January 03, 2024, Lebanon, Beirut: The damaged office of Hamas that was attacked by Israel on January 2, killing Palestinian leader Saleh al-Aruri and six others shown through shattered windows in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Photo: Marwan Naamnai/dpa (Photo by Marwan Naamnai/image alliance via Getty Images)
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The killing of senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Aruri in the Lebanese capital Beirut has fueled fears that the war in Gaza could spread beyond the Palestinian enclave.
Al-Aruri, the deputy political head of Hamas, was killed on Tuesday along with six other members of the Palestinian militant group after his home in southern Beirut was reportedly targeted by a drone strike.
Lebanon claimed Israel was responsible for the blast and accused Israel of trying to drag Beirut into a regional war.
Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack, while an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is described as a “surgical” strike on Hamas, rather than an attack on Lebanon.
An Israeli military spokesman said it was “very prepared for any scenario” after al-Arouri’s killing.
Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a British think tank, said on Wednesday that the strike in Beirut had certainly increased the risk of opening another front in the Israel-Hamas war.
“This attack, which is believed to be clearly attributed to the Israeli government, could lead to a more decisive response by Hezbollah,” Vakil told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.”
“And I think that’s what the Israeli government is trying to achieve: To push Hezbollah into a wider war but also to demonstrate that its intention to go after the wider leadership of Hamas everywhere is indeed living up to reality.”
Vakil said, however, that Hezbollah was unlikely to try to respond to the blast in Beirut in a meaningful way, adding that the Lebanese militant group was “much more cautious as an entity.” The drone strike, he added, appeared to show Hezbollah’s weakness and Israel’s military intelligence.
“Looking at this attack, but more broadly, the goals of the Israeli government and its [Israeli Defense Forces] they will try to weaken all proxies in the region in order to strengthen Israel’s security after October 7,” Vakil said.
An Israeli government spokesman did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon said on Wednesday it was deeply concerned about a possible escalation of violence, Reuters reported, citing a spokesman who warned it would have devastating consequences for both Israel and Lebanon.
The killing of al-Arouri comes nearly three months after Israel launched a ground invasion and airstrike campaign in Gaza following the October 7 Hamas shock attack.
Hezbollah and the armed forces in Israel have been exchanging cross-border fire almost daily since Hamas’s deadly offensive in Israel, although the violence has so far been confined to the Israel-Lebanon border.
Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group in Lebanon, operates as both a political party and a paramilitary group and has been designated a terrorist organization by the US and Israel.
Deputy Chairman of the Movement’s Political Bureau Saleh Al-Arouri makes a speech after signing the reconciliation agreement to reach a consensus with the leader of the Palestinian Fatah movement Azzam Al-Ahmad (not seen) in Cairo, Egypt on October 12, 2017.
Ahmed Gamil | Anadolu | Getty Images
Benjamin H. Friedman, policy director at Defense Priorities, a Washington-based foreign policy think tank, said the killing of a top Hamas official in Lebanon makes an escalation of a simmering conflict with Hezbollah more likely.
“An Israeli war with Hezbollah, backed by Iran, risks dragging the United States into another war in the Middle East. This is a prospect we should try to avoid. Israel will have to defend itself without direct US involvement,” Friedman said.
“Israel has the right to target Hamas members abroad, and the United States has the right to defend its forces in the region,” Friedman continued. “Yet the flare-ups that threaten a wider war for the United States bring us face to face with the question of what US interest is being served by the war on Israel, essentially on behalf of the war in Gaza.”
“We might even ask whether the prospect of US support against Hezbollah encourages Israeli belligerence,” Friedman said. “Therefore, the United States should be clear that support for Israel will not include a shooting war on its behalf,” he added.
A spokesman for the US Department of Defense declined to comment.
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