Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar penned a two-word message to then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as negotiations for a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza terror group intensified in August 2018.
Take a “calculated risk,” Sinwar wrote to Netanyahu in Hebrew in a letter, the ex-premier’s national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat revealed to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily on Thursday.
Sinwar appeared to be referring to the brewing agreement that would see Israel allow in Qatari aid on a regular basis to pay Hamas civil servants, as well as needy families in Gaza.
Qatari support is considered a crucial lifeline for impoverished Palestinians living in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since 2007, seen by Israel as a necessary measure to limit the ability of Gaza’s terror groups to arm themselves.
Israel had been allowing millions of dollars in Qatari cash to flow through its crossings into Gaza on a monthly basis since 2018, in order to maintain a fragile ceasefire with Hamas. As of early 2021, some $30 million in cash was being delivered in suitcases to Gaza each month through an Israeli-controlled crossing.
The Qatari aid as well as Israel’s decision to allow it into the Strip in such a manner was highly controversial and Israeli officials rarely admitted to the policy when speaking publicly. But it was also largely supported by the defense establishment, which viewed it as essential for buying Israel long periods of quiet.
After the war in Gaza last May, however, Israel objected to the resumption of the funding under the earlier terms, claiming the money was being used by terror groups rather than strictly for humanitarian needs.
The stalemate was resolved in August 2021, when Israel and Qatar announced the approval of a new mechanism to distribute the funds, with money transferred directly to individuals by the UN. Under the scheme, Israeli-approved recipients in Gaza have been issued UN credit cards to withdraw the money.
The renewed policy sparked controversy within Israel, with critics accusing the government of bowing to Hamas pressure.
Reflecting on the receipt of the message from Sinwar, Ben-Shabbat told Yedioth that it had been “one of the more beautiful moments” in the ceasefire negotiations with Hamas. “We received Yahya Sinwar’s appeal, and he writes in his own handwriting, in large letters, in Hebrew: ‘Calculated risk.'”
Asked what he thought upon receiving the message, Ben-Shabbat said, “For one, that the Israeli deterrence had done something: Here is the adversary begging us to take a risk [for a ceasefire]. And two, I understand that Sinwar is very attentive to what is happening on the Israeli side.” The former national security adviser appeared to be referencing the unpopularity in Israel of the prospect of reaching any sort of agreement with Hamas.
גל ברגר חשף בחמישי תמונה של מזוודות הכסף שהועברו לידי חמאס דרך מקורותיו (התמונה לא פורסמה לפני כן בסוכנויות או כלי תקשורת אחרים). הבוקר אזכר ברגר את הקרדיט שקיבל מהניו יורק טיימס, מפרגן להם על הפרגון שקיבל, ועל הדרך עוקץ את מי שעוקץ. לנו יש תחושה שעקיצה מופנית למישהו ספציפי pic.twitter.com/ZkNOAREtV5
— אייס | ice.co.il (@ice_co_il) November 11, 2018
Sinwar “analyzes every word that comes out of the mouths of politicians, understands the dilemmas, and is offering his own input,” Ben-Shabbat said of the Hamas leader, who served for years in Israeli prison on terror charges before being released as part of the 2011 prisoner exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
Ben-Shabbat did not appear bothered by the fact that he was holding negotiations with Hamas. Israel does not do so directly and uses Egypt and other third parties as mediators.
“As a matter of fact, [Hamas] is the one running the [Strip]. It does not bother me to talk to anyone who is willing to talk to me if each party understands that they are gaining something as a result,” Ben-Shabbat said, clarifying that he would never meet with Hamas negotiators face to face in order to not legitimize the terror group.