Israel-Gaza War: Hamas boss Yahya Sinwar’s calculated effort, illusions in distracting Benjamin Netanyahu explained

Israel-Gaza war: A man, a chief of an organization deemed ‘terrorist’ in several countries, a chief of an organisation that began as resistance, has now emerged as the top of assassination list. Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar had five years ago written ‘take a calculated risk’ in Hebrew on a document that he was well aware would eventually be passed on to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the Egyptian intermediaries. 

According to National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Sinwar’s effort was as ‘calculated’ as the little Hebrew note he scribbled. 

This incident was five years old. 

Notably, then Sinwar had also told an Italian journalist, “I don’t want war anymore. I want a ceasefire.” His ambition for the impoverished Palestinian coastal strip? “We can be like Singapore, like Dubai.”, as per Bloomberg report. 

In the wake of Hamas’s long-planned and brutal October 7 assault on Israel, the Israeli security establishment is looking back on his words in a new light: as part of an effort to create the illusion that Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the US and European Union, was limiting its embrace of violence to focus on governance. 

Israeli officials now acknowledge that a sense of complacency had set in around Hamas. In recent years, the military had greatly reduced its surveillance of the Gaza border fence, relying on electronic sensors and transferring troops out of the area to guard settlements in the West Bank. 

Analysts believed that Israel had started focusing on Iran and Syria because working on Palestinian issues was not considered of existential importance. 

The overarching sentiment was that Hamas had been deterred, and that the real challenges lay further afield. 

“Sinwar read the Israeli consciousness very well,” said Michael Milshtein, former head of Palestinian research for the military’s intelligence department. “He wanted Israel to believe that Hamas was concentrating on stability in Gaza, promoting civil affairs. He planted this wrong idea in the minds of Israelis.”

Today, as the Israeli military reduces much of Gaza to rubble in its mission to destroy Hamas, killing more than 11,000 people in the process, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, Sinwar is emerging as the assault’s mastermind. He’s the top target for assassination, assumed to be hiding deep in a Gaza tunnel, “like a little Hitler in a bunker,” as Netanyahu put it recently. 

Who is Yahya Sinwar?

Born in a poor neighborhood of the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, Sinwar, 61, helped found Hamas’s military wing in the late 1980s as the first Palestinian uprising was underway. 

Behind bars, Sinwar achieved deep fluency in Hebrew and Israeli society, regularly reading newspapers along with the biographies of key Israeli figures. He also became the uncontested leader of Hamas prisoners. According to Israeli officials and a former Hamas activist, while in prison he continued to have collaborators killed — including one he personally beheaded.

Officials describe him as a cold-blooded, magnetic leader; a compact, sinewy man whose close-cropped hair and beard have by now mostly turned white.

In the early 2000s, while in prison, Sinwar began experiencing headaches and blurred vision. He was taken to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba where a surgeon removed a brain tumor, saving his life, reports Bloomberg.

He rejoined Hamas at a senior level and by 2017 had been elected the group’s leader for all of Gaza, replacing Ismail Haniyeh, who was sent to Qatar. 

Since the attacks, Sinwar has not issued any statements or spoken to the press. 

Meanwhile, a poster hangs on the wall of the defense ministry in Tel Aviv. It features dozens of Hamas commanders with lines drawn across the faces of those who’ve been killed. The plan is to fill the poster with marks. 

Sinwar is at the top.

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Updated: 20 Nov 2023, 05:47 PM IST

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