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The New York Times, I'm Michael Alvaro. This is.


The Daily.


Today, too much of the outside world, Hamas's decision to murder hundreds of Israelis and trigger a war that has since killed many thousands of its own people looks like a historic miscalculation. One that could soon result in the destruction of Hamas itself. My colleague, Ben Hubbert, has been reporting on that decision and the deliberate calculations that went.


Into it.


It's Tuesday, November 14th.


Then since October seventh, since Hamas breached Israel's border and killed 1,200 people, according to Israel, the vast majority of them, civilians, I think a really important question has largely gone unanswered, which is why? Why undertake such a horrifying terror attack that entailed the mass murder of non-combatants?


And why do that.


When Hamas had to understand on some level that it would trigger an overwhelming reprisal from Israel that would end the lives of so many PalestiniansSydney and civilians, which is exactly what's happened. This was a highly planned and highly organized attack that clearly had a strategy behind it. So what was it?


That's what I set out to understand after the attack, I think everybody was asking that question of why would Hamas, which ruling in Gaza and has this control, why would they suddenly do something like this that was actually described by one of my colleagues as a suicide attack on itself? Basically, was the movement trying to destroy itself? We wanted to figure out how did Hamas get to the point in terms of capabilities where it could launch this, which was a much, much more sophisticated and complicated attack than we had ever seen them carry out before, despite the decades and decades that they've been fighting Israel. And then also why? How did they get to the point where they made the decision that of the kinds of attacks that they could do for whatever it is that they wanted to achieve, why this? Not a very easy thing to answer. It's completely unrealistic that we would be able to call up the leaders of Hamas in Gaza who plotted and carried out this attack. Certainly, by the time that we were asking this question, they were hiding away in their bunkers somewhere, getting ready to fight Israel, which was making it very clear it was going to do a ground incursion.


So there's no way to talk to these people. But Hamas has leaders in other places. You have the people in Gaza who run the show there, and then they have people from their more political operations who are based in other parts of the Middle East. There's a number of them who are in Beirut. There's a number of them who in Qatar. So I packed my bags and left Istanbul and first went to Beirut.


With the understanding that you could meet with them, I think it would surprise people to think that you can just meet with the senior leaders of Hamas.


Yeah. They're like political people from any other political party. They have offices and they have aides and you call them up and you take an appointment and you figure out where you're going to meet them and you go to the office. And so we got in touch with a number of them and they said, Yeah, come in and we'll have a chat. And they told us to meet them at this restaurant that's well-known in the suburbs of Beirut. And we actually got in their car and they drove us to the compound where we went in with a big metal gate that opens when you go in. And we went in and we just basically sat in a room with some couches and we talked. And then a few days later, I went to Doha, capital of Qatar, on the other side of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Again, we get in touch with the Hamas officials that we know were there. The first person that we talked to was actually an aide to Ismail Hanieh, who was the head of Hamas. Hamas. He says, Well, let's meet at the Sheraton, the hotel on the waterfront.


I go there and we meet and have a long chat with him, asking him basically all about the attack and before the attack and why the attack. Then we actually get in his car and he drives us to the Hamas office. It's in a nice villa in an affluent neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, has a big wall around it. No sign, no indication to anybody coming by, who is there, who works there. We meet one of the members of the senior leadership body, the Pullet Bureau, Khalil Hayy. Again, we're sitting in a large room with couches and somebody brings us tea and coffee and we start talking.


After you have all these conversations with these leaders of Hamas, what did they tell you about this question of why? This question that you have come here to try to understand the logic of this attack, if we can apply that word to what happened.


The basic idea that they all kept coming back to is they felt that the Palestinian cause was basically fading away, that there were aspects of this conflict that were approaching a point of no return. And if they passed that point, then it was all over. And also this feeling that nobody really cared. Nobody was really paying attention or doing anything about it, including the Israelis, that the Israelis just didn't even seem to be thinking about the Palestinian cause anymore. So they felt that they needed to do something big. They need to do something dramatic to blow up the status quo. They wanted to completely overthrow the situation in the region. And individual leaders said that they hope that this led to a big regional war, that that was the ideal outcome. And and hope that some new option would emerge from what came after. So what.


