Israel suspected as drone strike kills senior Hamas officials in Beirut | WASHINGTON TIMES

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Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in “Israel suspected as drone strike kills senior Hamas officials in Beirut”, an article by Mike Glenn for The Washington Times – Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Attack a blow to Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran as fighting rages in Gaza

A senior Hamas official who headed the group’s operations in Lebanon and was a key liaison to Iran and Palestinians living in the West Bank was among seven people killed Tuesday when an explosion ripped through a neighborhood in Beirut, according to Lebanon’s state-run news agency.

Saleh al-Arouri co-founded the Qassam Brigades, the Hamas wing that carried out the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the ongoing HamasIsrael. Considered the second most powerful political leader in the Hamas movement, he would be the most senior member of the group’s leadership to be killed as fighting between Israel‘s army and Palestinian fighters rages on in the Gaza Strip.

The Reuters news agency reported that two other senior figures from the Hamas military wing — Samir Findi Abu Amer and Azzam al-Aqraa Abu Ammar — had died in the strike.

Officials in Jerusalem have yet to comment on or claim responsibility for the attack but the government of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to kill those responsible for the rampage that resulted in the deaths of at least 1,200 people and hundreds of others taken hostage.

The blast came as Israel and the Lebanese-based, Iran-allied Shiite Hezbollah movement have exchanged rocket and artillery fire across the northern border. Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said the strike was carried out by an Israeli drone. 

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said he would retaliate if Israel targeted any Palestinian officials in Lebanon.

“The assassination operation carried out by the Zionist occupation proves once again the abject failure of this enemy to achieve any of its aggressive goals in the Gaza Strip,” Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said on the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV channel.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in an angry television address that Israel would pay a price for what he called the “assassination” of Mr. al-Arouri and other senior Hamas officials.

The attack “is a fully-fledged terrorist act, a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, and an expansion of [Israel‘s] aggression,” he said. The Nazi occupation bears responsibility for this aggression and will not succeed in breaking the will of resilience and the steadfast resistance of our people and its valiant resistance.”

Iran‘s Foreign Ministry, which reportedly worked closely with Mr. al-Arouri, condemned the attack and said it was a sign of Israel‘s increasing desperation as the war drags on.

“We condemn the violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by the Zionist regime,” ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told reporters in Tehran Tuesday.

Former Israeli intelligence official and author Avi Melamed said Mr. Netanyahu’s government is unlikely to claim responsibility for killing the Hamas leader to allow Hezbollah an opportunity to avoid further inflaming Palestinian public opinion or embarrassing the government in Lebanon.

Still, he said, the killing of Mr. al-Arouri presents a “moment of shame” for Hezbollah.

“Saleh al-Arouri was Hezbollah’s guest in Lebanon, and over the last few months since the war began has regularly met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and was scheduled to meet with him again tomorrow,” Mr. Melamed said. “A guest of Hezbollah, [Mr. Nasrallah] was in charge of their protection, and for him to be killed while in a Hezbollah stronghold only adds to the situation.”

The Associated Press reported Tuesday fierce fighting continued in other areas of the Palestinian territory, especially the southern portion of Gaza, where many of Hamas’ forces remain intact. Palestinians told reporters of a new round of airstrikes and artillery shelling in the southern city of Khan Younis and farming areas to the east.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to make yet another trip to the region, starting Wednesday.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israel bombed its headquarters in the city, killing five people. At least 14,000 displaced people are sheltering in the building, it said, while fighting was also underway in and around the built-up Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, according to the AP account.

Hamas militants in Gaza are sure to respond to the killing of Mr. al-Arouri, likely with a barrage of rockets targeting Israeli cities. There also could be some escalation from the West Bank, where he once led militants. 

“On the northern border, it’s likely that Hezbollah will allow Hamas and other Palestinian groups to escalate their attacks on Israel,” Mr. Melamed said. “But, it still remains to be seen whether Hezbollah itself will engage in that escalation.”

Richard Goldberg, a senior advisor to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said the explosion was a message that Iran’s terror proxies will never truly be secure.

“Whether Hamas leaders reside in Qatar, Turkey, Lebanon, or another country, they should assume their days are numbered,” Mr. Goldberg said. “Hezbollah’s leadership must also factor this escalation into the group’s next move.”

If Israel was behind the Beirut strike, it would be a much-needed intelligence win for the Netanyahu government, which has faced criticism for being taken by surprise by the massive Hamas uprising on Oct. 7 that devastated sites across southern Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu and his aides have vowed to break Hamas‘s power in Gaza and pursue its senior political and military leadership even after announcing earlier this week plans to pull back thousands of troops from Gaza in the coming weeks and global pressure to scale back the operation builds.

“The feeling that we will stop soon is incorrect,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday. “Without a clear victory, we will not be able to live in the Middle East.”

— This article was based in part on wire service reports.

Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in “Israel suspected as drone strike kills senior Hamas officials in Beirut”, an article by Mike Glenn for The Washington Times – Tuesday, January 2, 2024

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Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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