The Aftermath of Saleh Al-Arouri’s Assassination – The Arab Wall
The Aftermath of Saleh Al-Arouri’s Assassination

The Aftermath of Saleh Al-Arouri’s Assassination

The assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri, Deputy Head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, could have significant direct repercussions. Among the most notable consequences are the potential escalation of conflicts in hotspots like Syria and Lebanon, indicating the possibility of opening new fronts similar to the West Bank. Moreover, Iran might instruct its proxies to expand the scope of “controlled” confrontations with Israel, increasing the likelihood of Israel taking action to target Hamas leaders in other countries.

The initiation of the third phase of the war in the Gaza Strip by Israel occurred with a military strike launched on January 2, 2024. This strike led to the assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri, along with other leaders in the Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas’ military wing) in the southern suburb of Beirut. This event indicates that, in the upcoming phase, Israel will prioritize, alongside ongoing military operations in the Gaza Strip and certain tension hotspots with Iran’s proxies, attempting to eliminate some first-tier leaders. This includes field commanders in the Gaza Strip, such as Yahya Sinwar, the head of the movement’s political bureau in the region, and politicians present in various capitals. The assassination of Al-Arouri holds particular significance due to his prominent role within Hamas and his relationships with numerous regional parties. This may explain some of the extreme reactions expressed by Hamas, Iran, and their affiliated militias in response to this incident.

Anticipated Repercussions

The recent military strike conducted by Israel in the southern suburbs of Beirut is expected to have significant repercussions, with the most notable being:

1. Focus on Vulnerable Areas in Lebanon and Syria: The choice of the Lebanese capital for this operation underscores Israel’s ongoing emphasis on targeting vulnerable areas from both political and security perspectives. These regions host leadership figures affiliated with factions, armed militias, or Iran. The assassination of Al-Arouri occurred approximately a week after the killing of Revolutionary Guard commander Reza Mousavi in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on December 25 of the previous year. This implies that Israel may intensify its focus on Syria and Lebanon to target additional leaders associated with militias or Iran. Given the multiple crises faced by both countries at political and security levels, Israeli intelligence operations in these regions become relatively more feasible. The Mossad could potentially recruit additional elements for the execution of new and high-impact security operations.

2. Possibility of Targeting Hamas Leaders in Other Countries: In the upcoming phase, Israel may seek to target leaders of the Hamas movement in various countries, aiming to hold Hamas accountable for the actions of its armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, during “Operation Quds Flood.” Notably, on the same day that Israel assassinated Al-Arouri, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau of the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office announced the arrest of a cell comprising 33 individuals suspected of engaging in espionage activities for the Israeli Mossad. The statement further mentioned that the search is ongoing to apprehend another 13 individuals.

This situation raises an important question regarding the potential for Israel to carry out similar operations in Qatar, where the political leadership of Hamas, including the head of the political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, is based. Whether there are existing agreements between the two states that might dissuade Israel from such operations remains uncertain. This is particularly significant, as it could impact overall bilateral cooperation between Doha and Tel Aviv in the coming phase. Notably, Doha, along with Cairo, serves as one of the regional mediators that contributed to the previous ceasefire and could play a role in reaching a settlement leading to a cessation of hostilities.

3. Opening a New Front in the West Bank: This military operation, delivering a significant blow to the Hamas movement, may result in the initiation of a new escalation front between Israel and elements of Palestinian factions in the West Bank. While there have been sporadic clashes within the West Bank recently, they haven’t reached a level of high escalation. However, Israel’s targeting of first-tier leaders in the movement could lead to an expansion of hostilities between the two parties in the West Bank in the upcoming phase.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard explicitly hinted at this possibility in its response to the operation that led to Al-Arouri’s assassination. The Guard issued a statement indicating that “this assassination will prompt Palestinian fighters across this land, especially in the West Bank, to engage in jihad against Israel.” It’s noteworthy in this context that previous reports suggested Iran’s attempts to smuggle weapons into the West Bank through Syria and then Jordan, aiming to broaden its options in managing the escalation with Israel beyond the Gaza Strip front.

4. Escalating Tensions with Proxies Against Israel: Israel’s choice to assassinate Al-Arouri in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, may result in heightened tensions between Israel and Iran’s proxies, including Hezbollah, Palestinian factions in Lebanon and Syria, as well as Shia militias in Iraq and Syria.

Nevertheless, the level of escalation might not reach a point that triggers an expansion of the ongoing conflict. In this context, Iran appears cautious about controlling the responses of its proxies, steering clear of direct involvement in this conflict.

This caution is undoubtedly linked to Iran’s response after the assassination of Reza Mousavi, where Iran perceived the operation’s objective as an attempt to drag Iran into the conflict and thereby broaden the scope of the current war to involve the United States as well. Iran’s decision to become a direct participant in the war could invite U.S. intervention. The statement from the Revolutionary Guard reflects this stance, emphasizing that “the strategic patience of the resistance and Hezbollah, under the influence of the gloomy hopes and dreams of Israel and its supporters, will not deviate from the realm of rationality, logic, and consideration of Israel’s requirements.” This implies that Iran views the expansion of the escalation with Israel as an opportunity that currently does not align with Iran’s strategic calculations.

Reciprocal Strikes

Given the current scenario, it appears that the upcoming phase will witness attempts to execute reciprocal security strikes. This could manifest through Israel’s efforts to target additional key leaders of the Hamas movement or through the Palestinian factions’ endeavors to launch significant strikes within Israel or the West Bank. Simultaneously, there is an ongoing escalation between Tel Aviv and Iran-backed militias in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq in the upcoming phase.

The recent explosions in the Iranian city of Kerman, near the mausoleum of former Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, may prompt Iran to take action to increase the cost of operations conducted by Israel against it and its allies. However, Iran might refrain from direct engagement in the current conflict.