Hamas Continues Propaganda Campaign Involving Israeli POWs

On Sunday, Hamas spokesperson Abu Obeida issued a statement saying a militant belonging to a specialized unit (Shadow Unit) tasked with guarding Israeli prisoners of war was killed in a strike during the May 2021 Gaza conflict. Obeida added that three militants belonging to the unit were injured in the strike.

“On the eighth anniversary of the Battle of Asaf al-Makul [2014 Gaza War] during which the al-Qassam Brigades [Hamas] captured two Zionist soldiers.. Al-Qassam leadership is allowed to reveal that a place during the battle of Sayf al-Quds [2021 Gaza war] last year was subjected to Zionist bombardment, which led to the martyrdom of one of the shadow fighters and the wounding of three others while they were carrying out the mission of guarding one of the [Israeli] soldiers,” Obeida stated.

In the last few weeks, Hamas has launched a propaganda campaign to pressure the Israeli government to accept a deal to swap Palestinian prisoners for Israeli POWs. In early July, Hamas published a video of Hisham al-Sayyed, an Israeli who crossed into Gaza in 2015. The group claimed Sayyed’s health was deteriorating and published pictures of him connected to an IV and breathing with the assistance of an oxygen mask. [See FDD’s Long War Journal: Analysis: Hamas Publishes Information on an Israeli Held Captive Since 2015.]

Hamas currently holds four Israelis (two of those are the bodies of IDF soldiers) as bargaining chips to reproduce the 2011 Wafa al-Ahrar (Faithful to the Free) prisoner exchange where 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel for a kidnapped IDF soldier.

While the information about the killing and injury of Hamas’ shadow unit members is new information, Obeida’s main message, though not explicitly stated, is that Israel bombed the site where an IDF prisoner was being held, possibly causing him injury. And this is where the propaganda part of the message comes into play.

Obeida purposely omitted key details of the strike and the status of the POW in an attempt to create urgency and press the Israeli government to accept a prisoner swap with Hamas.

The latest round of videos and statements published by Hamas signals the group understands that time is not on its side. Approximately eight years have gone by without reaching an agreement with Israel on a prisoner exchange. This is likely one of the major factors in the latest push by Hamas. Though, it’s unlikely the Israeli government will be compelled by Hamas’ latest overtures and propaganda.

Israel has learned from the mistakes it made in the 2011 prisoner exchange with Hamas, particularly with the release of current Hamas chief in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar. Until Israel is satisfied with who they release, and the number of Palestinians prisoners exchanged for the Israeli captives, it’s unlikely Hamas propaganda videos or statements will move the government to accept a deal until it feels it won’t repeat the errors of past prisoner exchanges.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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