Israel has not claimed any responsibility for Tuesday's attack on Al-Arouri, although the target and method — two precision missiles fired by a drone into a crowded neighborhood — leave little doubt. Israeli officials have repeatedly warned that they will attack Hamas officials outside the Palestinian territories since the October 7 attacks on Israel that left 1,200 people dead.
The killing of Al-Arouri, the highest-ranking Hamas member to be killed since October 7, presents major practical and symbolic problems for the Palestinian organization.
Political leader Yahya Sinwar and military commander Muhammad Deif, both considered the masterminds of the attack on Israel, are believed to be hiding amid the Israeli military operation in Gaza. The attack in Beirut means that Hamas officials outside Israel and the Palestinian territories may now have to go into hiding as well. Some of the organization's most important figures, such as Qatar-based political leader Ismail Haniyeh, have lived relatively openly in foreign cities. Other lower-level Hamas activists spread around the world must now realize that they are also at risk.
Israel has a long history of elaborate assassination plots, sometimes pursuing targets for decades, long after they ceased to pose a threat. Speaking the day after the raid that killed Al-Arouri, Mossad chief David Barnea compared the situation to Operation Wrath of God, a multi-year plan to kill Palestinian militants linked to the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
“It will take time, just as it took time after the Munich massacre, but we will put our hands on them wherever they are,” Barnia said during the funeral of former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, who headed the Israeli intelligence service at the time. The Munich attack that killed 11 members of the country's Olympic delegation.
Hezbollah leader threatens “punishment” after the killing of a Hamas official in Lebanon
Little is known about how Al-Arouri was tracked and targeted. A Hezbollah spokesman told The Washington Post that the Hamas official was scheduled to meet with Hassan Nasrallah, the elusive leader of the Lebanese paramilitary group.
Al-Arouri's killing occurred in Dahiya, a dense suburb of Beirut where Hezbollah dominates. Although the attack did not kill any Hezbollah officials, it was widely seen as an insult to the group's power. In a speech on Wednesday, Nasrallah said Israel would face “response and punishment,” without revealing details.
In practice, the skilled Hamas envoy has been taken out of the equation. Al-Arouri was seen as responsible for helping Hamas establish relations with Iran and its allies. Before being forced into exile, he was known for his influence in the West Bank and was linked to efforts to reach reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the rival group that dominates those territories, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Since 2015, the United States has offered a $5 million reward for information on Al-Arouri, saying he “finances and directs Hamas’ military operations in the West Bank, and has been linked to numerous terrorist attacks, kidnappings, and hijackings.” A senior US official speaks to reporters on the condition of anonymity in accordance with ground rules set by the Biden administration. Al-Arouri said, “His hands are stained with American blood.”
“Senior members of Hamas must be held accountable [Arouri] The official added.
The threats against his life came long before October 7. In August, after months of violence in the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to warn Al-Arouri, telling Cabinet members that “it is not a coincidence that [Arouri is] In hiding.”
In an analysis for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Haneen Ghaddar and Matthew Levitt wrote that Al-Arouri's death was a “major loss” for Hamas and that “the loss of someone closely involved in both tactical operations and strategic diplomacy is a serious setback.” To Hamas.”
Iran is flexing its capabilities with militia attacks across the Middle East
Israel can claim a major tactical victory. A shift toward targeted killings in the “third phase” of the war would allow it to avoid criticism of the killing of civilians in Gaza, while continuing to hamper Hamas as an organization. US officials have offered tacit support, noting that targeting key figures is more in line with the policy initially recommended by Washington.
“We do not believe that military attacks alone will eliminate a particular ideology, nor are they likely to eliminate every Hamas fighter,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday. What they can certainly do is eliminate the threat Hamas poses to the Israeli people. You can do this by pursuing leadership. You can do this by following their infrastructure. You can do that by going after their resources.”
But tactical victory is not always strategic victory. So far, Hezbollah has acted cautiously regarding Gaza, despite warnings of a broader regional conflagration. Its response to Arouri's killing is still unfolding — but if Nasrallah pushes for further conflict with Israel, that will drain resources still needed near Gaza and could drag Iran and Syria into open conflict with Israel.
Although Hamas leaders may fear further attacks, it seems unlikely that Israel will now strike officials like Haniyeh who are based in Qatar. The Gulf state played an important role in mediating the release of the hostages and is an important military partner of the United States. Turkey, another location for many Hamas officials, warned of dire consequences for assassinations on its soil.
At the same time, the long-term impact on Hamas is far from certain. Analysts who follow the group say that a rivalry has developed in recent years between Al-Arouri and other officials residing outside Gaza. Some accounts suggest that only Sinwar and others residing in the Strip were aware of the October 7 incident, leaving outsiders in the dark about the history-making process.
Israeli officials are well aware of the unforeseen consequences of targeted killings. In 1992, the Israel Defense Forces killed cleric Abbas al-Musawi, along with his wife and son, with a Hellfire missile strike in southern Lebanon. He was unexpectedly succeeded as leader of Hezbollah by Nasrallah, who is now known to be more radical and capable than the man killed by Israel.