Saleh al-Arouri: The Hamas terror mastermind in Israel’s crosshairs

“An extremely important asset for the Iranians,” al-Arouri himself raised the threat of war in an interview with Al Mayadeen, a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper on Friday.

By Baruch Yedid, TPS

Alarms were raised within Hamas when the Israeli Cabinet authorized the Israel Defense Forces to take more proactive measures against Palestinian terror groups. Those fears center primarily on Saleh al-Arouri, who is little known in the West.

Al-Arouri — currently based in Lebanon and serving as Hamas’s top commander in Judea and Samaria — wants to bring the terror organization into Iran’s orbit, and he has already sparked one Gaza war.

Indeed, al-Arouri himself raised the threat of war in an interview with Al Mayadeen, a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper on Friday.

“The leaders of the occupation government, with their extremist policies, will cause an all-out war in the region,” said al-Arouri. “Some in the cabinet are considering actions such as taking control of Al-Aqsa Mosque and dividing it, along with assassinations, knowing that this would lead to a regional war.

“If we reach the point of an all-out confrontation, Israel will face an unprecedented defeat in its history, and we are confident of that.”

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Palestinians indicated that Arab countries have already warned Hamas of Israel’s intentions, cautioning the organization about the possible targeting of high-ranking officials both within the Gaza Strip and abroad.

Sources within the Gaza Strip told the Tazpit Press Service that al-Arouri “is currently considered an extremely important asset for the Iranians and therefore it should be estimated that his elimination abroad will lead to the ignition of an all-out campaign, certainly on the northern front.”

Against this backdrop, Hamas has taken protective measures, including evacuating critical sites in the Gaza Strip in anticipation of an imminent attack. Similarly, in Lebanon, Hamas has sounded the alert among its members.

The 57-year-old al-Arouri’s significance within Hamas cannot be understated. He is in charge of all Hamas terror activities in Judea and Samaria. His influence extends beyond the political and military spheres. He is credited with orchestrating a deep relationship between Hamas and Iran, and he is said to be a key figure in re-establishing the terror group’s ties with Damascus, which were severed in 2012 during the Syrian Civil War.

In an additional layer of complexity, al-Arouri now lives in Lebanon. Some Palestinians believe Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets — reportedly 150,000 — poses a sufficient dilemma for Israel to deter a direct attack on al-Arouri. But others note Hezbollah’s failure to avenge previous assassinations and Iran’s unresolved score in the aftermath of Qassem Soleimani’s assassination in 2020.

The Cabinet’s decision comes amid mounting Palestinian terror attacks. So far in 2023, Palestinian terrorists have killed 34 people (33 Israelis and an Italian tourist) in Israel and committed almost 200 shooting attacks in Judea and Samaria.

Climbing the ranks of terror

Al-Arouri’s journey through the ranks of Hamas is noteworthy. Born in the village of Arura, he has been committed to Hamas from a young age, engaging in Islamic activities and assuming leadership roles. He was first recruited into Hamas in 1985 while studying Sharia law at the University of Hebron. He was imprisoned in Israel for 18 years over several stints before being deported to Syria in 2010.

Within one year, al-Arouri was a senior member of the Hamas team that formulated the terms for the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. He was promoted to the Hamas politiburo for his efforts, which soon after led to the release of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners for Shalit.

Hamas fell out with Syria over the Bashar Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters in the early days of the Syrian Civil War. Assad shuttered the Hamas offices in Damascus in 2012, bringing al-Arouri to Turkey, where he was primarily based for another decade.

It’s widely believed that from Turkey, he masterminded the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers –Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel — from a hitchhiking spot in Gush Etzin south of Jerusalem. The abduction and murder of the teens escalated into the 2014 Gaza War.

Al-Arouri eventually left Turkey — presumably forced out — around 2022 as Israeli-Turkish ties thawed, although Islamic charities based in Turkey and associated with Hamas continued to fan the flames of Ramadan tensions in Jerusalem as recently as March.

al-Arouri is a proponent of the Jerusalem axis, an alliance of Iranian-backed terror groups is Iran’s counterweight to the Abraham accords, which may explain his involvement in spearheading Hamas-Syria rapprochement.

As commander of Hamas terror forces in Judea and Samaria, al-Arouri plays a critical role in the terror group’s efforts to develop rocket factories in Jenin.

In an Iranian bid to consolidate power against Israel, Tehran is placing heavy pressure on Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to establish a “joint operational mechanism” based in Lebanon to coordinate military activities.