Alarms were raised within Hamas when the Israeli Cabinet authorized the Israel Defense Forces to take more proactive measures against Palestinian terrorist leaders. Those fears center primarily on Saleh al-Arouri, who is little known in the West.
Al-Arouri—currently based in Lebanon and Hamas’s top commander in Judea and Samaria—wants to bring the terrorist organization into Iran’s orbit, and has already sparked one Gaza war.
Indeed, al-Arouri himself raised the threat of war in an interview on Friday with Al Mayadeen, a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper.
“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 [i.e., the Temple Mount] 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.”
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.
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 [i.e., Lebanese] front,” sources within the Gaza Strip said.
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 terrorist 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 terrorist 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 in number—poses a sufficient dilemna for Israel to deter a direct attack on al-Arouri. But others note Hezbollah’s failure to avenge previous targeted killings and Iran’s unresolved score in the aftermath of the U.S.’s assassination of Iranian Quds Force leader Qassem Soleiman in Baghdad in 2020.
Climbing the ranks of terror
Al-Arouri’s journey through the ranks of Hamas is noteworthy. Born in the village of Arura, near Ramallah, he has been committed to Hamas from a young age, engaging in Islamic activities and assuming leadership roles. He was recruited into Hamas in 1985 while studying Sharia law at Hebron University. He was imprisoned in Israel for 18 years over several stints before being deported to Syria in 2010.
Within a year, al-Arouri was a senior member of the Hamas team that formulated the terms for the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap. He was promoted to the Hamas politburo for his efforts, which soon after led to the release of 1,027 Palestinian terrorist prisoners in return for IDF soldier Schalit.
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 Etzion, south of Jerusalem. The abduction and murder of the teens escalated into the 2014 Gaza War (“Operation Protective Edge”).
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 flan 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 terrorist groups that is the Islamic Republic’s counterweight to the Abraham Accords, which may explain his involvement in spearheading Hamas-Syria rapprochement.
As commander of Hamas terrorist forces in Judea and Samaria, al-Arouri is believed to play a critical role in the 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.