Hamas deputy leader killed in suspected Israeli airstrike in Lebanon

Hamas deputy leader Salih al-Aruri, one of the founders of the Qassam Bridges – Hamas’ so-called military wing – was killed in an airstrike in Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday. While the Israelis have not claimed credit for the strike, al-Aruri was near the top of the country’s list of Hamas leaders targeted.

Al-Aruri was among six people killed in an airstrike in the Mushrifiyah suburb in southern Beirut, according to the Jerusalem Post. The identities of the other five people killed in the attack have not been disclosed, but early reports indicated two other Hamas military leaders were also taken out in the strike. Two Israeli drones are believed to have carried out the strike, which hit an apartment and a nearby vehicle, and Israeli warplanes were spotted flying over the city after al-Aruri was killed.

Al-Aruri is the first top tier Hamas leader killed since Hamas and its terrorist allies launched the Oct. 7 rampage on southern Israel. Since Israel entered the Gaza strip to dismantle Hamas’ political and military organization, numerous mid-level military commanders, political leaders and operatives have been killed or captured. But senior Gaza-based Hamas leaders such Yahya Sinwar, his brother Muhammad Sinwar, and commander Muhammad Deif have escaped the dragnet thus far.

In November, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel would “operate against Hamas leaders wherever they are.” But Israel faces a significant challenge in dismantling Hamas’ top leadership cadre, as most of its senior political leaders are based outside of Gaza and the West Bank in countries such as Qatar, Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria – marking Tuesday’s strike on al-Aruri as a significant milepost.

At the time of his death, Al-Aruri served as the deputy leader of Hamas’ political wing. The U.S. Treasury Department listed al-Aruri as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2015 for his terrorist activities. In 2018, the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture and prosecution.

“Aruri funded and directed Hamas military operations in the West Bank and has been linked to several terrorist attacks, hijackings, and kidnappings,” according to a statement Rewards for Justice. One of the terror attacks that al-Aruri was involved in was the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teens, including dual U.S.–Israeli citizen Naftali Fraenkel.

Al-Aruri worked closely with Qassem Soleimani, the infamous leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force, the special operations branch of the IRGC that supports, funds, and directs the network of Iranian-back terror militias in the Middle East. The U.S. killed Soleimani in an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq exactly four years ago.

Joe Truzman is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah. Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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