Sinwar sent terrorists to Syria, Lebanon to train for attack

Report details Hamas’s secret buildup to Oct 7, terror group’s isolation in its wake

Gaza terror leader Yahya Sinwar is said to have used ‘dummy’ commanders as cannon fodder, but now he is under fire for pre-empting Hezbollah and Iran while cutting off his bosses

Palestinian terrorists head toward the border with Israel from Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinian terrorists head toward the border with Israel from Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Hamas alerted the leader of fellow terror group Hezbollah just minutes before launching its October 7 assault, according to a report this week, detailing rifts between various Iran-backed groups and within Hamas in the wake of the unprecedented assault.

According to the report in French daily Le Figaro, members of Iran’s so-called axis of resistance, including Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and other alleged proxies around the Middle East, have offered only middling support for Hamas as it faces off against Israel, along with alleged evidence of souring ties between Hamas’s Gaza leadership and the group’s Qatar-based politburo.

The report, largely based on sources with ties to various terror groups, including one said to be close to Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, describes Hamas’s exhaustive preparations for the attacks and expected reprisal, from appointing dummy commanders to take the brunt of Israel’s response, to sending members on secret training missions, all while keeping the timing of the assault and other details from all but a handful of people, a decision that may have wound up leaving the group largely isolated.

The shock attack on the morning of October 7 came as a complete surprise to Israel, whose security apparatus had largely dismissed various indications of Hamas’s aims over previous months as empty boasting. Early that Saturday, a Jewish holiday, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists streamed out of Gaza into southern Israel, overrunning military positions and infiltrating over a dozen communities and towns, as well as an outdoor rave festival, under cover of heavy rocket fire on southern and central Israel.

Some 1,200 people were killed in the ensuing massacres, most of them civilians, often slaughtered in their homes, gunned down in fields or butchered on roads. The bloodletting included atrocities from rape to torture, mutilations and executions of bound captives.

Around 240 people — including young children and the elderly — were kidnapped and taken into Gaza to be used as bargaining chips; some 129 of them remain there, though some are thought to have since been killed. Another two Israelis and the remains of two soldiers have been captive since 2014.

Palestinian terrorists take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the border fence with Israel from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

As Israel struggled to mount a response, Hezbollah’s leadership in Lebanon was also scrambling to get a picture of what was happening, according to Le Figaro, citing a Lebanese source close to the terror group.

It was only some 30 minutes before the 6:30 a.m. rampage kicked off, that Saleh al-Arouri, a top Hamas official based in Lebanon, was told over the phone to give Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah a heads up on what was about to happen, the paper reports.

Hezbollah, which had been planning a similar assault on Israel, was not pleased, the report claimed. “The cards they had been holding for a future attack against Israel had been shown by the Palestinians: penetrating inside Israel, airborne [assaults], the element of surprise,” said the Lebanese source, noting a “well-known plan by Hezbollah’s elite al-Radwan to infiltrate the Galilee.”

While Hezbollah began firing at northern Israel the next day in support of Hamas’s mission, its attacks have largely been limited to anti-tank missile strikes, launching armed drones and sporadic rocket fire, mostly aimed at since-evacuated border towns. A source with fellow Iran-backed terror group Islamic Jihad also tells the paper that it has kept a lid on attacks against Israel.

Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by missiles launched by the Hezbollah terror group, as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, October 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Hezbollah’s heaviest attacks, such as Wednesday’s barrages on Kiryat Shmona and Rosh Hanikra, have generally come in retaliation for Israeli strikes on its members or positions in Lebanon or Syria.

Nine soldiers and four civilians in Israel have been killed in attacks from Lebanon since October 8, while Hezbollah has named 129 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes. The fighting has been heavy enough that Israeli leaders indicate they may soon launch a major military operation aimed at pushing the terror group away from the border, describing the situation in northern Israel as untenable.

Hamas, though, was apparently expecting beefier backing from Iran-backed groups.

Hamas terror group leader Yahya Sinwar holds the child of an Al-Qassam Brigades member, who was killed in the recent fighting with Israel, during a rally in Gaza City on May 24, 2021. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

According to the Hezbollah source, Arouri “oversold” Hamas’s leaders on the support they could expect from Hezbollah and others. Nasrallah, unable to commit backing, sent Arouri to Tehran, where he and Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh were told by Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that it would not be embarking on an “all-out war” against Israel, Le Figaro said, corroborating a November Reuters report on the meeting.

According to Reuters, Iran refused to help because it was not given prior warning about the assault.

The Le Figaro report described Sinwar as keeping his cards extremely close to his chest, hiding his plans from even many of Hamas’s heavies, including Osama Hamdan, a Beirut-based official who tells the paper he heard about the attack on the news.

