Yahya Sinwar in Gaza City, 2017

Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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Sinwar in Exchange for Rafah

Why is the Biden administration dangling the Hamas chief in exchange for stopping the Gaza war? Because the terror group’s survival is key to the administration’s larger project in the Middle East.

Lee Smith
May 16, 2024
Yahya Sinwar in Gaza City, 2017

Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Biden team’s offer to trade Yahya Sinwar, the man believed to be the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack, for guarantees that the Israeli military stay out of Rafah points to two disturbing truths about the current conflict in the Middle East. The first is that the U.S. knows plenty about what the Hamas terror group is doing and has done. The second is that Washington has been keeping key information—like the terror leader’s whereabouts—from the Israelis, thereby prolonging the war that it claims to decry.

The implications of the administration’s offer, relayed in a recent Washington Post article, has Israelis and U.S. pro-Israel activists livid. Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, for instance, posted on X, “I am shocked and sickened by reports that the U.S. is withholding from Israel vital information on the whereabouts of senior Hamas leaders in Gaza. Is the administration still our ally?”

The Biden administration is making the offer because all its efforts to end Israel’s war have failed and if Rafah falls, Hamas is likely to fall, too. It seems there’s no other way to preserve a pillar of what the White House calls “regional integration”—a euphemism for the U.S.-Iran alliance system that Barack Obama has tried to impose on the Middle East for the last decade.

Leaks that the Biden administration is withholding actionable intelligence on Hamas’ paramount leader in Gaza confirm that, as Tablet reported shortly after the Oct. 7 massacre, the administration had a wealth of intelligence on the terror group and its plans. If U.S. intelligence agencies are confident that they know where Sinwar is squirreled away now, in the chaos of wartime, they also knew what he was doing in the lead-up to the massive attack.

Biden and his aides have formulated their scenario: Hamas ‘technocrats’ will constitute the Iranian-backed component in a unity government with the U.S.-backed faction that now rules the West Bank. Hamas is a pillar of the U.S.-Iran condominium.

The administration’s efforts to disclaim any foreknowledge of the attack were always absurd. The U.S. has not only its own unrivaled collection of signals intelligence but also significant intelligence channels in Qatar, where Hamas leaders are based; in Lebanon, where Hamas fighters trained under the supervision of Iranian officials; and Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza and allows Hamas to smuggle weapons through the terror group’s extensive tunnel network. Further, detailed open-source reporting, especially in The Wall Street Journal, months prior to the attack showed that top Iranian officials were visiting Lebanon to coordinate major operations with Hamas and Hezbollah leaders.

And yet, according to reports shortly after Oct. 7, there was no evidence U.S. spy services shared with Jerusalem their intelligence on Hamas. The Biden administration rationalized its failures by claiming there was nothing exceptional about its findings, much of which was gathered in areas where the U.S. prevented or discouraged Israeli intelligence from operating. As one U.S. source told the press, “I think what happened is everyone saw these reports and were like, ‘Yeah of course. But we know what this will look like.’” In other words, the Biden administration knew there was something big in the works; the only question is whether it had any indication of the full scope of the Oct. 7 operation.

The Washington Post article is best understood in connection with two recent New York Times articles. The first alleges to explain why Biden lost his patience with Ιsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and turned against Israel—because Rafah was a step too far. The piece describes a Feb. 11 phone call between an “exasperated” U.S. president and Bibi during which “for the first time, the president who had so strongly backed Israel’s war against Hamas was essentially threatening to change course.”

The narrative that the Times report means to push is false. There was no “evolution” of Biden’s position. In reality, the administration has been trying to deter Israel from Day One. Less than 24 hours after the Oct. 7 attack, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted his support for a cease-fire, before Israel even began its counterstrike.

What the article really shows is how the administration has become increasingly frustrated that its efforts to derail Israel have failed. Starting in the earliest days of the war, Biden helped resupply Hamas by requiring Israel to “surge” fuel, food, and other “aid” into Gaza even while public reporting made it clear that much of the aid was going directly to Hamas, which shoots at Gazan civilians to protect its Biden-sponsored bounty.

