The American Wall Street Journal published a lengthy article about the head of the Islamic Resistance Movement (agitation) in the Gaza Strip Yahya Al-Sanwarwho spent more than two decades imprisoned in occupation prisons, under the title “The Hamas leader who studied the psychology of Israel and bet his life on what he learned.”
The newspaper said that Sinwar relied on his judgment on Israeli society after two decades of studying in prison, learning Hebrew, watching the local news, and entering the Israeli psyche, and led a strategy to exploit Israel’s willingness to exchange Palestinian prisoners for hostages.
The newspaper explained that when Sinwar was imprisoned in Israel more than a decade ago, he explained to an Israeli official a theory that has now become central to the war in Gaza. He said that what Israel considers a strength – that most Israelis serve in the army and that soldiers have a special status in society – is a weakness that can be exploited, said Yuval Biton, who spent time with Sinwar as a former head of Israeli prisons.
She added that the accuracy of Sinwar's idea was proven in 2011 when he was one of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners who were released in exchange for one Israeli soldier.
It considered that Sinwar is currently detaining 138 Israelis, including soldiers, and is betting that he is able to release thousands of Palestinian prisoners and achieve a permanent ceasefire, relying on his rule over Israeli society.
But first, Hamas must survive the powerful and deadly Israeli counterattack, she said. If Hamas makes a mistake in its calculations, it is possible that Sinwar will oversee the destruction of the group that the United States classifies as terrorist in Gaza and lose his life. She described what happened as a “gamble,” and said that it came with truly heavy costs, including the destruction that befell vast areas of Gaza, and the martyrdom of Hamas. About 17,700 Palestinians.
After negotiating the release of women and children during a temporary ceasefire that collapsed this month, the Israeli government is facing increasing pressure to work with Sinwar to free the remaining detainees. Biton said that Sinwar realizes that Israel will pay a heavy price. “He understands that this is our weakness.”
According to the newspaper, during the recent detainee negotiations, Sinwar cut off communications for several days to pressure Israel to agree to a temporary cessation that would give Hamas time to regroup, according to Egyptian mediators. When detainees were released, they were released in batches each day, rather than all at once, creating a daily feeling of anxiety in Israeli society.
Currently, Sinwar is Hamas's main decision-maker as the top political leader in Gaza, working closely with the movement's military wing. Currently, the head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, resides in Doha, and his deputy, Saleh Al-Arouri, in Beirut. While in normal times the Hamas leadership makes decisions based on consensus, Israel believes that Sinwar and the Hamas fighters around him in Gaza are managing the war more narrowly, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Following the collapse of the recent ceasefire, Hamas said that the resistance only had captured soldiers and “civilians serving in the army,” and that it would not release any more of them until Israel ended its war. The movement said that it is ready to release all detainees in Gaza in exchange for all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, whose number is estimated at more than 7,000. Israel says Hamas is still detaining civilians and soldiers.
The American newspaper says that when Sinwar was released in the 2011 exchange deal, he believed that Hamas should have put great pressure on Israel to release Palestinians responsible for the bombings that killed Israelis, and who were serving several life sentences, according to concerned people. After his release, Al-Sinwar told those who did not carry out the order that he would work to release them, these people said, according to what the newspaper narrated.
Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a Palestinian who before the war was studying political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said, “It is a personal matter. (..) He did not feel comfortable leaving the prison in 2011 and leaving some of his comrades inside.”
If negotiations resume, Gershon Baskin, an Israeli peace activist who helped broker the 2011 agreement, says it is unlikely that Israel will yield to Sinwar's demand and abandon the Palestinians who are considered the most dangerous, considering that Sinwar That's why they “made that mistake once,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Sinwar was involved in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of 4 Palestinians collaborating with Israel, according to the Israeli army. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and spent 22 years in prison.
He was also an influential member even inside prison. The prisoners are one of Hamas' four power bases, along with members in the West Bank, Gaza and in the diaspora outside the Palestinian territories, according to Israeli officials and independent researchers, according to the newspaper.
Bitton said members twice chose to make Sinwar their boss across the entire prison system. Biton and Kobe, who was one of those who first interrogated Sinwar over a period of more than 100 hours for Israel's internal security service, also said that during the times when he was not a leader, Sinwar had great influence over the people who were leaders.
According to Bitton, in 2004, Al-Sanwar seemed to be suffering from neurological problems, and he was speaking slurred and having difficulty walking. Doctors examined him and found a life-threatening brain abscess. They transferred him from a prison near Beersheba to the city hospital for surgery. After undergoing successful surgery, Al-Sinwar returned to prison and thanked the doctors for saving his life, according to what former prison officials said.
Sinwar gave Israeli officials the impression that he wanted to stop the violence, at least in the short term. At the end of the 2005 Palestinian uprising, an Israeli journalist interviewed Sinwar inside prison, and the leader told the journalist that Hamas would be open to a long-term ceasefire with the Israelis, which he said could stabilize the region, but would never accept Israel as a state. He said at the time that he understood that Hamas would never be able to defeat Israel militarily.
In 2006, Hamas activists surprised Israeli soldiers at a command center on the Gaza Strip border and kidnapped 19-year-old Gilad Shalit. One of the people responsible for organizing the kidnapping, according to Israeli officials, is Muhammad, Sinwar's younger brother.
During negotiations between Israel and Hamas over Shalit's release, Sinwar was influential in lobbying for the freedom of Palestinians imprisoned for killing Israelis. Bitton and an Egyptian official who helped broker the deal said Sinwar was so stringent in his demands that Israel placed him in solitary confinement to limit his influence within Hamas.
Baskin said that Israel eventually released some Palestinians who had committed murders and were considered dangerous, including Sinwar himself, who had just walked out, because the Israelis had reservations about releasing him.
Kobe, who was investigating him while he was in prison, said, “His release was the worst mistake in the history of Israel.”
A week after his release in 2011, Sinwar told Safa Press, a Palestinian news agency, that the best option to free the remaining prisoners inside was to kidnap more Israeli soldiers.
Sinwar again exercised his influence within Hamas, and during the 2014 war he participated in the arrest and killing of suspected Palestinian informants on behalf of Israel, according to Israeli and Egyptian officials, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In 2017, Sinwar was voted leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip by its members. Other Hamas leaders assured members that his election as Gaza president would not drag the group into new rounds of internal and external violence, according to Hamas officials.
Sinwar once again said publicly that Hamas is committed to releasing every Palestinian prisoner in Israeli prisons. In 2021, Sinwar won a second term as leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and once again pledged to free Palestinian prisoners. In May of that year, Hamas fired rockets into Jerusalem, helping to ignite an 11-day conflict.
The death and destruction caused by the conflict created a feeling among the Israeli security establishment that Hamas had been deterred, and that Sinwar would not attempt to attack because he was more focused on building the Strip economically, according to the newspaper.
But practical Al-Aqsa flood On October 7, it showed that this is not true, and that Israel now has no choice “but to destroy it,” according to Amos Gilad, a former senior Israeli defense official.