Saleh Arouri, the deputy political head of Hamas and a founder of the group’s military wing, was killed in a drone strike in a southern suburb of Beirut on Tuesday. He had been Israel’s target for years before he was killed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had threatened to kill him even before Hamas carried out its deadly surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, sparking the ongoing brutal war in Gaza.
Israel had accused Arouri, 57, of masterminding attacks against it in the West Bank, where he was the group’s top commander. In 2015, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Arouri as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist offering $5 million for information about him.
Asked about assassination threats against him in an interview with Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen in August, Arouri said, “It is not strange for us for the commanders and cadres of the movement to be martyred.”
“I never expected to reach this age, so I am living on borrowed time,” he said.
In the same interview, he threatened that in case of a comprehensive war, “Israel will suffer a defeat unprecedented in history.”
Born in the town of Aroura in the occupied West Bank, Arouri joined Hamas and eventually went into exile, first to Damascus, where the Syrian government was a strong supporter of the group. But he left in 2011 when Hamas split with President Bashar Assad, siding with the opposition in Syria’s civil war.
He went on to Turkey, but had to leave there in 2018 in an exodus of Hamas officials after Ankara improved its relations with Israel and after Qatar — a backer of the Palestinian militant group — was hit by a boycott led by its rival Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region.
Arriving in Beirut, Arouri made few public appearances but helped to pull Hamas closer to Hezbollah’s orbit. Hamas was able to build up its political and military presence in Lebanon — but under careful control by Hezbollah.
Arouri also became a key figure in the group’s reconciliation with Assad, and he proudly proclaimed himself part of the “Axis of Resistance,” the collection of Iran’s regional allies, including Hezbollah and Syria,
In early September, Arouri held a meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that was attended by Ziad Nakhaleh, the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, during which they discussed the situation in the Palestinian territories. A similar meeting was convened after the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October.