As the Israelis prepared to move on Rafah in early February, the White House told Israel to present plans to protect civilians, allow Hamas to control aid convoys, and arrange for moving hundreds of thousands of Gazans out of harm’s way—measures designed to limit Israel’s warfighting capacity while strengthening Hamas’ will and ability to resist. But for Biden, changing the rules of war beyond those ever observed by the U.S. and other Western forces still wasn’t enough. The administration joined Hamas’ propaganda efforts by raising daily alarms about a nonexistent “famine” in Gaza, citing the terror group’s baldly falsified casualty numbers as fact, and threatening Israel with prosecution for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

Acting as defense counsel and PR firm for an Islamist organization that massacred over 1,200 people and still holds U.S. citizens hostage is psychopathic—or evil, if you prefer—but it wasn’t enough to satisfy the White House. The administration’s latest demand, retailed by Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other Biden aides, is that Israel must come up with plans for the “Day After”—i.e., must be responsible for how its enemy will conduct its political arrangements after it’s routed. This Biden demand appears to be a variation of Colin Powell’s so-called “Pottery Barn” rule—if a military power breaks a society, it’s obliged to own it.

The most generous reading of Powell’s rule is that the ex-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who served two combat tours in Vietnam, intended to make American policymakers think very hard about using military force. In practice, worrying about how to fix unfixable places cost thousands of American lives and trillions of U.S. dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq. By seeking to impose the same perverse strategy on Israel, the White House’s intent is to hobble a traditional American ally fighting an existential war on its borders.

U.S. policymakers who have proved repeatedly over the last half century that they are incapable of winning wars now insist that Israel must not win them. “Sometimes when we listen closely to Israeli leaders, they talked about mostly the idea of some sort of sweeping victory on the battlefield, total victory,” State Department official Kurt Campbell said recently. “I don’t think we believe that that is likely or possible.” Nonetheless, despite all the administration’s efforts to save Hamas, Israel is winning its war—or else Biden aides and allies wouldn’t be going all out to stop them.

In further support of the Biden administration’s program of deterrence, Obama faction oligarchs, like George Soros, Bill Gates, and the Pritzker family, spent millions of dollars funding pro-Hamas demonstrations throughout the United States. These rallies were designed in part to echo the anti-Netanyahu protests in Israel organized by Biden officials and allies, whose goal was first to topple the government and then, after war broke out, to end it leaving Hamas intact.

In America, the purpose of mass demonstrations, still ongoing after several months, is to indicate grassroots support for saving Hamas, and thus frame Biden support for Palestinian terrorists as a response to “public pressure.” If some of the youthful demonstrators appeared to be at odds with the White House—“Genocide Joe,” the protesters chanted—the fact is that their desired outcome was the same as the administration’s. And compared to mobs of frenzied kids calling for spilling Jewish blood “from the river to the sea,” the White House’s efforts to impose a cease-fire indeed seem measured and moderate.

But the propaganda campaign messaging that the dynamic and fearless pro-Palestine youngsters had turned America against the evil Zionists hit a wall with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Angry to have his patriotism tested by demonstrators replacing the American flag with the banner of a terror enclave, the former policeman learned that outside forces, including foreign governments, were funding the protests. No NYC law enforcement official could afford to tolerate the disruption of the city’s life for months by violent, antisemitic, flag-burning protesters seizing control of bridges, highways, commuter rail terminals, airports, and now universities.

When the NYPD started making arrests at the Columbia, NYU, and CUNY campuses, they found that half of the demonstrators were not students but paid agitators—many of them in their 30s and 40s. In other words, while terrorizing a traditional Democratic Party constituency, middle-class Jews, the protests showed there was in fact no organic support for demanding Israel back off an Ιranian-backed terror group that killed 30 Americans and is holding another five hostage. In fact, according to an April Harvard/Harris poll, support for Israel, which has been waning under a concerted publicity campaign led by the White House in concert with its activist allies, skyrocketed back up to 80% once Americans saw kaffiyeh-clad activists hoisting terror banners and calling for genocide.

