of the extent of his involvement.

A senior Western official familiar with the cease-fire negotiations believes that Sinwar appears to be making decisions in conjunction with his brother Mohammed, a senior Hamas military leader, and that throughout the war he has sometimes accompanied Hamas outside Gaza. What was the disagreement with the leaders of While the foreign leadership is sometimes more willing to compromise, Sinwar is less willing to concede to Israeli negotiators because he knows he will be killed whether or not the war ends, the official said. It is possible.

Even if negotiators seal a cease-fire agreement, Israel is likely to pursue Sinwar for the rest of its life, the official said.

Hamas members have presented an image of unity, downplaying Sinwar's personal role in decision-making and maintaining that the elected leadership of Hamas collectively determines the direction of the movement.

Some say that if Sinwar has played a larger role during the war, it is largely because of his position: As the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Sinwar has had much, though not final, say. According to Musa Abu Marzouq, a senior Hamas official. Government based in Qatar

“Sinwar's opinion is very important because he is on the ground and he is leading the movement from the inside,” said Abu Marzouq, the first leader of Hamas' political office in the 1990s.

But Haniyeh has the “final say” on key decisions, Abu Marzouq said, adding that all Hamas political leaders were of “one opinion”. Hania could not immediately be reached for comment.

Yet, according to his friend Al-Awda from prison, there is something unusual about the force of Sunwar's personality. Al-Awda said other leaders might not have instigated the October 7 attack, preferring to focus on technocratic matters of governance.

“If someone else was in his position, things could have gone smoothly,” he said.

Sinwar could not be reached for comment and has rarely been heard from since October. American and Israeli officials have said that Sinwar is hiding near the hostages and using them as human shields. An Israeli hostage who was freed during a ceasefire in November said he met Sinwar during his captivity.

In February, the Israeli military published a video it said soldiers took from a security camera found in a Hamas tunnel under Gaza. The video shows a man walking down the tunnel, accompanied by a woman and children.

The army said the man was Sunwar, absconding with his family.

The claim was impossible to verify: the man's face was removed from the camera.

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