Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday made an explicit threat against a senior member of the Hamas terror group, who resides in Lebanon. "He knows well why he and his friends are in hiding," Netanyahu said referring to Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy leader of the Hamas political executive and the man seen as responsible for the group's military forces in the West Bank.
"Hamas and other proxies of Iran understand that we will fight their attempts to promote terror attacks against us in the West Bank, Gaza and anywhere else," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "Anyone who attempts to hurt us, finance or organize terror attacks against Israel will pay a price in full," he said.
"We are facing a wave of terror from outside and from within. These are not simple times, they are challenging times. We must unite our forces against the terror, the crime wave in the Arab sector and the internal and external threats, organized to a great extent by Iran through its proxies. Together we will overcome all of them," Netanyahu also said.
Palestinian terror groups have warned recently that violence will increase after the government agreed to authorize Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, to "target terrorists and those who send them," which the Palestinians view as a threat to assassinate senior leaders.
According to reports in Arab media, after the threats made by Israel, terror groups raised the security measures in Gaza and Lebanon to an unprecedented level. The Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper, which is aligned with the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, reported on Sunday that Egypt was involved in extensive talks aimed at preventing military conflict. According to their report, National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi refused to commit that Israel will adhere to agreements reached after the May 2023 fighting in Gaza, while the Palestinian factions refused to agree to stop terror attacks on the West Bank and added a strong warning that any targeted killing carried out by Israel would prompt an "unprecedented response."
Al-Aruri, who is believed to be behind Hamas activity on the West Bank, is considered to be one of the senior operatives on Israel's target list. He was designated a terrorist by the United States in 2018.
"There are those in Israel who seek a regional war and those who are considering steps that would lead to one," he said in interviews given in recent days. "Anyone who is considering a targeted killing knows it would lead to a regional war," he told the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Mayadeen television channel.
Despite the perceived threats from the government, Al-Aruri promises to continue backing terror attacks against Israelis. On Saturday, Hamas claimed responsibility for the murder of a father and son in the town of Huwara last week. A spokesperson for the group said members of the Hamas military wing were "in the heart of the battle on the West Bank."
Al-Arouri said that the best model to deploy is one of direct engagement with settlers and the IDF. "Hundreds are participating in the resistance and causing confusion for the occupation. What if those hundreds turn to thousands and tens of thousands?"
He also expressed his pleasure over the fact that some of the terrorists were lone actors who were not affiliated with any organization and decided independently, to take action. "We will not be slaves to the occupation," he said. "I am optimistic when unaffiliated individuals are behind attacks," he said.
But Israeli officials believe his bravado and his recent comments indicate his concern that he may be targeted for assassination. They say he is in the crosshairs because he is believed to be behind efforts to ignite an uprising in the West Bank and is responsible for the recent terror wave that has claimed the lives of 35 Israelis since the beginning of the year, as well as some 480 attempted attacks that have been foiled.
Al-Arouri holds many titles but his most important role is head of the Hamas military wing in the West Bank. The group's strategy is concentrated on that region, in order to destabilize the Palestinian Authority and Israel's security. It also allows Hamas in Gaza to remain out of the cycle of violence, while building its economic fortitude and rebuilding its military might. Al-Arouri has a central role in executing this strategy and uses incitement, funds and the enlistment of operatives to that end from his residence in Beirut.