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Surgical strike in Beirut targets Hamas number two

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Strike in Beirut: Early yesterday evening a drone fired two missiles that struck a third floor apartment in the Dahiya neighbourhood of Beirut.

  • Inside the apartment was a meeting of Palestinian leaders, among them Salah al-Arouri, the number two in Hamas’s external leadership, and Ismail Haniyah’s deputy.
  • According to Lebanese media, 6 other people were killed in the strike. Three were identified as Samir Pandi, the commander of Al-Qassam Brigades in Lebanon, Azzam al-Aqra and Khalil al-Hayya, two more senior Hamas officials.
  • Israel has not taken formal responsibility, neither confirming or denying the strike, but Prime Minister Netanyahu recently warned and gave his consent to pursue all the Hamas leaders and those responsible for the October 7 massacre.
  • The responsible party combined precision munitions with accurate and timely intelligence to ensure that only Hamas leaders were targeted while minimising collateral damage.”

Context: Arouri is the most senior figure killed so far in response to the October 7 attack.

  • Originally from a village in the Ramallah area, he was a founding member of Hamas’s military wing.” He was released from Israeli prison in 2010 and exiled to Syria, several months before the Shalit prisoner deal, but in hindsight was considered as part of the process that lead to the deal.
  • After Hamas fell out with Assad’s indiscriminate killing during the Syrian civil war, he relocated to Turkey and then to Beirut.
  • He remotely oversaw recruitment, funding and arming of terror cells in the West Bank and was considered to have been behind many attacks in recent years.
  • In that capacity he took responsibility for the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers in 2014 that precipitated the Operation Protective Edge that summer.
  • Prior to October 7 he was at the top of Israel’s wanted list due to his dual role as the Hamas interface with Iran and Hezbollah and his overall responsibility for West Bank terror attacks.
  • Whilst in Lebanon he was the main Hamas figure that coordinated with Hezbollah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Iran. He was the leading figure ensuring Hamas was part of Iran’s ‘axis of resistance’ and was reportedly disappointed that Hezbollah and Iran have not (until now), joined the fighting in more strident manner.
  • He also led the phenomena of the last couple of years of Palestinians firing rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel (alongside Hezbollah).
  • He is the most senior Hamas figure to be assassinated since Ahmed Jabari was killed in 2012.
  • Within Hamas he was a considered a political rival to both Sinwar and Haniyah. He saw himself as future leader, based on his close ties with Iran and operational responsibility for terror attacks emanating from the West Bank.
  • The attack took place in Dahiya neighbourhood, long considered the Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut. This fact places Hezbollah in a dilemma: on one hand this is an attack literally in their backyard, yet on the other, the precision strike meant no Lebanese were harmed. There are voices inside Lebanon appealing to Hezbollah leader Nasrallah not to drag Lebanon into war as a result.
  • Last summer Nasrallah said, “any assassination on Lebanese soil of a senior Lebanese, Palestinian, Iranian or Syrian official will certainly have a powerful reaction. We won’t be able to be silent in the face of an act of that kind and we won’t allow Lebanon to become a front for assassinations.” While October 7 changed Israel’s calculations, the current assessment suggests Hezbollah will keep its response under the threshold of all-out war.
  • Israel has not taken formal responsibility for the strike. In his regular evening briefing IDF Spokesperson Hagari did not relate to Arouri’s assassination. However, other officials have spoken out. Likud MK Danny Danon wrote on X, “I congratulate the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Mossad and the security forces for killing senior Hamas official Salah al-Arouri in Beirut. Anyone who was involved in the 7.10 massacre should know that we will reach out to them and close an account with them.”
  • It is still unclear to what extent Arouri was involved in the direct planning of October 7. Some analysts saw him as a key figure in all of Hamas military plans, while others suggest he was only made aware of the attacks the morning they started, at which point he then updated Nasrallah.

Looking ahead: Today marks the 4th anniversary of the US assassination of IRGC Commander Qassam Soleimani and Nasrallah was due to give a memorial speech tonight. Analysts are waiting to see if he will still speak, whether he will stick to his original script, and how he will respond to Arouri’s death.

  • Israel is on a heightened level of alert, moving more Iron Dome missile defence systems to the north and waiting to see how Hamas and Hezbollah will respond.
  • The strike appears to have put any hostage negotiations on hold for now.
  • The Israeli security cabinet had been expected to begin to debate plans for ‘day after the fighting’ this discussion was also postponed to a later date.