After Israel breaches Hezbollah stronghold, will Beirut finally be dragged into Gaza war?
BEIRUT: Soon after top Hamas official Saleh Al-Arouri was killed in a suspected Israeli strike in Beirut’s Hezbollah-held Dahieh on Tuesday evening, people in salons and on social media forums took to asking the same question: what next?
The region’s residents — already experiencing extreme levels of anxiety since the Oct. 7 attacks and subsequent intense Israeli bombardment of Gaza — held their collective breath when footage of a burning building in Beirut’s southern suburbs made the rounds online.
Hezbollah, Iran’s strongest proxy, has been trading fire with the Israeli army on Lebanon’s southern border within largely contained areas of engagement. However, Tuesday night’s attack in the capital is the farthest north Israel has struck, and the first time it has done so since the 2006 war.
“I think that many people are betting that there will be some sort of retaliation by Hezbollah and by Iran. I don’t think that this is possible, especially that the targeting of Al-Arouri and the way that Israel has sent direct messages through the adviser of (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu that this is a targeting of Hamas, and not Lebanon and not Hezbollah, will actually give (Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan) Nasrallah a way out of this predicament,” Makram Rabah, a political analyst and assistant professor of history at the American University of Beirut, told Arab News.
Hezbollah released a statement after the strike, stating that it was a “serious assault on Lebanon” and a “dangerous development in (the) course of (the) war between (the) enemy and (the) axis of resistance.” Similarly, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh called it a terrorist act and a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
At least six people have been killed in the targeted strike, all of whom are reportedly part of or involved with Hamas. And while Israel’s military refused to comment, Mark Regev, an adviser to Netanyahu, said: “Whoever did it, it must be clear: this was not an attack on the Lebanese state. Whoever did this carried out a surgical strike against the Hamas leadership.”
Rabah also noted that over the last 10 days, there have been over 15 targeted strikes against key personnel and officials of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, in Syria, with one resulting in the killing of senior commander Reda Mousavi, without any significant form of retaliation.
However, the Middle East Institute’s Director of Outreach Firas Maksad sees cause for concern because it places Hezbollah in a difficult position.
“By ignoring Hassan Nasrallah’s explicit warnings that an assassination on Lebanese soil will force a harsh response, Israel is forcing Hezbollah into a dilemma,” Maksad told Arab News
“Either it responds in kind and risks a major war with Israel that it does not want, or it capitulates, thereby allowing Israel to redraw the rules of engagement and possibly open the door to further assassinations due to (the lack) of deterrence.”
“After today’s (Tuesday’s) attack, it has become very difficult for Hezbollah to muddle along with its preference for grey-zone warfare — no full-scale war, but no calm on Israel’s border either. It now has to make a pivotal choice between retaliation and capitulation.”
The Oct. 7 attacks left 1,200 Israeli civilians dead and subsequently saw 20,000 Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children, killed in intense aerial bombings in Gaza, which have been condemned globally.
And while the conflict is said to be a long one, with no path to peace in sight just yet, the killing of Al-Arouri in Lebanon’s capital will be seen by many as a significant escalation that should not be taken lightly. Others, however, continue to see it as symbolic blows between the warring sides in the grander political scheme of things.
“Lebanon is not part of this war and Hezbollah, as I underscored previously, will not do anything,” Rabah, the history professor, added.
“Most probably the graphic designers of Hezbollah are adding Al-Arouri’s face and name to the background where Nasrallah will be delivering the speech and he will be joining the list of so-called martyrs on the road to Jerusalem.”