Al-Arouri's assassination was a blow for Hamas, but it also hit its ally Hezbollah[Source: Reuters]
Thousands of people have attended the funeral of the deputy Hamas leader, Saleh al-Arouri, in Beirut, two days after his assassination in an attack in the Lebanese capital.
Crowds carried banners with his picture and waved Palestinian and Hamas flags through the streets amid the sound of music, prayers and heavy gunfire.
Al-Arouri was a key figure in the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, and a close ally of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader.
Across Lebanon, people watched the procession on TV, wondering how the killing would affect their country.
Al-Arouri’s assassination was a blow for Hamas, but it also hit its ally Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed Lebanese movement, as it struck Dahiyeh, a suburb of the city that is a stronghold for the group.
Again, the focus is on what Hassan Nasrallah, the influential Hezbollah leader, will decide to do.
Less than 24 hours after the attack, he was addressing his followers, in a speech that had been scheduled to commemorate the Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, killed in a US drone strike four years ago. He could not ignore what had just happened in his own backyard.
As usual, Nasrallah spoke from an undisclosed location, and described al-Arouri’s assassination as a “flagrant Israeli aggression” that would not go unpunished. “If the enemy considers waging a war against Lebanon, our battle will be without boundaries or rules,” he said.
But, crucially, there was no open threat to attack Israel, which has neither confirmed or denied involvement in the killing, nor any indication of how Hezbollah might act.
One of Hezbollah’s aims is the destruction of Israel, which sees the group as a more formidable enemy than Hamas. Hezbollah has a vast arsenal of weapons including precision-guided missiles that can strike deep into Israeli territory, as well as tens of thousands of well-trained, battle-hardened fighters.
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, Hezbollah has been attacking positions in northern Israel almost every day, describing the actions as its support for the Palestinian group. The Israeli military has retaliated, but so far, the violence has been largely contained to areas along the Lebanon-Israel border.
Hezbollah has calculated its actions to prevent a full-scale war with Israel, and there is no indication this strategy is likely to change. Many here still remember the destruction caused by the month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, and with Lebanon suffering a massive economic crisis, there is virtually no public support for any military confrontation.
Israeli authorities have warned Hezbollah against escalating the conflict. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has in the past said Israel’s military could do to Beirut what it had done to Gaza. Some senior Israeli officials have supported further action against the group to eliminate the threat to northern communities, evacuated amid Hezbollah’s constant attacks.
Nasrallah is expected to address his supporters again on Friday. His latest speech may be an indication that for whatever reason, he wants to avoid triggering a bigger conflict with Israel. However, he needs to be seen to be giving a response to the attack in Beirut. But any reaction is likely to be calibrated to avoid strong retaliation from Israel.