The shadows that have stretched across the Middle East and beyond since the beginning of the war between Israel and Gaza are now longer and darker with the killing of prominent Hamas leader Saleh Al-Arouri in Lebanon.
Al-Arouri, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, was killed in a drone strike south of Beirut. Al-Arouri was a key figure in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, and a close ally of Ismail Haniyeh, the movement’s leader. In Lebanon, he served as a link between his group and Hezbollah.
Even before the outbreak of the October 7 war, Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that any targeted attack on Lebanese territory would lead to a “strong response.”
But Hezbollah and its Iranian allies realize that the form of their response now, in the midst of raging hostilities, may change the shape of this war and the fate of Hezbollah.
It was no secret that it was only a matter of time before Hamas leaders outside Gaza were targeted.
Israel “will act against Hamas leaders wherever they are.” This was the warning issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last November.
Months ago, he explicitly referred to Al-Arouri by name. The deputy leader of Hamas has also been on the US terrorist list, with a $5 million bounty on his head since 2018.
Israel does not usually confirm or deny assassinations, but this long conflict is a record of targeted killings. It is also a history of revenge and counter-revenge.
Israel will now be prepared for retaliation. There are clear calls from Hamas leaders and their allies, from the streets of the occupied West Bank and beyond.
Hezbollah and Hamas will have to do something, and be seen doing it.
Hezbollah’s first statement called for patience.
Before this moment, this well-armed military and political force in Lebanon had tried to limit its participation to a mere war of words, as well as launching limited attacks across its southern border with Israel, to avoid dragging Lebanon into another costly conflagration.
But the killing of a Hamas official, who was a pivotal link between the movement and both Hezbollah and Iran, in one of its strongholds in the southern suburb of Beirut, confounded its calculations. But it must balance striking strikes in the short term against its longer-term game.
Hezbollah enjoys strong support along Lebanon’s volatile southern border. But in Beirut and beyond, memories of the devastating war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006 are still fresh, in a country now suffering from multiple crises of its own making.
It is also no secret that high-ranking Israeli figures have long sought to maximize this opportunity, to eliminate Hezbollah threats to their northern towns.
Revenge and calculations
Hostilities on this front have continued to date, but have been contained, with Israeli forces deployed across Gaza and the West Bank.
The United States, Israel’s strongest ally, has also repeatedly warned against taking the war to Hezbollah, which could have far-reaching repercussions.
This new crisis, sparked by the killing of Al-Arouri and six others, including two Hamas military commanders, comes at a time when tensions are rising on other fronts, including vital shipping lanes in the Red Sea, where the Iranian-backed Houthis are attacking ships they say are linked to… In Israel.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant recently spoke of seven arenas where Israel is under attack, including Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
There are now calls for restraint, from Western capitals, to Lebanese politicians, and to UN peacekeepers there, amid growing fears of a wider war erupting.
But Israel was decisive from the beginning.
Its goal of the war is to “destroy Hamas.” This means going after its infrastructure, its military and political leaders, and its money.
Nearly three months later, she admits there’s still a long way to go.
Many of Israel’s opponents, as well as its friends, wonder whether Hamas can be destroyed through military force and a campaign that causes massive civilian deaths, a terrible humanitarian catastrophe that produces deep pain and deep anger.
The masterminds of the October 7 Hamas atrocities in southern Israel, including Yahya Sinwar, are believed to remain hiding somewhere in Gaza despite an intense Israeli manhunt.
Al-Arouri’s death in Lebanon will draw attention to Turkey and Qatar, where Hamas leaders are also based, believing they are safer there.
This will also be a heavy burden on the minds of Israeli families, whose loved ones are still being held hostage somewhere in Gaza.
One of the first repercussions of this assassination was the halt of indirect talks in Cairo regarding another exchange of hostages for Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to insist that “only pressure will succeed.”
Now Israel has tightened the screws even more.
The post first appeared on www.bbc.com