They're telling you is they need it in their minds to light a fire and not a small fire. They wanted to light a confagration. I'm wondering if that means for them that any death toll on both sides was therefore worth it.


Well, I asked them about that, everybody that I talked to, and they give on pretty much all counts, incredibly unsatisfying answers. When you ask about the civilian Israelis who were killed in their communities, they basically deny it and say either it's not true, this is Israeli propaganda, or they say that if any civilians were killed, they were killed in the crossfire between our fighters and Israeli security services and the military. There's ample evidence that show that that's just.


Not true. There is evidence and testimony from Israeli survivors of the attacks. There is dashcam footage from cars that were parked in places where the attacks took place. There's surveillance footage from cameras that were posted in the communities. There's even helmet cameras that some of the Hamas fighters were wearing that were captured by the after the fighters were killed. We have that footage as well. All of this shows that regardless of what Hamas says, the objectives of the attack were that many of these fighters.


Just moved.


Deliberately through these communities in a very studied way, shooting and killing people on site. My colleagues have done work proving that they cornered civilians who had taken shelter inside of bomb shelters and threw Grenades inside to try to kill them while they were stuck in there. There's other evidence that they just lit people's houses on fire on top of them. We know that Hamas's denials are just not true.


When you ask them about, Okay, well, there's a big war going on. Obviously, we see the death toll in Gaza going up every day. These are supposed to be your people. They basically say, Whatever Israel does is not our fault. We're out here trying to save the Palestinian cause, and if Israel decides to come back and kill a bunch of people in Gaza, that's not our problem. When you take a step back and look at what they're saying in the context of this broader goal, they just seem to be saying that all of these deaths are just the necessary cost of this blowing up of the status quo.


Then bottom line, to accomplish this objective of upending the status quo for Hamas, for its leaders, it seems like almost any amount of death would be allowable.


Right. In my conversations with some of the Hamas leaders, there really did not seem to be a lot of hand-wringing about the number of civilian deaths that have come about because of this attack.


So help us better understand how that status quo that Hamas is so desperate to shatter came to be and how Hamas decided that it was willing to go to this length to destroy it.


So I found it very useful in trying to understand how Hamas got to this point, looking at the career of one of the people who ended up plotting this attack. And this is the head of Hamas in Gaza, whose name is Yehia Sinwar.


So what should we know about him?


Yehia Sinwar is from the first generation of Hamas. Hamas was a Palestinian militant movement founded in the late '80s that was an Islamist movement that aimed to destroy Israel with military means and replace it with a Palestinian state. At this time, the Israeli military was occupying the West Bank and Gaza. And Hamas was not interested in just ending the occupation of these territories. Hamas believed that the entire state of Israel was an occupation. This sets it apart from other Palestinian movements that have negotiated with Israel and accept Israel's right to exist. Hamas never accepted that and felt that the whole thing was wrong and that the only solution was to completely destroy Israel and replace it with the Palestinian state.




So Sinwar is from the very early generation of this movement, and from very early on, he's an internal security guy. He's in charge of looking out for Israeli moles inside of the organization. And he punishes these people with such brutality that he's given the nickname the Butcher of Khan Younus. Khan Younus is a town in Kazakhstan where he was born, and so he was known as the Butcher of Khan Younus.


So he's an enforcer within Hamas, a violent figure within an already violent group.


Yes. But then in 1988, he gets arrested by the Israelis, and he is thrown in jail for the murder of four Palestinians who were alleged with Israel spying inside of the organization. He's in prison for 22 years. He describes this later as being very educational. He learns to speak good Hebrew. He reads books in Hebrew, and he describes it as being this great opportunity to really get to know his enemy, to understand Israeli society, to understand how Israel works and how it thinks. Clearly, this is because he does expect or hope that someday he's going to get out of prison and that this knowledge is going to come in useful.


