Hamas and Putin believe they can wait out US to achieve goals, envoy warns

Hamas leaders have embarked on a similar long-term strategy to the one employed by Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war in Ukraine, according to a Biden administration official.

Both Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, and Putin believe they can wait out the United States in order to achieve their goals, according to David Satterfield, the State Department’s special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues.

“My own view is Yahya Sinwar is perfectly happy if it comes to that, to be a martyr because his legacy, leader of the resistance throughout the region, will go on,” he said during a Thursday event with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think he thinks that’s what’s going to happen any more than Vladimir Putin thinks he’s going to lose in Ukraine. They will wait it out.”

U.S. officials have long explained their belief that Putin’s strategy is to keep the war going until western support for Ukraine dries up, which is when Russian forces would be able to capitalize. They were able to gain ground along the front lines during a several-month stretch earlier this year where the U.S. temporarily stopped providing Ukraine military support. Russian forces are now actively advancing toward the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which they had initially captured but Ukraine had liberated.

FILE – Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, chairs a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions at his office in Gaza City, Wednesday, April 13, 2022. The Hamas officials are accused by the ICC of planning and instigating eight war crimes and crimes against humanity, among them extermination, murder, taking hostages, rape and torture. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

“We’re strategically impatient for political, for other reasons, we the world. They’re endlessly patient. They will wait it out. And they will be the victors,” Satterfield said, describing this potential fallout as “a terrible outcome.”

The terrorist group has been in charge of the enclave for nearly two decades, and in that time, they have diverted humanitarian aid for its own purposes, including the creation of its web of underground tunnels, where it has the ability to hide from Israeli forces.

For Hamas, one aspect of their war strategy is to get Israel isolated on the international scale, and Israel has largely played into that aspect of their goals.

Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court announced its pursuit of arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, while the International Court of Justice continues to consider allegations of genocide that Israel has strenuously denied.

Satterfield acknowledged Hamas is “deeply embedded in Gaza far more than any of us assumed when the campaign began.”

“Its military strength, not a terrorist gang, but a terrorist army. 30,000 strong in tunnels, hundreds of kilometers long at depth. This was beyond what was anticipated,” he said. “Nobody has fought a campaign like this. We haven’t, Israel hasn’t. No modern army has done this. It’s a campaign above ground and below ground. It’s a campaign against a deeply entrenched, very well-equipped, very coherent military, terrorist military but a military and more than a gang, and it’s done in a compacted, compressed space where the terrorist force has had 16-17 years to deliberately embed itself in, under, around, not just civilian infrastructure, but humanitarian infrastructure as well. That was a deliberate strategic act on the part of Hamas.”

Israel’s forces began their military operations in northern Gaza and have effectively carried out a north-to-south sweep of the enclave. Palestinian civilians fled south to avoid the front lines of the war. More than a million Palestinians fled to Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza along its border with Egypt, though several hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have since fled from there.

The current death toll is impossible to verify. The Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry has said roughly 35,000 people have been killed, which does not specify how many of them were terrorists, while Netanyahu recently said the death toll is about 30,000 people, 14,000 of whom were militants.

Spain, Norway, and Ireland recognized a Palestinian state earlier this week. A U.S. National Security Council spokesperson described their effort as “unilateral” and said President Joe Biden thinks Palestinian statehood “should be realized through direct negotiations between the parties.”

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More domestically, Biden has faced pressure from portions of his own party over his continued support for Israel. His administration has continued to arm Israel — though it held up one military aid package of very damaging large bombs — even as he admonished the Israeli forces for not allowing enough humanitarian aid into Gaza and for the significant number of civilian casualties.

Arab, Muslim, liberal, and young voters — key voting blocs in the Democratic coalition — have continually pressured the Biden administration to cut off support to Israel and these activists have carried out protest votes in several state primaries. This demographic threatens Biden’s reelection due to his, and former President Donald Trump’s, need to carry several swing states to reach the necessary 270 Electoral College votes.

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