An Israeli security source confirmed to me that an Israeli drone fired missiles at Hamas leader, Saleh al-Arouri’s office and vehicle yesterday in Beirut. The source adds that in addition to assassinating him, it killed two Hamas commanders, two members of a Shiite militia, and two Lebanese bystanders.
The US claims Israel did not consult with the US before undertaking the operation. It told US intelligence officials in the midst of it. While this gives the US plausible deniability, relieving us of any culpability, it also enables Israel to undertake such assassinations without any restraint or oversight. Nor did the State Department express any concern, let alone opposition to Israel’s widening of its war throughout the region. We look like a dog Israel is leading by the nose.
Israel claims, without (as usual) offering any proof, that al-Arouri was the”mastermind” behind the 10/7 attack. That seems utter nonsense. The masterminds behind the attack are the group’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, inside Gaza. Most media reports indicate there was no coordination with Hamas officials outside Gaza, in order to protect the security of the operation.
My source also claimed that the security services had emphasized, when the murder plan was first rolled out to the public, that the primary targets were Hamas leaders in Qatar and Turkey. Thus leaving the impression that those in Beirut were lower priority. The intent was to lull al-Arouri into a false sense of security. However, al-Arouri has for years been high in Israel’s hit list. And he knew this. If Israel was trying to fool him, it was a useless exercise.
Proof that Israel is planning similar killings in Turkey is borne out by its intelligence services breaking up a Mossad spy ring earlier this week, in which 34 were arrested. Israel has said it plans such attacks in Turkey and Qatar. This confirms such claims. It also indicates Israel seeks to turn its Gaza war into a regional conflict; and that the US has little interest in preventing this. Another cause for alarm.
The last time Israel went on such a focused assassination spree was when it hunted down and murdered the Palestinians responsible for the Munich massacre. But whatever the purpose was, it didn’t work. Whoever was killed was replaced. Mossad assassins even killed an innocent waiter in Norway. The PLO didn’t cease armed resistance until it reached a political agreement with Israel. State terrorism doesn’t work.
Stage 2 of Israel’s response to 10/7: get Hezbollah
This murder is stage two in Israel’s response to 10/7. It represents a widening of its war not just on Hamas, but on Iran’s Axis of Resistance (Hezbollah, Houthis, Iraqi militias, etc). Iran, of course, will not stand idly by. It will call on its allies to ratchet up pressure not only on Israel, but on its most powerful patron, the US. So far, that has included drone and missile attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria in which a number of US service members were wounded (one of whom is near death). The US has responded with counter-attacks on assets of these groups. But it has not engaged directly with Iran. That may change.
This is playing out in the Red Sea, where a US helicopter fired on and sank three Houthi boats attempting to hijack a freighter. This was the first drawing of blood by the US against the Houthis. Till now, the US has merely defended its sea assets in the face of drone and missile attacks. This development represents a major escalation. If Biden is not careful, it could lead the US down a slippery slope into military intervention and yet another Middle East quagmire (eg. Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, etc.)
And Iran responded to the US attack, by sending a warship of its own through the Bab al-Mandab Strait. Though there have been incidents in which both countries have engaged in hostile behavior, most of it has been followed by de-escalation. This however, is the first time the military forces of both countries face each other head to head. It is a dangerous time. While Iranian forces are no match for American might, the Iranians don’t have to win. They only have to not lose. And no matter what they do, they will not lose. Even if the US sinks the Iranian ship, Iran will not have lost because it would have confronted the Americans boldly, and not backed down. That, in itself would be a victory.
We are now in a game of very high stakes poker. Ayatollah Khamenei and Biden head to head. Who will call the other’s bluff? Who will flinch first?
The Houthis have launched several missiles at Israel, all of which have been intercepted. What if one of them gets through and lands in Israel? What if there are casualties? Will Biden restrain himself? Or will he jump in feet first? Will he restrain Israel from directly attacking Iran? Even if he wanted to, what leverage would he have? Will such reckless Israeli behavior drag us into yet another war we can’t win in the Middle East?
Bibi’s political woes: nothing a good assassination cannot cure
Bibi Netanyahu desperately needs a “victory” like this. The Supreme Court just invalidated a key component of the judicial coup he engineered. The Gaza War goes on with little to show, including an increasing death toll (500 IDF dead since 10/7). Despite assurances from him that the IDF would “eliminate Hamas,” the latter continues to mount stubborn resistance. Netanyahu’s approval rating is abysmal. The next election, if he runs at the head of the Likud list, could be catastrophic. Though, of course he is the master tactician who always seems to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
There is nothing like a good assassination to warm the heart of Israeli leaders. Everything else can be a disaster. But give Israelis a dead Palestinian leader and they crow at the achievement and credit the security services and their political leaders. But in doing so, Netanyahu has destroyed the chance to bring Israel’s 100 hostages in Gaza home any time soon. Negotiations through the mediation of Qatar were progressing and a deal was in store. But Bibi preferred killing some guy in Beirut to freeing his own captives. It’s a big f-you to the hostage families, who have been protesting for weeks, demanding that the government do whatever it takes to bring them home. Netanyahu’s political calculation is that he can offset their political impact with the credit he gets from killing al-Arouri. It’s a cold, cynical calculation. Just the sort he is known for.
Not to mention that assassination is a useless policy which bespeaks the lack of coherent or strategic policy. The Mossad has assassinated over 3000 people since 1948. The list of leaders it has killed is almost endless. It hasn’t done a damn thing; hasn’t achieved any result Israel sought. It hasn’t ended Hamas, just as assassinations of PLO leaders didn’t end it. Nor did assassinations of Hezbollah leaders end it. In fact, one could make an argument that it made these groups stronger. Turned them into martyrs among their followers. Strengthened their overall commitment to the movement. And spurred them to devise even more effective strategies for armed resistance.
If Israel killed the entire leadership of Hamas, both inside and outside Gaza, it would not significantly dent the group’s effectiveness in the long term. It has leaders who will take their place, and leaders who will, in turn, take their place, and so on.