OpinionIsrael at War

Sinwar agonistes

Hamas’s leader in Gaza has four options.

Hamas senior leader Yahya Sinwar in a terror tunnel underneath the southern Gaza City of Khan Yunis, Oct. 10, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Hamas senior leader Yahya Sinwar in a terror tunnel underneath the southern Gaza City of Khan Yunis, Oct. 10, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Clifford D. May
Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), as well as a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, mastermind behind the Oct. 7 invasion of Israel and the worst single-day slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, is believed to be lurking within the subterranean labyrinth that lies beneath Gaza.

With funds provided by the “international donor community,” Hamas constructed more than 300 miles of tunnels—a network more extensive than the London Underground.

We may assume that Sinwar is somewhere below the southern Gazan cities of Khan Yunis or Rafah, and that he is surrounded by hostages abducted from Israel and barely clinging to life. On the streets above, Gazans serve as his human shields—some voluntarily, some not.

I’d wager that Sinwar is pondering four options. 

Option 1: He can wait, betting that President Biden will pressure the Israelis to accept a “ceasefire,” a deal that would allow him to rise, praise Allah for victory, resume ruling Gaza and prepare for the next round of atrocities.

Sinwar was surely encouraged to learn that Biden last week said that Israel’s “conduct of the response in Gaza has been over the top.”

That charge is entirely unfounded. In truth, despite Hamas’s human shields strategy, the ratio of civilian-to-combatant casualties is unprecedently low for urban warfare, as historian Andrew Roberts last week explained to Britain’s House of Lords, and as John Spencer of the Modern War Institute has attested.

War is always hell, but Israelis have done more than any other nation ever to spare civilians—despite the fact that they are fighting a genocidal enemy backed by Iran’s rulers. The battle against Hamas is not one the Israelis can afford to lose or even end in stalemate.

Option 2: The Israelis let Sinwar go into exile, say in Algeria, in return for his release of hostages he hasn’t yet murdered. He may be giving serious thought to that way out. 

Option 3: “Martyrdom in the way of Allah.” To jihadis everywhere, Sinwar would be a hero and an inspiration.

I’ll come to the fourth option in a moment.

Though Sinwar has plenty of food and fuel—stolen from the aid that’s been pouring in for Gazan non-combatants—life in the tunnels cannot be pleasant.

But he may derive occasional amusement hearing Western leaders and U.N. apparatchiks solemnly pronounce their support for “territorial compromise,” “land-for-peace negotiations” and a “two-state solution.”

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken went further, calling for “a concrete, time-bound and irreversible path” to a Palestinian state.

Note that Blinken is not saying that the leaders of such a state would forswear terrorism and peacefully coexist alongside the Jewish state. Nor is he guaranteeing that such a state will not become a vassal of Tehran.

All he’s said is that Israelis will have “security assurances.”

Like the security assurances Israelis received from the U.N. Security Council after they withdrew from Lebanon?

Like the security assurances Ukrainians received from the United States when they gave up their nuclear weapons?

Like the security assurances Hong Kong received when the British turned the territory over to China’s Communists?

Sinwar is not fighting for a Palestinian state. He is fighting for the extermination of the Jewish state and its replacement—“from the river to the sea”—by an Islamic emirate, a jewel in the crown of the mightier-than-ever caliphate that is to come.

For Sinwar a “two-state solution” would solve nothing—unless it provided an improved platform from which to launch Oct. 7-style attacks.

Also, for all intents and purposes, was there not a Palestinian state on Oct. 6? What attributes of statehood has Gaza lacked since Hamas took power in 2007 after forcibly expelling the Palestinian Authority?

What expressions of sovereignty do Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Malta possess that Gaza under Hamas did not? A vote in the U.N. General Assembly? Oh, big whoop.

I know you’ve heard that, despite Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the territory continued to be “occupied.” That charge was based on the claim that Israelis had “hermetically sealed” Gaza, turning it into the “world’s largest open-air prison.”

You were misinformed.

Yahya R. Sarraj, the Hamas-appointed mayor of Gaza City, recently expressed his distress over the destruction of his municipality’s theater, library, zoo, cultural center, parks, seaside promenade, restaurants and recreation areas.

We now know that senior Hamas officials lived in luxurious villas by the sea. Fighters went to Lebanon and Iran for training.

There were poor people in Gaza, to be sure, but they were provided welfare and social services by U.N. agencies, in particular UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA employees include Hamas members, Hamas sympathizers and the beneficiaries of Hamas patronage. They turned a blind eye to the terror tunnels, even those built right under their headquarters. Some participated in the atrocities of Oct. 7. 

The Israeli “blockade” was nothing more than an attempt to prevent Hamas from receiving tons of weapons and ammunition, mostly from Iran. We now know that this mission failed. Gaza’s border with Egypt appears to have been porous.

Hamas amassed an enormous arsenal which is why, four months after Oct. 7, Sinwar’s fighters are still firing missiles and shooting Israelis.

Israeli forces are now battling a Hamas brigade in Khan Yunis, and have begun “pinpoint raids” in Rafah, where four battalions reportedly remain. On Sunday night, Israeli commandos rescued two hostages in Rafah.

Which brings us to Sinwar’s fourth option. He could emerge from the depths, surviving hostages in tow, and order his troops to cease firing.

That would save the lives of many Gazans, both his comrades-in-arms and those serving as Hamas pawns.

But that option, I’d wager, is the one Sinwar is least likely to choose.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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