He's studying Israel from inside prison so that he might someday better understand, it sounds like, their weaknesses.




While he's in jail, Hamas expands as a movement, and it becomes basically notorious for using very, very violent techniques to try to harm Israel. In 2007, it gets in a huge fight with other Palestinian factions inside of Gaza and ends up taking the place over and basically exiling the Palestinian authority. And this puts the movement in a really new place. This was a movement that was founded to do military action against Israel. And suddenly it finds itself governing a territory. It becomes the de facto government of a territory that now has more than two million Palestinians. And so instead of just wanting to launch attacks and figure out ways to attack the Israeli military, suddenly they have to think about infrastructure and how to provide services for all these people who are technically under their rule. But of.


Course, Sinwa is in prison and cannot be a part of this transformation of Hamas into the governing authority of Gaza.


Yes. So while all this is happening on the outside, Sinwar is inside learning Hebrew and getting to know Israel better. And then all of a sudden, he gets an opportunity. And basically, Hamas gets an opportunity. On Sunday, Palestinian fighters used a tunnel to attack a border post and kidnap an Israeli soldier.


In 2006, some Hamas fighters pop up from a tunnel on the Israeli side of the border separating Israel from Gaza, and they take a soldier captive and they drag him back to Gaza and they hold him.




8,500 Palestinians held captive.


In Israel.


Now in the spotlight following the militants'.


Capture of the Israeli soldier. Their freedom.


The single demand so far from the corporals' captors.


There are years of negotiations, and then in 2011, there's an agreement for a prisoner swap.


And in the end, Hamas trades this one Israeli soldier named Galad Sharif, and they get in return more than 1,000 Palestinians released from prison. It was just before midday that the first coachload of Palestinian prisoners came across the Egyptian border into Rafa. Among them is Yehia Sinwar. Yehia Sinwar is the only.


One of the.


Group's top leaders to be freed in the deal. And Sunwar is one of the biggest prizes that.


Hamas gets out.


And then he returns to Gaza and he receives a.


Hero's welcome.


And he does this not just with this new Israel education that he's gotten while he was locked up, but he also, of course, learns a lesson, which is that Israel will pay dearly to.


Get its captives released.


Right, 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including himself, for a single Israeli soldier.




And so he returns this leader with 22 years in Israeli prison, and he comes back and reintegrates into Hamas and begins his further climb up the ranks. The Palestinian group Hamas has elected a commander of its armed wing as overall leader in Gaza. And in 2017, he actually becomes the top Hamas official in Gaza. In that role, he starts to transform that branch of the organization. He does things to make the organization stronger. Interestingly, he sends certain messages implying that he's actually interested in the accommodation with Israel.


Explain that.


By this point, Hamas and Israel have settled into this strange violent co-existence. They're obviously incredibly hostile parties. Violence frequently breaks out. In fact, entire wars break out. But there's also a lot of interaction because Israel controls almost all of Gaza's borders, except a small part controlled by Egypt. Most of Gaza's electricity comes from Israel. Most of Gaza's commercial goods are brought in from Israel. Just for the place to survive, there needs to be a certain amount of interaction. And so this strange.


Process develops where violence frequently breaks out and Hamas will fire rockets into Israel and try to hit Israeli towns and military bases. And then Israel responds with airstrikes and sometimes with assassinations of Hamas leaders inside of Gaza. And then mediators get involved. And while they're trying to work out a ceasefire, there's a negotiation that's not really about the larger conflict, but.


About some of the details of the actual blockade.


Hamas is trying to find ways to loosen up this blockade to allow more goods to enter Gaza. Over time, Sinwar ends up giving people in the Israeli security establishment this impression that that's actually something that's important to him, that he actually does want to try to make life better for the people of Gaza.


