The killing of Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut is the first strike in a campaign of assassinations overseas promised by Israeli officials for several months.
The target was carefully chosen – one of the most senior Hamas leaders and the organisation’s main link to Iran and the Lebanon-based militia Hezbollah. Arouri was also influential in the occupied West Bank, where he was born and where violence has soared in recent months.
Some Israeli officials also believe that the 57-year-old may have known in advance about the plan to launch bloody attacks into Israel before the assault on 7 October, which killed more than 1,200 Israelis, mainly civilians.
Arouri became involved in Islamist activism when a student at Hebron university in the mid-1980s, a time when such ideologies were surging across the Middle East. He joined Hamas soon after its foundation in the immediate aftermath of the first intifada and helped create Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassem brigades.
Jailed by Israel in 1992, Arouri spent almost all the next 18 years in prison. In 2010, he helped negotiate the release by Israel of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for a single kidnapped Israeli soldier.
Based first in Syria, then in Qatar and finally in Lebanon, Arouri built a reputation as an astute operator with contacts throughout the Middle East but particularly with Iran. He also extended Hamas networks and influence in the West Bank and negotiated with Fatah, the veteran secular party that dominates the Palestinian Authority.
Political promotion followed. Already a member of Hamas’s powerful “politburo”, Arouri was elected deputy to Ismail Haniyeh, the organisation’s leader, in 2017. Since then, he has been a high-profile emissary for the group, involved in almost all major political decisions, and a key spokesperson.
But Arouri also maintained his hardline credentials. In 2015, the US Treasury accused Arouri of funding and directing Hamas’s military operations in the West Bank and linked him to several terrorist attacks, hijackings and kidnappings. The US designated Arouri a global terrorist, offering up to $5m for information leading to his arrest.
Shortly after the 7 October attacks, Arouri met Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, to discuss strategies for achieving “real victory in their war with Israel”. Publicity photographs of the two men showed them talking under portraits of the first supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, and the current incumbent, Ali Khamenei.
Most recently, Arouri played a role in talks brokered by Qatar, which led to the release of some of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas. Experts in Israel said that the veteran negotiator was responsible for drawing up lists of those to be released by either side. Arouri’s role was said to be “indispensable”. [Continue reading…]