A relentless manhunt has been launched by Israel’s armed forces and security services to locate the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and mastermind of the October 7 attacks, Yahya Sinwarwhose capture or killing could hasten the end of IDF operations.
Israel’s security services estimate that the leader of Hamas is hiding in the notorious network of tunnels in the Shifa hospital area and avoids moving in order not to fall into the hands of Israeli commandos operating in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has compared the Hamas leader to Adolf Hitler and accused him of hiding in a bunker while his people suffer.
“Sinowar doesn’t care about his people, he acts like a little Hitler in a shelter,” Netanyahu told reporters in Tel Aviv yesterday.
While Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallad, referring to the “Osama bin Laden of the Palestinians,” as Israeli media call Sinwar, added: “Hamas has no limits. Its leadership bears responsibility. We will reach this leadership. We will reach Yahya Sinuar and destroy him. If the citizens of Gaza do it before us, that will shorten the war.”
How Yahya Sinuar established his reputation
Sinwar’s power and reputation were cemented during the 21 years he spent in an Israeli prison after he was convicted by an Israeli military court of killing 12 Palestinian suspected collaborators of Israel. There he became the leader of all Hamas prisoners in Israeli prisons, an influential position in the terrorist organization’s hierarchy.
In prison he learned Hebrew and studied books on all the great figures of Israel. “He taught us from the bottom to the top,” Mitsa Kobi of Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet, who interrogated the Hamas leader, told the FT.
In 2004, Israeli doctors removed an abscess next to Sinuar’s brain, saving his life, according to Israeli authorities.
How Israel was fooled by its number one target
Fifteen years after his conviction, Sinwar spoke in fluent Hebrew on Israeli television and instead of talking about war, he called on the public to support a truce with Hamas. “We understand that Israel has 200 nuclear warheads and the most advanced air force in the region. We know we don’t have the ability to destroy Israel,” he said.
Yahya Sinwar surrounded by his bodyguards in Gaza in April 2022 / File photo: AP Photo
After 22 years in prison, Sinwar was released in 2011 as part of an exchange of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners released by Israel to extract Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas. Six years later he was elected head of Hamas for the entire Gaza Strip, replacing Ismail Haniyeh, who – according to people familiar with the two men’s relations – was “promoted upwards” to become Hamas’s political leader, who lives now in Qatar.
The 61-year-old Sinwar is now Israel’s most wanted man, but until the eve of the October 7 attack he had convinced Israelis that his main objective was to consolidate Hamas’s power in the Gaza Strip and extract financial rewards, not the its declared goal, namely the destruction of the Jewish state. And this inability to diagnose his true intentions led Israeli intelligence to their greatest failure to predict the Hamas attack.
When the ruthless Sinwar made a Palestinian bury his brother alive with a spoon
People who have known Sinwar for decades described him to the FT as a taciturn, charismatic man, capable of rousing crowds, irascible, cunning, manipulative and oligarchic in contrast to other Hamas leaders who enjoy lavish lives.
Sinwar with his supporters in Gaza in 2021 / File photo: AP Photo
Shin Bet’s Kobi recalls how Sinwar bragged in his interrogation about punishing a suspected Israeli informant from a rival faction during the first Intifada, when he was popularly known as Abu Ibrahim and helped develop Hamas’s armed wing, the Brigades Kassam.
Sinuar called the suspect’s brother, and had him bury his brother alive, even giving him a spoon to finish the job bit by bit…
“The Butcher of Han Younis”
Sinwar grew up in a refugee camp in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip and in the early 1980s emerged on the political scene as an adviser to the wheelchair-bound founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
His neighbor in Khan Younis was Mohammed Daif, the current military leader of the armed wing of Hamas. Sinwar took over the reins of the infamous “Majd Force”, Hamas’s internal security apparatus, tasked with exterminating Israeli collaborators, and in this role earned the nickname “Butcher of Khan Younis”.
Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar in a 2019 photo / File photo: AP Photo
Over time he developed into an almost mythical figure for the Palestinians especially inside the enclave. “Many Palestinians feel proud and Sinwar is very popular in the streets, but moderate Palestinians realize that he has sent us back to the Stone Age [λόγω των επιθέσεων της 7ης Οκτωβρίου και των συνεπειών της», δήλωσε στη βρετανική εφημερίδα ένας γνωστός Παλαιστίνιος ακτιβιστής στην Ανατολική Ιερουσαλήμ.
Όσοι γνωρίζουν τον Σινουάρ λένε ότι ανελίχθηκε στην ιεραρχία της Χαμάς καλλιεργώντας τη φήμη ενός αδίστακτου, βίαιου ατόμου με μεγάλη επιρροή ακόμη και στα ύπατα κλιμάκια της εξτρεμιστικής οργάνωσης.
«Αλλιώς συμπεριφέρονται μόνοι τους κι αλλιώς όταν αυτός είναι παρών. Τον φοβούνται», λέει μια μη ισραηλινή πηγή που ασχολείται εδώ και χρόνια με τον Σινουάρ. «Ουδείς εξ’ αυτών του εναντιώθηκε πριν αποφασίσει αυτή τη βαρβαρότητα [της 7ης Οκτωβρίου]. It was the perfect military operation, but the consequences will be biblical,” he adds.
According to ifimerida, in recent years Israel has made previously unthinkable concessions to the Gaza Strip by allowing greater economic support from Qatar and granting thousands of Israeli work permits for residents of the Palestinian enclave, hence the surprise from the terrorist attack ordered by Sinuar.
“We have to admit it: He is motivated by hatred, carnage and destruction of Israel,” says Michael Milstein, a former Israeli intelligence official. “He is not going to surrender. There in Gaza he will die,” adds Shin Bet’s Kobe.