On Tuesday, Hamas announced that it had selected Yahya Sinwar as its new “security minister.” This makes Sinwar, a convicted terrorist who had been in an Israeli prison until 2011, the senior figure in Gaza, where he will succeed Ismail Haniyeh, who will in turn replace Khaled Meshal as head of the Hamas Politburo in Qatar. The selection of Sinwar suggests that Hamas will seek both more cooperation with Islamic State’s Sinai branch and a thaw in relations with Iran, which split with Hamas when the two found themselves backing different sides in the Syrian civil war.
Herewith, two views on the implications of this development:
Yoni Ben Menachem writes:
Sinwar is not satisfied with Hamas’s military achievements during [Israel’s 2014 campaign under the name of] Operation Protective Edge. He advocates a strategy of kidnapping Israeli soldiers and civilians as the shortest path to getting [Hamas’s] security prisoners freed. . . . Sinwar’s desire to . . . do better than his predecessor [Ismail] Haniyeh will likely lead him to terror activity. It will be of a kind to which Israel cannot react with restraint, thus igniting a new round of fighting in Gaza. . . . [H]e wants to inflict a “preemptive strike” on Israel by infiltrating forces into the “enemy interior” by sea or through the attack tunnels. He is also planning to take over Gaza-belt Israeli communities, hit Ben-Gurion Airport, and assail population concentrations in Israel’s soft underbelly with thousands of rockets.
For his part, Pinḥas Inbari, while agreeing that Sinwar is likely to lead Hamas into Iran’s arms, believes war to be less imminent:
Iran chose to take back the reins in Gaza because of the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Iran fears that at [recent] talks in Washington, President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu [agreed upon] an aggressive option vis-à-vis Iran. . . . [T]he announcement’s timing [was] Iran’s way of conveying a message before the Trump-Netanyahu talks.
If that’s the case, don’t expect that Sinwar’s “election” foretells a new escalation from Gaza against Israel. Just the opposite, Iran will restrain Hamas in order to keep the Gaza front available for Iran’s own needs, and Iran’s alone.