Israel Threatens To Target Hamas Leaders if West Bank Tension Continues
At the top the list is Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau who is said to be the brains behind the surge in attacks on settlers and soldiers
Hamas says Israel has sent threatening messages warning that it will target the Islamist group’s top leadership if Hamas continues to operate in the West Bank.
Local Palestinian radio station Raya, based in Ramallah, reported Monday that a Hamas source said that Israeli intelligence efforts against the movement have intensified since the 11-day cross-border conflict between Israel and Gaza last May.
Israel reportedly has warned Hamas through private channels that it will resume assassinating the group’s leaders if Hamas continues to operate in the West Bank.
Attacks by Palestinians against Israelis have increased recently, leading to the killing of a Jewish settler in the northern West Bank less than two weeks ago.
Following the May confrontation with Israel, Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, saw its support among Palestinians in the West Bank surge.
Refugee camps, whose residents traditionally have been loyalists of the Fatah party, have witnessed a shift in allegiance. The Jenin refugee camp is one example.
A Hamas official in Gaza, in an interview with The Media Line, denied that Egypt carried the threatening Israeli messages to the group, that warned Hamas that if tension continues to surge in the West Bank, it will prompt Israel to resume its assassination of Hamas leaders within the Palestinian territories and abroad.
Israeli threats against the resistance, especially after the flare-up of the West Bank, is always directed against Hamas leaders abroad. I do not think that the issue of the threat frightens the leaders of Hamas because they wish for martyrdom.
At the top of the list is Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy head of the political bureau of the Islamist group who is said to be the brains behind the surge in attacks on Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. He oversees the organization’s activities in the West Bank.
Arouri was incarcerated in an Israeli prison for 16 years until his release in 2007. It’s unclear exactly where he lives, but he frequently moves between Beirut’s southern suburb, where he is under the protection of Hizbullah, and somewhere in Turkey.
Palestinian political analyst Mustafa al-Sawaf told The Media Line that the Israeli threats will not change the movements of the Hamas leaders living in Turkey.
“Israeli threats against the resistance, especially after the flare-up of the West Bank, is always directed against Hamas leaders abroad. I do not think that the issue of the threat frightens the leaders of Hamas because they wish for martyrdom,” he said.
He explains that Palestinian groups in Gaza made their position clear in the past when it comes to Israel targeting their leaders.
“The factions stressed that any assassination would have very high reactions and a change in the means of combat,” he said.
Yoni Ben-Menachem, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Media Line that these threats are “nothing new.”
“Israeli intelligence is always working to gather information” on Hamas, he said.
Ben-Menachem says that there will be no assassination of Arouri or any of the Hamas leaders at this time, in order to ensure that the Israeli government doesn’t crumble.
“Mansour Abbas leads the Muslim Brotherhood movement and is part of the government coalition, and if Israel kills Arouri it will lead to the collapse of the government,” he said.
But Ben-Menachem says that Hamas has its eye on the West Bank, where it is trying to escalate tensions.
“They want to topple the PA, but efforts are underway to stop it. Hamas has received a severe blow to the infrastructure that Arouri built, and he is now trying hard to rebuild it,” he said.
A growing number of Palestinians now wave Hamas flags and chant the group’s slogans during demonstrations and other events, leading PA security forces to chase after them and, in some cases, to make arrests.
The spike in Hamas’ popularity came at the expense of its rival, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority. The approval rating of Fatah head and PA President Mahmoud Abbas currently sits at its lowest level ever.
A recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Survey and Policy Research found that around 78% of West Bank Palestinians want Abbas to leave office.
The sag in opinion polls is attributed to Abbas’ canceling presidential and parliamentary elections that had been scheduled for earlier this year, and due to a crackdown on personal freedom. Meanwhile, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority accuse Hamas of trying to destabilize the West Bank in order to undermine Abbas.
Last month, Israeli security forces announced the arrest of dozens of members of a Hamas cell that was in the final phase of planning attacks on Israeli targets in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The Shin Bet security service says Arouri is responsible for the cell and its plot.