And it's not just all military all the time. And then in 2021, there's another war between Israel and Hamas. And after that, there's a negotiation. And again, Hamas pushes for a number of things that seem to be geared towards improving life for Gozans. They negotiate tens of millions of dollars in aid from Qatar to come in through Israel to Gaza to keep the economy functioning in the place. They negotiate work permits to try to increase the number of work permits for Gozans to leave Gaza into Israel to work because there's really a lot of jobs in Gaza. And so this is a good thing for the economy. And so at another point, even more recently than that, there were clashes started by other militant factions in Gaza. And Hamas sits out. They sit on the side. And so together, this creates this impression on the Israeli side that I think there's two prongs to it. One is that the Israeli defense technology is enough to keep Gaza contained. We have this border fence that has cameras and it has motion sensors and it has remote control, machine guns. We have an underground wall, so there's no tunnels.


And we have Iron Dome, which is the Israeli rocket interception system. And then on top of that, they say, Well, we also have this leader in Gaza who seems like he doesn't want to get a bunch of his people killed in yet another war.


It sounds like you're saying Sinwa's conduct and his messaging is contributing to this feeling inside Israel that maybe Gaza and Hamas can be contained. This can all be managed managed.


Right. It's not that anybody thinks that they've managed to solve the long-term conflict with Hamas. It's more that, okay, well, we've got this situation under control that with our security measures to try to keep them contained, and that if we can.




Enough aid going in to keep the economy going along so that people aren't too miserable, that in a way this could keep things from really blowing up. But meanwhile, it's clear to us in hindsight that Sanwar was not at all happy with that status quo and that he was covertly working to try to build up Hamas's military capabilities inside of Gaza.


Well, how so?


Well, Hamas continues to build its arsenal of rockets inside of Gaza. They smuggle in the materials that they need to make them and they build them inside of Gaza. They're building up this arsenal. On a more strategic level, Sanwar comes in and he repairs the relationship between Hamas and specifically with the Hamas military wing in Gaza and some of its older regional allies. The most important of these is Iran, which had been a funder and the state supporter of Hamas since the early days of the movement, and also with Hezbolla, the Lebanese militia, which is also dedicated to the destruction of Israel and works closely with Iran to try to build this network of regional militias that are out to harm Israel.


We know that in recent years, a number of Hamas fighters have been able to get out of and travel both to Iran and to Lebanon for various kinds of training. Looking back at this attack, we.


Realized that they were probably.


Learning new capabilities that really added a whole different sophistication to the kinds of attacks that Hamas was able to carry out.


All these alliances you're describing at Sinwar deepens. They're in the service of making Hamas.




Stronger, more capable fighting force.


Yes. He clearly knows that the battle is not over. It certainly is clear in hindsight that his end goal was not to govern Gaza and to try to improve the life of Gozans, but he was very interested in developing the.




Capabilities so that he could find a way to hit Israel in a new and powerful way.


What exactly sets the stage for doing just that? Hitting Israel in a new and powerful way and for doing it when Sinwa and Hamas decide to do it on October seventh, 2023?


When I asked the Hamas leaders about this, this is where they brought up the idea that the Palestinian cause was slipping away. They point to a number of things. These are issues that are not just important to Hamas. These are issues that are important to all Palestinians. They talk about the most right-wing government in Israeli history coming to power and basically not being at all interested in talking about any future for the Palestinians. They talk about attacks by settlers in the West Bank on Palestinian communities. They talk about police raids on the Al Aqsa Mosque, which is one of the holiest sites in Islam, which is in Jerusalem, and has always been a touchstone for the Palestinian claim to the city.


There's also, of course, the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which it is enforced since 2007 along with Egypt.


And also hanging over these normalization deals that are happening between Israel and other Arab countries. And this idea that Israel can go around the Palestinians and find peace with the Arabs without resolving the conflict. These are the things that they're talking about when they're saying we just felt like the cause was slipping away.