Biden’s last instrument of deterrence was to stop supplying arms to Israel, which would at last, presumably, bring Netanyahu to heel. Instead, the Israeli public rallied around the prime minister when he vowed to go into Rafah regardless and finish the job, even if Israelis had to fight with their fingernails.

With the White House all out of sticks, it had no other option but to offer Jerusalem a carrot, Sinwar. After all, Israeli officials swore that the war wouldn’t be over until they had Sinwar in chains or had buried him. By handing over the top terrorist, Biden could end the war and keep the Israelis from going into Rafah.

The second Times article, published Sunday, sourced to U.S. officials and Hamas operatives, shows how Sinwar has become expendable. It presents him as a rogue at odds not only with the Palestinian public but even his own organization. According to the article, “U.S. officials say that Mr. Sinwar has shown disdain for his colleagues outside Gaza, who were not informed about the precise plans for Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7.”

After Oct. 7, the administration was determined to distance Iran from any operational role in the attack. But now Biden officials are claiming that Hamas leaders based in Qatar, like Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshaal, were also in the dark. Accordingly, compared to Sinwar, Haniyeh and Meshaal are moderates.

“While the outside leadership has at times been more willing to compromise,” a Biden aide told the Times, “Mr. Sinwar is less ready to concede ground to the Israeli negotiators.” Indeed, according to a colleague of Sinwar’s, “other leaders might not have instigated the Oct. 7 attack, preferring to focus on technocratic matters of governance.” The Hamas man continued: “If someone else had been in his position, things might have gone in a calmer way.” As it turns out, the moderates in Hamas didn’t even know about Oct. 7—and surely, they would have done things differently.

Israel’s plans for the “Day After” are clearly irrelevant, since Biden and his aides have formulated their own scenario: Hamas “technocrats”—i.e., the leadership in Doha—will constitute the Iranian-backed component in a Palestinian unity government in tandem with the U.S.-backed faction that now rules the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas, therefore, is a pillar of the U.S.-Iran condominium in the Middle East. This includes Lebanon—where Washington funds the army and intelligence services, which are run by Iran’s asset, Hezbollah—as well as Iraq and Syria, where U.S. forces are deployed to protect Iranian allies and proxies from the regional Sunni majority.

If Israel finishes off Hamas, the Biden administration’s efforts to complete Obama’s Middle East security architecture will collapse. From that perspective, Team Biden prefers to sacrifice Sinwar and save Obama’s most important strategic initiative, which aims to override the traditional U.S.-led order of the Middle East and give birth to a new and unholy anatomy, tying America to an anti-American terror-state that embodies Jew hatred.

The problem for Biden is that he is trying to realize a vision that is fundamentally unstable, not to mention insane. Iran is weak, and so are its proxies—or else the White House wouldn’t have to expend so much energy deterring Israel.

It can hardly be lost on any careful reader of this recent White House information operation that the powers now being attributed to Sinwar belong rather to the American government. Sinwar, writes the Times, “has emerged not only as a strong-willed commander but as a shrewd negotiator who has staved off an Israeli battlefield victory while engaging Israeli envoys at the negotiating table.”

But Sinwar hasn’t been near any negotiating tables; he’s been hiding in tunnels inside Gaza. Rather, it is the White House that has prevented an Israeli victory, and it is Biden aides who have thwarted Jerusalem with their diplomatic entreaties to formulate a plan for feeding Palestinians, moving them to safety, and ensuring their political rights with a plan for the “Day After.” Were it not for Biden’s repeated interventions, Hamas might have been destroyed months ago—and many lives on both sides might have been saved.

The most important takeaway from Biden’s offer of Sinwar in exchange for Rafah is that Barack Obama’s vision of a new Middle East, which the Biden administration has insisted on following, entails tying the U.S. not only to an obscurantist anti-American and Jew-hating terror regime but to a military force and its proxy armies that, like U.S. policymakers, can’t win wars. Like his former boss, Biden is intent on saddling America with a deadly loser. Israel’s decision then isn’t just about whether to take Sinwar or forfeit Rafah, but whether to crash Obama’s project, or to let Hamas survive along with the programmatically apocalyptic delusions of its superpower backer.