Score one for the Mossad? In the immediate wake of the October 7 massacre, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu promised that everyone in Hamas was “a dead man,” in Gaza and anywhere else in the world. The Israelis have spent almost three months focusing on Hamas in Gaza, understandably, sending that message up close and in person to thousands of Hamas operatives and their supporters in Gaza.
Today, however, the Israelis have apparently opened up the promised intel front, using the Operation Wrath of God model. A reported drone strike took out Saleh al-Arouri, chief deputy to Ismail Haniyeh, at Hamas’ offices:
— Matthieu Karam (@MatthieuKaram) January 2, 2024
An Israeli drone strike on Hamas’ office in Beirut, Lebanon, has killed four people, including the terror group’s deputy political leader, local media has reported.
‘Four people were martyred and a number of others injured when the Hamas office was targeted,’ in Dahiyeh, an area in Beirut’s southern suburbs and a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) said. …
The exact death toll, and the number of people injured in the attack, for which no one has yet officially claimed responsibility, is not currently known, but sources have claimed that top Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas’ military wing, was killed in the blast.
Is this the start of an intelligence war targeting international Hamas leadership? It might just be an acceleration of an existing effort to target this particular leader. As Yasher Ali pointed out in the immediate wake of the attack, al-Arouri had long been on the Mossad’s target list, as well as America’s:
Islamic Republic state media is confirming that senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri was killed in an explosion in Beirut tonight.
This is a significant development. Israeli intelligence has been trying to kill al-Arouri for years and the United States has had a 5… pic.twitter.com/N9Z9wEnTcg
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) January 2, 2024
NBC News now lists the death toll as six. The IDF has not issued any statement about the explosion, but Hamas has accused Israel of attacking via a drone strike on the offices. A “US defense official” tells the Washington Post that the Israelis hit the office. A Likud member, Danny Danon, has reportedly credited the attack to the Mossad, Shin Bet, IDF, and the war cabinet, NBC notes, but that’s not an official declaration.
Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that anyone else would have struck at a Hamas office in Beirut. Hezbollah certainly wouldn’t have done so, and the success of the mission will embarrass them and Lebanon’s more legitimate political parties. It may create more tension between Hezbollah and other entities in Lebanon, as Hezbollah has used southern Lebanon to launch attacks in support of Hamas for the last two-plus months, although at a low enough level to keep it from breaking out into an all-out war that would make Beirut a target.
That alone will force Hezbollah to respond, Barak Ravid hears from his sources in the Israeli government:
BREAKING: A senior Israeli official told me Israel is preparing for a significant retaliation by Hezbollah for the Arouri assassination including by launching long range missiles on targets in Israel
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) January 2, 2024
FDD’s Joel Mowbray has the same thought I do about that, though:
The retaliation sounds like standard, face-saving fare. As @JSchanzer has pointed out repeatedly, Hezbollah has internalized its desire to avoid full-scale war with Israel. Taking out Arouri seems worth it for Israel. Next: US must pressure Qatar on Hamashttps://t.co/U2xgrCB0ne
— Joel Mowbray (@joelmowbray) January 2, 2024
Will they respond? Yes. Will they risk an all-out war and share the fate of Hamas? Probably not.
It’s not as though this kind of targeted assassination comes as a surprise. Even without Netanyahu’s pledge, the Israelis use their intel service to wreak revenge on terrorists who target Israeli citizens. The most famous (or infamous, depending on POV) example is Operation Wrath of God, launched in the immediate aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of 11 Israeli athletes. For years, the Israelis targeted Black September figures involved in that terror operation, whether directly or indirectly involved in the attack.
Is this what happened to al-Arouri today? As noted above, Israel and the US have had al-Arouri on their target lists for a long time, but until now no one had touched him. Until the October 7 massacres, the Israelis probably thought he wasn’t worth it, as they hoped that Hamas had decided to opt for political action rather than terrorism. The US had him on their lists for arrest, not for a kill shot.
The massacres changed everything, however, including target values. Even if al-Arouri was a tasty enough target for a strike before then, the collateral deaths and diplomatic headaches wouldn’t have been worth it. Now, though, the collateral deaths are part of the point — making any connection to Hamas a potentially deadly choice, especially in Beirut while Hezbollah is baiting Israel into a wider war. Hamas made its political offices a legitimate target worldwide with its massacres of unarmed men, women, and children in southern Israel.
And of course, this sends a clear message to Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal, who have been living the high life in Qatar while directing Hamas’ war operations against Israel. They are now dispensable for Israel as negotiating partners, since it’s clear now that negotiations with Hamas for peaceful co-existence is a waste of effort. They’re going to be next unless they can negotiate a capitulation quickly, and everyone knows it — even the Qataris, who may not be too happy with their presence as the Israelis begin ramping up their new version of Wrath of God.
The clear message here is … Time’s up.