Netanyahu39s bait Why Israel may now have killed Hamas leader

Netanyahu's bait: Why Israel may now have killed Hamas leader in Beirut – Al Jazeera English

The killing of senior Hamas officials in a suspected Israeli attack in Beirut on Tuesday drew widespread attention across the Middle East. Although hundreds of people have been killed every day for nearly three months, the latest targeted killing sent shock waves, reopening old wounds and stoking fears of an escalation in the conflict.

The victims of the surgical strike included senior Hamas leaders. The most prominent figure was Saleh al-Arouri, a former leader of the Qassam Brigades and member of Hamas' political bureau, who coordinated the group's military and political activities outside the Gaza Strip and raised political and financial support. West Bank native al-Arouri was reportedly one of the most popular Hamas leaders in Fatah-run parts of Palestine, and his reputation may have grown after October 7.

Senior military commanders Samir Findi and Azzam al-Aqraa and four other activists were also killed.

The assassination had all the hallmarks of classic Israeli long-range strikes on high-value human targets. Al-Arouri and his companions were killed by a strike that marked a second-floor apartment on the street, flanked on both sides by eight-story buildings. The action had striking similarities to the killing of Ahmad Yassin, one of Hamas's founders and the group's spiritual leader, who was eliminated on a Gaza street by a modified anti-tank missile.

Times and technology change, and so do Israeli capabilities. To kill Sheikh Yassin in 2004, an AH-64 Apache armored anti-tank helicopter had to come within 2 km (1.2 miles). The same task is now being performed by quieter, smaller unmanned drones that are harder to hear and see, as well as a new generation of missiles. The combination used undetected in Beirut was apparently an Israeli-built system – Hermes drone and Nimrod missile.

The attack also brought back unpleasant memories of previous military incursions and actions in Beirut that Israel has carried out with impunity. One of the most notorious secret killings occurred 50 years ago, in April 1973, when an Israeli commando team landed on the beach in Beirut and killed three senior Palestinian leaders. The Israeli team also included future Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who wore the dress and makeup of a young blonde woman. In a chilling parallel to Tuesday's killing, the main target was the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) military leader for the West Bank, Kamal Adwan.

Israel benefited for years from the campaign, code-named “Youth Spring,” as it so polarized Lebanon that it led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saeb Salam, followed by armed clashes between pro-Palestinian factions and their opponents and a general collapse of the political and security situation. Within two years of distrust, broken promises, false loyalties and power struggles, Lebanon descended into a bloody and exhausting civil war that did not end until 1990. Israel took advantage of the murderous fighting to further its ends, fomenting war, armed proxies, and encouraging and abetting massacres like those in Sabra and Shatila in 1982.

The examples of the past are frightening, but history does not always have to repeat itself, especially for those who learn from the past.

The first questions an analyst asks are: why him, why now and what will happen next.

“Why him?” is in some ways a moot question, but it still needs to be asked. Basically, Israel wants to eliminate as many senior Hamas officials as possible, and probably with even greater determination after October 7th. Al-Arouri was a very senior Hamas official, influential and capable, who differed from the rest of the leadership in that he was ostensibly independent.

After living outside Palestine in Turkey and Lebanon for a long time, he built up his own international contacts and network. Israel, which normally has excellent intelligence, must have been aware of its capabilities and possibly its plans, which are previously unknown to the public. If al-Arouri was killed for some political reason, it could likely be due to his close and frequent physical contacts with Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah and the numerous Iranian political and military officials who were in southern Beirut. As a trusted partner, he probably worked with them on a daily basis. In this role, it will be difficult for Hamas to replace him immediately.

“Why now” is probably the key question. There is little doubt that Israel knew immediately that he was settling in Beirut in 2015 after years of relocation; Although all Hamas leaders maintain tight security measures, they were certainly more lax before October 7, and there would have been ample opportunity to assassinate him earlier.

Both Hezbollah and its protector and patron Iran have shown remarkable restraint and political patience in not rushing to attack Israel after it began bombing and then attacking Gaza. Initially, Israel had to consider the possibility that Hezbollah might open a second front, but after almost three months of relative calm in the north, the Israeli forces allowed themselves to demobilize five brigades, apparently convinced that Hezbollah, whatever they were will have to fight in the future, it will do will be in the strip.

But many prominent Israeli politicians, generals and influential figures have warned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not agree with the generals. Rather, he might see that continuing the war is in his immediate interest.

“Netanyahu’s government does not want this war to end. Politically, Netanyahu has a big problem the day after [the war ends] “Because then investigations into the failures on the Israeli side will begin,” warned former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy a few days ago.

If you fear the end of the war – why not postpone it into the future, prolong it? Why not open another front in the north, have more of our own men and women in uniform, continue to run the country on a war footing and stop citizens and politicians from asking uncomfortable questions? Why not take advantage of the opportune moment to prolong the atmosphere in which far-right politicians such as Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich can continue to promote extreme views such as the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and the resettlement of Israelis? All of this is consistent with the Israeli prime minister's behavior, say veteran Netanyahu watchers.

The big question now is whether Hezbollah will take the obvious bait. A high-level Iranian delegation, including several senior generals from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was reported to have flown to Beirut on Wednesday. Nasrallah apparently canceled his speech scheduled for Thursday and released a recorded address on Wednesday in which he repeated his usual warnings to Hezbollah's enemies, but without announcing any concrete decisions. He is almost certainly now consulting with his Iranian allies about Hezbollah's possible response to the killings in Beirut.

The answer to the question “What will happen next?” could emerge from these meetings.