Israel threatens assassinations

Mohamed Abu Shaar , Thursday 7 Sep 2023

Israel has stepped up threats to liquidate leaders of armed Palestinian factions.

Israel threatens assassinations
Palestinian demonstrators stand next to mock coffins symbolising Palestinian prisoners who died in Israeli jails (photo: AP)


Under the pretext that they are behind the recent wave of attacks in Israel and the West Bank that killed a number of Israelis, the government in Israel has again spoken of assassinating armed faction leaders. Statements also referred to the growing military strength of armed groups in the West Bank.

The most blatant threat was made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said at the end of August that Israel will target the perpetrators of the attacks, and those who are behind them. He specifically mentioned Saleh Al-Arouri, deputy chief of Hamas’ Politburo.

“Hamas and Iran’s proxies in the region are well aware that we will use all means to fight their attempts to create terror against us, whether in the West Bank, Gaza or anywhere else,” Netanyahu said. He described the current conditions facing Israel as “not easy and full of challenges.”

Al-Arouri has lived in Lebanon since he left Turkey in 2019 due to Israeli pressure, when the two countries were improving bilateral relations. Israel accuses Al-Arouri primarily of financing Hamas’ military activity in the West Bank.

Since the beginning of the year, military operations in the West Bank have resulted in the death of 34 Israelis, the last three at the end of last month in two separate attacks near Hebron and Nablus. Hamas claimed responsibility for the two operations.

Israel accuses Hamas and Islamic Jihad of being behind this wave of attacks. Israel’s threat to return to assassinations prompted officials in Islamic Jihad to leave Syria for Lebanon, since Damascus is periodically subject to Israeli attacks.

According to Palestinian political analyst Hassan Abdo, Israeli threats and Netanyahu’s direct threat against Al-Arouri are a reflection of the humiliation of Netanyahu’s right-wing government over increased attacks in the West Bank.

“Netanyahu is under pressure within his government by right-wing figures, especially Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, to resume targeting the leaders of Palestinian factions in Gaza,” Abdo told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Even if the cost is Israel entering a broad military confrontation.”

Abdo added that attacks in the West Bank have changed the security environment there from one that attracts settlements and settlers to one that is unsafe for expanding settlement building. This poses a serious challenge to the Israeli government’s plans for building settlements.

However, Abdo noted that if Israel follows through on its threat to assassinate someone of Al-Arouri’s calibre, this could spark a regional war, especially since Al-Arouri is on Lebanese soil and close to Hizbullah. In fact, Hizbullah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah threatened a strong military response if anyone is assassinated on Lebanese soil.

In a rare encounter, Al-Arouri, Nasrallah and Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ziyad Al-Nakhala met in the Lebanese capital Beirut. This sent a message which Israeli reports said confirms that Hizbullah will not allow Israel to carry out assassinations in Lebanon without paying a price.

According to Israeli security and intelligence reports, Al-Arouri is also connected to the establishment of Hamas’ military infrastructure in Lebanon. This was clearly confirmed in April, when missiles were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel, as tensions boiled over in Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan.

According to Palestinian political analyst Mustafa Ibrahim, tensions in the West Bank are caused primarily by the Israeli government’s actions and policies which fuel settler violence, promoting settlement building and daily killings in West Bank cities.

“The Israeli government lays landmines for the security situation, and then tries to export the crisis caused by these decisions to the Palestinians by transfering confrontation to other arenas,” Ibrahim said.

He told the Weekly: “Egypt and international parties are working to defuse tensions because if Israel begins to carry out assassinations en masse against Palestinian leaders, this will spark a war that could be on several fronts: in Gaza, the West Bank, and even Lebanon and northern Syria.”

The Israeli National Security Council warned that Israeli nationals are at risk of being kidnapped at home and abroad by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in order to be used as bargaining chips.

In light of continued escalation, Palestinian factions warned against measures approved by Ben-Gvir that reduce visits to Palestinian detainees. The Committee of Fatah Detainees in Israeli Prisons said that Ben-Gvir’s edict to reduce visits to once every two months instead of once a month is lunacy and that he and everyone who supports him will pay for it.

The Palestinian government instructed its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates to follow up on the matter worldwide, and called for global pressure to improve the conditions of 5,200 Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. This number includes 1,300 administrative detainees who are detained without any charges brought against them.

Last week, 1,000 Palestinian detainees were planning a collective hunger strike, but they reached an understanding with the Israel Prison Service to end arbitrary measures against them.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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