MS Risk Blog

Israel’s targeting of Hamas, Hezbollah and IRGC leadership

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Israel has a long history of conflict with Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), all of which are designated as terrorist organizations by Israel and other nations. Israel has recently been conducting targeted operations to remove key individuals within these organisations’ leadership. These activities might have a variety of consequences in the coming months, beginning with a weakening of the organisational structure inside Hamas, Hezbollah, and IRGC’s organization operations. The loss of these key leaders however could also spark a new regional spillover.

On January 3rd, 2024, Saleh Al-Arouri, a senior Hamas commander and one of the founders of Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank, was killed in the southern Beirut neighbourhood of Dahieh. At least four innocent people were also killed in the attack. This incident sparked a new wave of hatred with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah cautioning against Israeli killings in Lebanon, warning they would result in a “strong response”. Hamas on the other hand, told Egyptian and Qatari mediators that it is suspending talks over the possible release of more Israeli hostages in response to Arouri’s killing. Moreover, as the assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri occurred on Lebanon’s soil the potential of Hezbollah getting involved in this ‘revenge’ plan is more and more possible.  At the moment, the conflict is mostly between Israel and Hamas however, Hezbollah remains a danger to Israel. If Iran engagement continues, given its confirmed support for Hezbollah by funding them, the dynamics of the war might quickly shift, escalating the situation to a regional conflict.

On January 8th, 2024, senior commander Wissam Tawil of Hezbollah was killed in a strike in southern Lebanon. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, confirmed that Israel is responsible for the assassination of Wissam al-Tawil. Israel seems to have changed its strategy focus to attacking Hezbollah operatives, facilities, and systems used to deter Israel. Tawil was reportedly a member of the group’s elite Radwan Force and one of the most notable Hezbollah officials killed in the ongoing conflict. Like the assassination of Hamas’s deputy leader last week in Beirut, al-Tawil’s killing could raise fears of a larger regional conflict. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz however threatened Lebanon with far-reaching implications beyond the 2006 conflict but stated that Israel does not want tensions to escalate.

On December 25th, 2023, Sayyed Razi Mousavi, Iran’s top military advisor, was killed in Syria’s Damascus suburbs. Again, this incident created a lot of fear with the IRGC saying that the “usurper and savage Zionist regime will pay for this crime”. More recently on the 20th January 2024, five senior members of Iran’s security forces were killed in a suspected air strike on the Syrian capital. Among them were IRGC’s Syria’s intelligence chief and his deputy, as well as other Guard members. In recent months, Israel has launched hundreds of attacks on targets in government-controlled areas of war-torn Syria. Israel rarely acknowledges its attacks on Syria but when it does, it claims it is targeting Iran-backed forces who have supported Assad’s administration.

The assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri has significantly disrupted the negotiations between Hamas and its Western counterparts, causing Hamas to halt discussions on the issue of hostages, as passed on by mediators from Qatar to Israel. Furthermore, the potential of similar acts by Hezbollah and the IRGC on a bigger scale highlights the interconnection of multiple actors in the region. Given Hezbollah’s proven ties to Iran and Syria, the assassination of high-ranking members within the organisation might have far-reaching implications. This includes the potential of a spillover effect across regional alliances and power dynamics, as well as new alignments or adjustments in geopolitical strategies.

Given Hezbollah’s current status as a result of fighter and commander casualties, the West may be able to impose diplomatic pressure on Hezbollah to refrain from engaging in future combat operations. France has emerged as a leading mediator in the escalating tensions between Hezbollah and Israel. This position allows for Western engagement to counter Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel and other activities, thereby supporting the government’s efforts to strengthen control. However, this might take a sudden turn, worsening Hezbollah’s radicalism and leading to more assaults rather than fostering diplomatic agreements.

If diplomatic efforts fail to achieve the desired outcomes, the situation might worsen further, possibly leading to another Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Israel has conducted multiple attacks against Lebanon throughout the years, particularly 1978, 1982, and 2006. More recently, on the 28th of January 2024, according to Lebanese radio LBCI, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to launch a full-fledged war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. U.S. officials are reportedly afraid that Netanyahu may launch a strike on Lebanon in response to mounting criticism of his inability to prevent the October 7 incident. However, a two-front war against Hamas and Hezbollah would be very difficult for the IDF to succeed.

Overall, the approaching months are quite unpredictable, the recent wave of assassinations targeting top members of these groups has left these organizations vulnerable and may significantly impact their operational capabilities and future activities. Nonetheless, if Israel decides to invade Lebanon, it might cause a bigger regional spillover, perhaps drawing in the involvement of Iran (and IRGC), thereby worsening the situation in the region.