Right, because in a sense, the cause has been slipping away, indisputably. Arab countries who would be natural allies of the Palestinian cause are signing deals in which the only previous obstacle had been the fate of the Palestinian people. And so in signing those deals, they're basically saying they no longer cared about the Palestinian cause. And as you just mentioned, there are these daily insults and offenses occurring that are, if you're a Palestinian, extremely upsetting.


Right. Hamas basically sees all of this happening and feels like this cause is slipping away. This is where they get this idea that we have to do something and we have to do something big. We cannot let this issue disappear. We have to bring it back to the world's attention. That's what gets us to October seventh, 2014.


We'll be right back. Ben, what have you learned through this reporting you have been doing about how, under Sinoar, Hamas planned and thought about the scope of what became the October seventh attack?


We know that they basically felt that the old model was not going to be good enough. This idea that they would fire rockets and try to hit Israeli communities and whatever. No, no, no. This had to be much, much bigger. And so they wanted to take the fight to the Israelis. They wanted to get out of Gaza, and not just a few of them, but large numbers of them. And they wanted it to be an incredibly dramatic attack. And so they went by air, they went by land, they went by sea, they went inside of Israeli military bases. They went inside Israeli communities and killed a lot of people and took a lot of prisoners. And they managed to bring a lot of these hostages back to Gaza. And Sinwaar knows better than anybody how much the taking of one Israeli captive can change the situation. Right. And we know that when they launched this attack, they were seeking captives. They wanted to find people and bring them back to Gaza. And we also know that this attack was much, much more successful than even its plotters had anticipated. And so now the fact that Hamas, instead of just one Israeli captive, has somewhere around 240.


It just pushes the entire conflict into this uncharted territory where nobody really knows what comes next.


Well, let's talk more about the aftermath of this brutal attack and how Ben, in your reporting, you've been trying to understand whether Hamas did what it set out to do, given the original aims, as you have described and reported them, of exploding a status quo. How should we think about measuring this idea, this complicated idea that this was, to use Hamas's word, a success?


Well, I think in the fundamental sense of setting out to shatter the status quo, then yeah, this accomplished that. Gas is never going to go back to what it was. I think in terms of the goal of putting the Palestinian cause back on the table, I think it was true that not many people were paying attention to it just over a month ago. Now, because of Israel's ferocious response to the Hamas attacks and the bombing of Gaza, now we're seeing protests coming out all over the world in different cities in the US talking about Palestinian rights in a way that we have not seen before.


And there's also this frantic diplomacy that started. And you have US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinkin, flying around and talking about the two-state solution and how to make progress on it.


And so the issue is on the table in a way that it was not before this attack. And then in terms of this idea of sparking this big regional war, that has not happened, at least not to the extent that Hamas had hoped. There has been fighting on the Lebanese border with Hezbolla. There have been attacks in Iraq, but we have not seen this huge uprising and the rest of the Arabs joining the cause to come and and try to help Hamas destroy Israel.


Then that feels important to dwell on for just a moment. If Hamas's militant allies in the Middle East, Hezbolla, for example, don't become more involved in this conflict, will that be a signal that the Palestinian cause is not likely to stay top of mind for very long? Then ultimately, one of the main objectives of October seventh will have failed.


I mean, one of theThe most surprising things, I think, for me about all of this is that Iran and its regional militias, including Hamas, had been talking for a long time about how they had built this axis of resistance and how they were much more integrated and they were sharing technology and sharing information. There's this idea that they had put out that if there was a war against Israel, all the pieces would fall into place and it would be like this big militant vultron that would come together and fight Israel. That's not what happened. I was quite surprised in the we don't have any indications that Hamas coordinated this attack with anybody or that they let anybody know that it was coming. Hezbolla's response was quite cautious at the very beginning. They're now clashing with Israel on the border, but they've done it in a controlled way to keep it from escalating into a bigger war. And so it raises this whole question of this idea of this big regional militia network. Well, maybe it's not as coordinated as we thought. I mean, if Hamas is actually going to be the one to pull the plug on this big war and these other guys don't actually want to join it in the same way that Hamas is doing it, then maybe this network is not as tight as we expected it was.


