Israel is hunting for its list of most wanted Hamas operatives in Gaza. The list includes Mohammed Deif, the shadowy figure behind all of Hamas’s military operations. Saleh Al-Arouri, whose mug shot already appears on America’s Rewards for Justice Program, is another wanted man. But no name comes up more than the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.
The “butcher of Khan Younis” was the central figure in the two-year information operation that somehow convinced Israeli intelligence that Hamas was prepared to halt its war against Israel in exchange for greater access to goods and services facilitated by Israel. For reasons that are still difficult to fathom, the Israelis were prepared to believe him.
Since the bloody collapse of that wishful paradigm on October 7, the IDF has been scouring Gaza for Sinwar. His kill or capture would be a key visual representation of an Israeli victory in Gaza. Reports several days ago suggested he was caught in a bunker somewhere in the bowels of Gaza. However, there is also a good chance he already escaped south and made it through the Rafah crossing into Egypt, according to one former Israeli official I spoke to last week (raising questions about the complicity of Cairo).
But there is another Sinwar that may be an equally high-value target. Mohammed Sinwar is the brother of the most wanted man in Gaza. And the younger Sinwar may, in fact, be running Hamas operations in Gaza while his brother tries to avoid an untimely demise.
Mohammed Sinwar joined the self-professed military wing of Hamas, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in 1991. The Palestinian Authority arrested him during one of its half-hearted crackdowns on the terrorist group. These crackdowns were largely conducted under duress during the Clinton administration, which was still chasing a peace deal.
After serving three years, Sinwar somehow managed to escape prison. Sinwar and the aforementioned Mohammed Deif were behind several suicide bombings in in the mid-1990s that claimed dozens of Israeli lives.
In 2005, after flying below the radar for several years, Mohammed Sinwar became the commander of the Khan Yunis Brigade in southern Gaza. The pro-Hamas Qatari television network Al Jazeera announced his appointment in September 2005.
The following year, Mohammed Sinwar was involved in the Hamas kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was subsequently held in Gaza for five years. Mohammed Sinwar was part of the secretive Hamas cell responsible for holding Shalit, who was released in a prisoner swap with Israel in 2011.
Mohammed Sinwar is said to be in close contact with the aforementioned Muhammed Deif and his deputy, Marwan Issa. According to Israeli media, Mohammed Sinwar “is a central figure” within the Hamas command structure. The IDF confirmed that it attempted to target Sinwar during the May 2021 Gaza war.
Al-Jaeera interviewed the junior Sinwar about the May 2021 war. He ceded that he was involved in the “joint security room….the resistance axis was in constant session throughout the war and had important intelligence contributions during the battle.” In other words, he admitted to working closely with Iran and Hezbollah during that conflict.
Sinwar was reportedly in the tight circle of Hamas leaders who planned the October 7 attacks. On the morning of Hamas’s invasion, Sinwar announced on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa television that the terror group “decided to put an end to all the crimes of the occupation.”
It is safe to say that the IDF has stepped up efforts to locate him. He is believed to be key to identifying where his brother, the most wanted man in Gaza, is hiding.