US intelligence suggests Sinwar believes Hamas has upper hand in negotiations with Israel, officials say

American intelligence officials believe that Yahya Sinwar, the powerful leader of Hamas in Gaza who is thought to be the group’s key decision-maker on any potential ceasefire deal, likely believes the group can survive Israel’s attempt to destroy it and feels confident it is well-positioned to approach negotiations from a place of strength, according to US officials familiar with recent assessments.

The goal for Hamas is to survive, these sources say — that would be victory for the group. Sinwar likely believes Hamas can hold out while Israel’s global standing deteriorates as the war in Gaza, which has killed thousands of civilians, continues.

A senior Biden administration official put it bluntly: “He believes he’s winning.

For US negotiators pursuing a ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel, it’s a discouraging assessment. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the families of American hostages being held in Gaza in a meeting in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning that the fate of the latest proposal rests with Sinwar.

While the US is pressuring those who have sway over Hamas to push the group to accept the deal, Blinken on Tuesday made it clear that the US believes that Sinwar is the ultimate decision-maker.

“I think there are those who have influenced, but influence is one thing, actually getting a decision made is the is another thing. I don’t think anyone other than the Hamas leadership in Gaza are actually the ones who can make decisions,” Blinken said, adding: “That is what we are waiting on.”

If Sinwar believes the group can hold out against the Israeli invasion, it would mean he doesn’t yet feel sufficient pressure to reach an agreement that would end the fighting — even as Palestinian civilians continue to perish.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Sinwar called their deaths “necessary sacrifices” in messages reviewed by the paper.

“We have the Israelis right where we want them,” Sinwar told Hamas’ political leadership in the Gulf state of Qatar recently, according to one of the messages. The date of the message isn’t clear but suggests that Sinwar is pressing for the conflict to continue.

US officials have sought publicly to portray Sinwar as callous to the deaths of Palestinian civilians and interested only in preserving his own personal survival.

“It should come as a shock to no one that Mr. Sinwar cares nothing at all about the lives of innocent Palestinians that have been caught up in this war, a war he started.
And it should surprise and shock no one that a beast like Mr. Sinwar would actually take glee in it and see advantage in it,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.

Sinwar, who was one of the key planners of the October 7 attack, has remained at large in the vast warren of tunnels trenched beneath Gaza, moving frequently and possibly surrounded by hostages as human shields, officials believe.

The US intelligence community has struggled to track him, according to one source familiar with the intelligence.

But he has continued to drive Hamas’ negotiation positions, and it can often take days for messages to reach him, slowing the process.

Both Sinwar and Hamas’ top military official, Mohammed Deif, are still alive. Even if Israel has killed 15,000 Hamas militants, as it claims, it means that as much as half of the group’s estimated fighting force is still on the battlefield.

A longtime figure in the Islamist Palestinian group, Sinwar was responsible for building up Hamas’ military wing before forging important new ties with regional Arab powers as the group’s civilian and political leader.

He was elected to Hamas’ main decision-making body, the Politburo, in 2017 as the political leader of Hamas in Gaza. However, he has since become the Politburo’s de facto leader, according to research by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Regional polling — while flawed — has indicated that Hamas had grown unpopular in Gaza before the October 7 attack, and some analysts have suggested that the group may have launched the operation in part to try to gin up some domestic support.

Blinken said Hamas’ answer to the proposal will reveal the group’s priorities.

“We await the answer from Hamas and that will speak volumes about what they want, what they’re looking for, who they’re looking after,” Blinken said. “Are they looking after one guy who may be for now safe … while the people that he purports to represent continue to suffer in a crossfire of his own making? Or will he do what’s necessary to actually move this to a better place, to help end the suffering of people to help bring real security to Israelis and Palestinians alike?”

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at