So yes, Hamas.




Put the question of the Palestinians back on people's minds, whether it's demonstrators or Blinkin, diplomats.


But to.


What end? Ideally, from the point of view of Hamas, the end is a Palestinian state and the elimination of Israel. It seems like Hamas is no closer to that now than they were before October 7. In Hamas's mind, what is supposed to be on the other side of the status quo that's gone other than Israeli death and Israeli suffering and Palestinian death and Palestinian suffering on an enormous scale?


I might talks with the Hamas leaders, there was really no sense of a grand plan for what comes next. They definitely wanted to hit Israel as hard as they could, and they wanted to hit Israel inside of Israel. And they were not particularly concerned about what response this would bring and what it would mean to the people of Gaza. It was that the attack somehow would be enough and would open up some new way. Now that we're five weeks into this, I think it's also worth pointing out that Israel doesn't appear to have a grand plan either.


The stated goal.


Is to destroy Hamas, and Israel can probably make a lot of progress on that. They could kill a lot of the Hamas leaders. They can degrade its military capabilities.




Then what? There's not really any plan for who's going to run Gaza once this is all over. And so.


Where does all.


This get us? I think it's difficult to tell the future, but there's a few possibilities. One is that the violence gets so bad and the destruction gets so great that people get disgusted with it and.


Decide that there has to be some.


New way forward. There has to be a new way to try to figure out.


How to keep this.


Cycle from continuing. But it's also sadly possible that Israel will go in and do whatever it feels that it needs to do in Gaza, and the world could move on and people could go back to forgetting about the Palestinians. And we could end up in a status quo like we had before, but one that's even worse for the people of Gaza. Israel has been trying to destroy Hamas for a long time, and this time they may make a lot of progress. They may kill a lot of their leaders and they may degrade their military capabilities, but there's still going to be two million Palestinians living in Gaza, and most of them are children. And after all the trauma of living through a war like this, it's just very hard to imagine that they're going to grow up and feel like they want to live peacefully next door with Israel. And it's certainly not hard to imagine that some other organization could come up and that it's not going to have a hard time finding recruits. Right, right.


What you're describing is a potential new status quo, replacing this shattered status quo that is worse for the people in Gaza and in theory, potentially worse for Israel.


Yes, I think that's the worst-case scenario for how this could all end.


Well, thank you, Ben. We appreciate it.


Thank you.


We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to Noday. With the US government set to run out of money at midnight Friday, the new Republican House Speaker, conservative Mike Johnson, has proposed a temporary funding plan that so far is drawing support from Democrats and opposition from Johnson's fellow far-right Republicans. That raises the possibility that Johnson's first major piece of legislation, a continuing resolution known as a CR, will only win passage with the support of House Democrats. A reality that doomed Johnson's predecessor, former House Speaker.




Mccarthy. For now, I am pleased that Speaker Johnson seems to be moving in our direction.


In a speech from the Senate floor on Monday, the chamber's Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, praised Johnson's plan.


I've said on multiple occasions that if we're going to work together to keep the government open, Speaker Johnson will have to avoid pushing steep cuts or poison pills that Democrats can't support.


And after a series of embarrassing revelations about undisclosed gifts and real estate deals by the justices, the US Supreme Court has, for the first time, adopted a formal code of ethics that requires greater transparency to the public. Unlike lower court judges, the justices of the Supreme Court have never been bound to a code of conduct given their special status in the US Constitution. But so far, it's unclear how the ethics code will actually be enforced. Today's episode was produced by Mary Wilson, Asta Chathurvadi, and Rob Zipko. It was edited by Paige Coward, with help from Devin Taylor. It was fact-checked by Susan Lee, contained original music by Dan Powell, Rowdy Mistow, and Pat.




And was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landford of Wonderly. Special thanks to Rochelle Bonja. That's it for.


The Daily.


I'm Michael Bobarom. See you tomorrow.