A short clip from the day of the attack showed Haniyeh, Arouri and others giddily watching the attacks unfold on TV.

Former Hamas politburo head Khaled Meshal refused to tell Le Figaro if the political leadership had known about the attack ahead of time.

In the months leading up to the attack, according to the report, Sinwar largely stopped communicating with Hamas officials in Qatar and elsewhere, even making Moussa Abu Marzouk, another bigwig in Hamas’s politburo, wait to see him in person.

The report indicated that while the politburo was open to negotiating with Israel, Sinwar’s harder line has placed him at odds with his bosses.

Speaking to the paper, Meshal said “a long-term truce with Israel is certainly negotiable,” and recognition of Israel could be considered “when the time comes.”

Sinwar, on the other hand, has long carried a reputation as an uncompromising hawk dedicated to destroying Israel.

Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh (C) speaks with Yahya Sinwar (L) upon his arrival on the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip on September 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

“He is a little dictator, insensitive to the death of Palestinian civilians” the paper quoted the Jordan-based source, described as a longtime associate of Sinwar, who has long known the terrorist and speaks to him regularly. He said the Gazan’s brusque personality had led to run-ins with the political leadership.

Others have rued the destruction brought upon Gaza in the wake of the attacks, with Hamas health authorities claiming over 20,000 people killed, numbers that cannot be verified and do not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

Israel says it has killed around 8,000 terrorists in Gaza.

“Hamas led to 100 catastrophes in Gaza,” Palestinian National Council member Osama al-Ali recently told Emirati television.

The shadow’s shadow

According to Le Figaro, while Sinwar kept his plans secret from much of Hamas’s leadership and allies, he did approach small Salafist groups for arms and training.

Other preparations included sending Hamas members and allies to drill for the assault in Syria and Lebanon, getting them out of Gaza under the guise of sending them to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage. Six weeks before the attack, he ordered commanders to freeze communications between each other, according to the report.

A picture, reportedly from 2018, purporting to show Muhammad Deif, the commander of the Hamas terror group’s military wing, which was published by Hebrew media outlets on December 27, 2023. (Screen capture; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Jordan-based source claimed that Sinwar went as far as appointing figurehead commanders of armed units in order to protect the actual commander. According to the report, Mohammed Deif, long-described as the head of the Izzeldine al-Qassam Brigades, is one such decoy.

Deif has largely lurked in the shadows. Pictures of him are so rare that a Channel 12 news report Wednesday night revealing a photo purporting to show him was enough to cause a major stir in Israel and raise hopes that troops in Gaza could be closing in on him.

He is also apparently useful as bait. Despite his elusiveness, Deif has been subjected to no less than seven Israeli assassination attempts, somehow crawling away each time, though missing an eye and possibly some limbs.

The source named Mohammed Sinwar, Yahya Sinwar’s younger brother, as the actual leader of Hamas’s armed wing.

A screenshot of an undated video released by the Israel Defense Forces on December 17, 2023, shows Hamas commander Mohammed Sinwar, right, riding in a car traveling through a tunnel under the Gaza Strip. (Screenshot, X: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The younger Sinwar has survived several assassination attempts himself, according to a report in the Telegraph. In 2014, he faked his death, and had not been seen since last month, when the Israel Defense Forces published video it found of the Sinwar brothers cruising through a massive tunnel in northern Gaza in a car.

Reports indicate that Israel believes Mohammed Sinwar is a top commander in Hamas’s armed wing and played a major role in planning the October 7 attacks. He is among the most wanted men in Gaza, and a leaflet reportedly distributed in the Strip offering rewards for information on Hamas’s leaders put the second highest price on his head, three times what it offered for Deif.

A leaflet apparently airdropped by the IDF in Gaza offers monetary rewards for information on Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, his brother Mohammed, Rafaa Salameh and Muhammad Deif. (Screenshot from X used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“Deif is not dead, he walks with canes, but his head still works well, he resolves internal problems in the armed branch,” the source was quoted saying. “He is a respected figure, but the one who moves the brigades is Mohammed, the brother, whom Yahya protects.”

The claims by the paper’s sources could not be independently verified, including the assertion that only three or four people knew the time and day when the attack would take place.

A car destroyed in an attack by Palestinian terrorists is seen in Sderot, Israel, October 7, 2023. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

On Wednesday, Channel 12 news reported that the Shin Bet received a tip over the summer on Hamas’s attack plans, including when it would take place, seemingly contradicting the claim.

The Jordan-based source claimed that though he did not know when the attack would take place, he had heard about plans for it from Sinwar at least two years prior. Those plans were for an assault possibly even more devastating than what took place: a 5,000-man-strong siege on Ashkelon, the Israeli city Sinwar still claims as his hometown.

Most Popular
read more: