The drone strike killing of senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri Tuesday in a Beirut suburb with several other colleagues may appear to be just another fatal statistic, but it is far more serious because it has lit a match that could ignite the fireball that expands the Israel Hamas war regionally.
Some could call al-Arouri’s killing a blow to Hamas because Israeli leadership has been very determined about targeting its “kill list” of Hamas leaders since the Oct. 7 attack inside Israel.
But, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed to kill al-Arouri even before Oct. 7.
Although Israel has not officially taken responsibility for al-Arouri's death, Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group based in Lebanon, is blaming Israel as is every other Hamas leader speaking out.
Hamas’ top leader Ismail Haniyeh condemned the attack as a “terrorist act”, a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, and an expansion of Israel’s hostility against Palestinians.
Haniyeh said in televised remarks that Hamas “will never be defeated.”
Hamas called al-Arouri’s death a “cowardly assassination” and added that Israel’s attacks on Palestinians “inside and outside Palestine will not succeed in breaking the will and steadfastness of our people, or undermining the continuation of their valiant resistance.”
“It proves once again the abject failure of this enemy to achieve any of its aggressive goals in the Gaza Strip,” Hamas added.
Al-Arouri’s death was described as a “treacherous Zionist strike” on Hamas’ official channel.
Hamas politburo member Izzat al-Sharq called it a “cowardly assassination.”
“It proves once more the utter failure of the enemy to achieve any of its aggressive goals in the Gaza Strip,” senior Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said in a statement, presumably referring to Mossad’s hunt for Yahya Sinwar, his brother, Muhammad, and Rafa Salama, the Khan Yunis Brigade Commander, and Mohammed Deif, as earlier reported by CDM.
Mark Regev, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the United States news channel MSNBC that Israel had not taken responsibility for the attack but “whoever did it, it must be clear that this was not an attack on the Lebanese state.”
“Whoever did this did a surgical strike against the Hamas leadership,” Regev said in the interview.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the killing. His office said in a statement that the attack “aims to draw Lebanon into a new phase of confrontations” when Hamas’ ally Hezbollah has limited its cross-border fire with Israeli forces in northern Israel
All eyes are on Hezbollah’s response.
“The martyr’s blood will undoubtedly ignite another surge in the veins of resistance and the motivation to fight against the Zionist occupiers not only in Palestine but also in the region and among all freedom seekers worldwide,” Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said.
Kanaani also condemned the violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Hezbollah’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, speech Wednesday can be viewed here.
French PresidentEmmanuel Macrontold Israeli Minister Benny Gantz that it was “essential to avoid any escalatory attitude, particularly in Lebanon,” according to a call readout provided by French officials, LeMonde reported. Macron also offered for France to play an intermediary role to keep lines of communication open between all parties.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habbib told the BBC that government officials are in dialogue “to impress on [Hezbollah] that they should not respond” to Arouri’s killing, and called on Israel’s allies to also pressure it against taking action in Lebanon. “We are very concerned,” he said, referring to the risk of a regional war.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the attack as an “Israeli crime.”
Al-Arouri, 57, was the Deputy Chief of Hamas’s political bureau and one of the founders of Hamas’ armed wing, the Qassam Brigades. He had previously headed the group’s presence in the occupied West Bank.
The United States labeled al-Arouri a “global terrorist” in 2015 and issued a five-million dollars reward for any information on him. He had been living in exile in Lebanon since 2015.
There was a reason why at the time.
Al-Arouri told delegates at the International Union of Islamic Scholars in Istanbul in 2014, where he was living at the time, that “the popular will was exercised throughout our occupied land, and culminated in the heroic operation by the Qassam Brigades in imprisoning the three settlers in Hebron,” according to a recording of the meeting at the time, as reported by FOX News.
Al-Arouri said the operation was carried out by Hamas’ military wing “to aid their brothers on hunger strike in [Israeli] prisons.”
Three Jewish students -- Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, were abducted on June 12, 2014, while hitchhiking in the West Bank.
It was reported at the time that Hamas sent funds to the kidnappers.
In recent weeks, al-Arouri had been serving as Hamas’ spokesperson and told Al Jazeera last month that Hamas would not discuss an exchange deal for the now being held before the war ends in Gaza.
Alternatively, al-Arouri’s death signifies how high the stakes are in this Israeli Hamas war. The drone strike occurred north of the Israeli Lebanese border where Hezbollah and Israel have launched rockets, but now the war has moved inside a Beirut suburb.
The drone strike against al-Arouri and the other Hamas leaders hit a Hamas office in Beirut’s southern suburbs of Dahiyeh, a Hezbollah stronghold and killed six people, reported Lebanons’ state news agency.
Samir Findi Abu Amer and Azzam Al-Aqraa Abu Ammar, leaders of Hamas’ armed wing – the Qassam Brigades – were also killed, Hamas said in a message on its Telegram channel.
Following the news of the death of al-Arouri, mosques in Arura, the occupied West Bank town of north Ramallah, mourned his death and a general strike has been called in Ramallah for Wednesday.
“So far, the Israelis have not been able to call a victory in Gaza, so assassinating Hamas leaders is partly something that they wanted to do anyway,” Mad Harb, Director of Research at the Arab Center in Washington, DC told Al Jazeera. “This is an achievement for the Israeli army and for the Israeli politicians.”
Harb said the killing of al-Arouri is a “dangerous escalation” because it took place in Hezbollah’s area of operations away from the border.
Harb predicted Hezbollah would likely step up attacks on Israel in response to the killing but would stop short of escalating the conflict into an all-out war.
Danny Danon, a former Israeli envoy to the United Nations, hailed the attack and congratulated the Israeli army, Shin Bet, the security service and Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, for killing al-Arouri.
“Anyone who was involved in the 10/7 massacre should know that we will reach out to them and close an account with them,” he said on X in Hebrew.
According to Israeli media, the government has ordered cabinet ministers not to give any interviews about al-Arouri’s death after Danon’s tweet.
Egyptian President Adbel Fattah el-Sisi told a delegation of US lawmakers Wednesday that the "current priority is to secure a ceasefire in Gaza" stressing the importance of "responsible action" to avoid a regional conflict.
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