Israel Palestine Conflict

Al-Arouri’s hit is only the tip of the iceberg for Lebanon

The Lebanese continue to gamble on the so-called sense and sensibility of Iran and Hezbollah, even as their country continues to expand into a larger hunting ground for both Iran and Israel.

Makram Rabah
Makram Rabah
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Two days into the New Year, Lebanese hopes for a prosperous and somewhat better year ahead were shattered by an explosion that rocked the heart of the southern suburbs of Beirut, the stronghold of Hezbollah, in what was later revealed to be an Israeli drone strike that killed the Deputy Chairman of the Political Bureau of Hamas Saleh al-Arouri and a founding commander of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

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The Israeli strike on al-Arouri and other members of Hamas present was not very unexpected, given the profile and the activities of this senior Hamas member who is credited with being the so-called architect and mastermind of the October 7 Hamas attack against Israel. Yet, the location and the surgical nature of the killing is an indication of a new stage in the conflict between Israel on one hand and Hamas and its Iranian allies on the other, bearing a clear omen of what is in store for Lebanon.


Over the last few years, al-Arouri was instrumental in reconstructing the bond between Hamas and Iran and more so with its Lebanese proxy militia group Hezbollah – a bond that was shattered during the Syrian uprising, which saw Hamas go against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and even go as far as to fight Hezbollah and other Iranian-sponsored militias that came forward in Al-Assad’s aid. In addition to his military and political “exploits,” al-Arouri was one of the champions of the “unity of the resistance front,” toiling alongside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp to bring all of Iran’s non-state actors under one umbrella to attack Israel and other Western targets in the region and beyond. Moreover, al-Arouri was, until his death, the main link between the Islamic extremist groups and Iran and one of the most prominent drivers of Palestinian-Palestinian reconciliation, in addition to being a key friend and ally of Yahya al-Sinwar, the Hamas chief in the Gaza Strip and the opponent of the Qatari faction of Hamas led by Ismail Haniya.


Laxity in Al-Arouri’s security protocol

This undated handout picture released by the media office of the Palestinian Hamas movement on January 3, 2024 shows Hamas' deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri speaking on a phone at an office in Beirut. (AFP)
This undated handout picture released by the media office of the Palestinian Hamas movement on January 3, 2024 shows Hamas' deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri speaking on a phone at an office in Beirut. (AFP)

For one reason or another, al-Arouri believed, wrongly it seems, that his residency in Lebanon in areas under the control of Hezbollah would provide him with the necessary moral and physical security that the other members of Hezbollah, who roam around under the watchful eyes of Mossad spies and Israeli drones – enjoy. Thus, the laxity in al-Arouri’s security protocol and his meeting with other members of Hamas above ground in a residential apartment suggests that he simply miscalculated or underestimated Israel’s drive to eliminate Hamas’s top leadership wherever they are.

Along these lines, al-Arouri’s assassination is a clear warning to Hezbollah that Israel is willing and capable of operating in its backyard, deep in the heart of Lebanon and not only in the southern Lebanese frontier where the military skirmishes have been taking place since October 7.

While Iran, and by extension Hezbollah, has made it clear it has no interest in indulging in an open war with Israel, this does not necessarily mean that the latter will simply demote Hezbollah from its list of security priorities. Rather, it’s to the contrary.

Over the past week, Israel has carried out a series of surgical strikes against key IRGC leaders in Syria, chief amongst them was Radi Moussawi, the main IRGC adviser in Syria and a close associate of the slain former leader of the Quds brigade, Qassem Suleimani, whose fourth assassination anniversary coincided with the killing of al-Arouri.

Machines clear rubble in the aftermath of what security sources said was an Israeli drone strike in Beirut’s southern suburbs of Dahiyeh, Lebanon, on January 3, 2024. (Reuters)
Machines clear rubble in the aftermath of what security sources said was an Israeli drone strike in Beirut’s southern suburbs of Dahiyeh, Lebanon, on January 3, 2024. (Reuters)

Master narrative of martyrdom

Iran, thus, will simply swallow up the killing of one of its key Sunni allies, al-Arouri, like it has done with its own, such as Suleimani and Imad Mughniyeh. Tehran will now simply incorporate the so-called heroism and sainthood of al-Arouri into the master narrative of martyrdom that it promotes over its various media outlets and speeches. Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s speech extolling Suleimani was on the same lines as his threat to unleash an Armageddon on Israel, underscoring that his party’s retaliation would come at their own terms and timing. Nasrallah thus attacked Israel and the West only to tone down in the next few days through his Lebanese allies and the US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein in an attempt to offer more concessions in return for local and regional gains, just like Hezbollah did when they conceded much of the maritime demarcation talks over a year ago.

As it stands, al-Arouri’s killing is yet another reminder that while the US and Israel may be faithful allies, it does not necessarily mean that the latter will simply march to the beat of the administration of US President Joe Biden, which, as it seems, does not approve of any sort of extended Israeli military action against Hezbollah beyond its northern borders. Nonetheless, Washington’s apprehension of such action will not stop the current Israeli government or any future cabinet under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s successors from carrying out surgical strikes or even a full-scale land invasion of Lebanon.

An expanding theater of war

The killing of al-Arouri, contrary to what many Lebanese and Arab commentators are prompting, is not a stunt by Netanyahu to salvage his political career, but a shared conviction of Israel’s generals who now sit on Israel’s war cabinets, with many of whom personally signing off on the al-Arouri death warrant. The Lebanese at large continue to gamble on the so-called sense and sensibility of Iran and Hezbollah and assume that their avoidance of war at this stage will allow Israeli threat to peter out, while in fact, their country, or what remains of it, continues to expand into a larger hunting ground for both Iran and Israel and ultimately renders itself unsalvageable.

The October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and its fallout will not be something that the Lebanese will only watch on television and over various social media platforms, but will sooner, rather than later, be at their doorstep, or perhaps it already is, but they are simply unwilling to acknowledge it.

Read more:

Who was Saleh al-Arouri, the senior Hamas official assassinated in Beirut?

Israeli drone strike in Lebanon’s Beirut kills Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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