Iran’s government, military and hardliners have so far reacted cautiously to the Israeli assassination of a senior Hamas official, Saleh al-Arouri, in Lebanon.

A drone attacked Hamas’s office in the southern suburbs of Beirut, where Arouri had a meeting. Several others attending were also killed.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned Israel’s “despicable” killing of al-Arouri and two other military commanders, saying the killings will further “motivate” the region to fight Israel. But Iranian government websites on Wednesday had little to say about the major event, as the regime marks the fourth anniversary of Qasem Soleimani’s death. On January 3, 2020, the all-powerful IRGC regional operative was killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad.

Curiously, the low-key reaction to al-Arouri’s targeted killing came despite the fact that he was a key figure in Hamas’s relationship with the regime in Iran. Hezbollah issued a statement, however, calling the killing a “serious assault on Lebanon” that would be punished. “The resistance has its finger on the trigger,” the statement read.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had previously warned Israel that his group would retaliate against any attempt on the lives of Palestinian (or other allied) officials in Lebanon.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military said it was “in a very high state of readiness” and “highly prepared for any scenario, alluding to a potential strike from Hezbollah.

This was the first Israeli attack on Beirut since 2006.

The drone attack is a major escalation after nearly three months of conflict on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah forces and the Israeli troops have been exchanging fire almost daily ever since Hamas rampaged Israel on October 7, 2023.

Israel vowed to kill “all” Hamas leaders after that attack. Saleh Al-Arouri is the most senior Hamas official to have been killed since thena.

Arouri was one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing and in charge of the group in the West Bank. He had spent nearly 18 years in Israeli prisons since the early 1990s. Living in Lebanon since 2018, he was known to be close both to Hezabollah and to Iran.

Images of his recent meeting with Ali Khamenei surfaced after the news of his killing. Almayadeen published excerpts of a recent interview with him, where he said getting killed would be “the ultimate victory.”

Arouri’s killing raises fears that Hezbollah would be drawn into the war. The group, supported financially and militarily by Iran, is widely believed to be the most powerful non-state actor in the region –far more powerful than Hamas, certainly.

There were reports last week that Israeli officials and generals were considering a shift from high-intensity operations to more “surgical” strikes on high-ranking Hamas officials.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), based in Washington D.C. and “focused on US national security”, reported Tuesday eveningthat the Israeli army has withdrawn “five brigades” from Gaza Strip to transition from “major combat operations” to “targeted raids,” and establishing a security buffer zone within the Gaza Strip.

“Israeli forces have degraded several Hamas units and rendered others combat ineffective, particularly in the northern Gaza strip,” ISW posted on X. “But Hamas’ military forces are neither defeated nor destroyed at this time.”

Arouri’s assassination may prove to be a fatal blow to any talks about hostage release, as he is said to have been influential in the negotiations earlier.

Lebanon’s prime minister, Najib Mikati, condemned the attack as a “new Israeli crime intended to spur a new phase of conflict.”

Source » iranintl