New Hamas Leader Is a Vicious Killer
The election of Yahya Sinwar to lead Hamas in Gaza represents the completion of a lengthy takeover by Hamas’ military wing at the expense of its political wing. And it could signal an imminent confrontation with Israel.
Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has been gradually pushing aside the terror group’s political wing, seeing it as an impediment to its jihadist war efforts against Israel.
Sinwar and his military wing comrades want to reestablish their alliance with Iran and boost their tactical partnership with ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula.
Sinwar’s rise likely means that Hamas and Iran will grow close once again, after years of turmoil over their opposing stances on the Syrian war.
In fact, Sinwar’s rise to power is being described by veteran analyst Pinhas Inbari as Iran taking back power in Gaza.
Inbari believes that the move was “Iran’s way of conveying a message before the Trump-Netanyahu talks” that took place last week in Washington.
Sinwar, who served 22 years in an Israeli prison for murdering Palestinians he accused of being Israeli collaborators, is a trigger-happy senior Hamas member who does not hesitate to shoot Gazans he perceives as being disloyal.
He was released from Israeli prison during the 2011 Shalit prisoner swap, and quickly rejoined his comrades in the Hamas military wing, under the command of Muhammad Deif, who were feverishly preparing rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel.
Last year, Sinwar ordered the execution of a Gaza City Hamas battalion commander, Mahmoud Eshtwi, who was seen as being too openly critical of his superiors.
According to a recent report by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Sinwar and his brutal track record might signal the rise of a Hamas dictatorship.
That could spell trouble for the Palestinian Authority, which Sinwar views as an enemy, and wants to topple in the West Bank. It could also spell problems for Hamas’ other neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, both of which have their own domestic Islamist and jihadist problems.
Traditionally, Hamas’ Shura Council has included the military and political wings, as well as the Hamas overseas politburo. But Sinwar, a charismatic and dominant figure, has been working to undermine this system. Backed by Hamas’ “chief of staff,” Muhammed Deif, and another high ranking leader, Marwan Issa, who acted as a ‘bridge’ between the two wings, Sinwar and his military wing have been consolidating power.
Sinwar did not consult with the political wing before having the Gaza City battalion commander murdered, and he will likely not consult with it when he moves to establish closer bonds with Tehran.
But Sinwar might be thwarted by a more aggressive Israeli approach in any future confrontation with Hamas. This potential change in strategy was hinted at by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said last year that Israel would destroy Hamas “completely” in the next war.
Israel’s recent breakthroughs in tunnel detection capabilities, precision air power and the revamping of its Armored Corps could mean that a mistake by Sinwar might prove to be the most costly yet for Hamas.
Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence. This article was originally commissioned by the Investigative Project on Terrorism.