Saleh al-Arouri may have been a senior member of the Palestinian group Hamas, but the drone strike that brought his story to an early close took place last night in Beirut, Lebanon. Pictures from the scene show a devastatingly precise hit, which also reportedly eliminated senior members of other factions.
The leaders of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group founded by Iran, will not have been surprised that Israel’s reach extends so easily into their country. Likewise, it will have been no surprise to Israel that al-Arouri and other Hamas officials were to be found in Beirut. Along with Qatar and Turkey, Lebanon has long been one of Hamas’s main bases outside Gaza, with influential figures like Osama Hamdan – whom as I type will no doubt be watching his back – making their homes there in the late Nineties.
But the killing of al-Arouri is significant as a place-marker. Security sources say that Israel will be unlikely to target Hamas operatives in places like Turkey at the moment, for fear of the diplomatic fallout. In Beirut, by contrast, no such hesitations apply. Let me put that another way: it is more likely than not that Israel will be at war with Hezbollah by the spring.
From Jerusalem’s point of view, it has little choice. 7 October signalled the death of ‘the concept’, an Israeli security doctrine developed by Benjamin Netanyahu that involved keeping a lid on the enemies across its borders while pursuing economic, technological and military development at home. Since 2007, when Hamas took over control of the Gaza strip and drove it into the ground, Israel’s economy has doubled. Iron Dome, the Jewish state’s cutting-edge missile defence system, first saw action in 2011. Despite the occasional skirmish, for all these years, both Hamas and Hezbollah have been seen as manageable threats.