Hamas' complex dynamics in Lebanon: Balancing political shifts and Israeli targeting after Al-Aqsa Flood

Press Highlights
2024-02-11 | 00:48
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Hamas' complex dynamics in Lebanon: Balancing political shifts and Israeli targeting after Al-Aqsa Flood
Hamas' complex dynamics in Lebanon: Balancing political shifts and Israeli targeting after Al-Aqsa Flood

With Israel's announcement on Saturday that the operation it carried out in the Jadra region of Lebanon, outside the conflict zone with Hezbollah, aimed at assassinating the Hamas leader Basel Saleh, responsible for recruitment in the West Bank, questions arise about the movement's political and military situation within Lebanon, which has turned upside down since the Al-Aqsa Flood operation in October of last year.

This article was originally published in and translated from the Arab outlet Asharq Al-Awsat. 

While Hamas in Lebanon had been primarily engaged in media, political, cultural, and social activities in recent years, its role shifted towards security and military activities after the explosion in December 2022 in the Burj al-Shemali camp. 

Initially reported as a fire in a diesel fuel warehouse spreading to an ammunition depot belonging to Hamas, the group denied the incident, attributing it to an electrical malfunction in a storage facility for COVID-19 protective gear.

No military or security operations were recorded for the movement except within the framework of the Joint Security Force in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon. 

However, the situation changed drastically with the Al-Aqsa Flood operation, turning Hezbollah's focus in southern Lebanon into a supportive front for Gaza. 

This led to the entry of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, and other armed groups onto the scene, carrying out military operations and launching rockets from Lebanese territory, albeit under the supervision and control of Hezbollah. 

Notably, there has been a recent decline in the activities of most of these groups, especially Hamas, being restricted to the party.

After the assassination of Hamas' deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, in early January in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah, it became clear that it was increasingly making Lebanon a primary base for its political activities. 

Hamas' security and military presence in Lebanon expanded significantly after the Syrian crisis and its major disagreement with the Syrian regime. 

This led to the relocation of its political leaders to Doha and Turkey while its security and military personnel were concentrated in Lebanon, especially in the southern city of Sidon, and some camps, primarily in the southern suburbs of Beirut, considered a safe haven for them.

According to Shiite opposition figure Ali Al-Amin, "Lebanon serves as a political, media, and military platform for Hamas to some extent. It finds space for its leaders there, protected by Hezbollah. It is practically the only place outside of Gaza where its leaders can hold press conferences without facing official objections."

Adding: "However, Israeli targeting of Hamas leaders and the assassination of Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut about two months ago have posed obstacles to the idea of Lebanon becoming a refuge for its  leaders."

Palestinian Researcher Hisham Dabsi agrees that "Lebanon, especially now, represents a specific arena for political, media, and military work for Hamas, which was not the case before."

"Its utilization of the Lebanese arena has increased since the announcement of the principle of 'unity of arenas,' the Joint Operations Room, and with the Al-Aqsa Flood operation. The movement has gone beyond political and media activities to engage in military actions for the first time." 

He noted to Asharq Al-Awsat that this reached its peak with the formation of the "Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood," a new "militia" to capitalize on the events in Gaza. 

However, the Palestinian and Lebanese reactions were sufficient to make them slightly reconsider regarding this formation. In any case, it is not possible to talk about independent military activity for the movement in Lebanon without the approval of Hezbollah and the facilitations it provides, he said.

Ali Al-Amin told Asharq Al-Awsat the various dimensions of the military aspect of Hamas' activities in Lebanon, stating that the first aspect is linked to its control of Palestinian refugee camps, as it was and still is on its agenda under the supervision of Hezbollah.

He mentioned that the second aspect involves carrying out military operations against Israel, which was openly active since the "Al-Aqsa Flood," but it stopped again for reasons related to Hezbollah, which appears to have been the reason for halting the military activity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Hamas decided in December to establish a new formation called ''Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood' to capitalize on the war in Gaza to its advantage by working to increase its popularity in Palestinian camps and strengthen its role and presence there at the expense of the Fatah movement, which has long been considered the dominant Palestinian faction in Lebanon.

Al-Amin pointed out that "Palestinian popular sympathy for the movement increased after the 'Al-Aqsa Flood,' to some extent, even among the Lebanese."

He said that this allowed Hamas to move smoothly within the camps and in the Lebanese Sunni "arena" to the extent of surpassing its size and presence before the "Al-Aqsa Flood."

He further explained that "the primary presence of Hamas is inside the camps, but most of the movement's leaders in Lebanon are in areas under the security control of Hezbollah."

"Israel's targeting did not affect this presence but impacted its expansion opportunities within the Lebanese environment, ending the possibility for leaders present in Qatar or Turkey to resort to Lebanon due to its weak security sanctuary and Israel's ability to target them."

Dabsi added that "there is a fundamental presence for the movement, whether politically or militarily, inside Palestinian refugee camps, a classic presence that has not changed after the 'Al-Aqsa Flood.' However, there are agreed-upon logistical centers with Hezbollah outside the camps, and there is a presence of some cadres in the southern suburbs or elsewhere."

"The continuous strikes on these leaders since the assassination of al-Arouri confirm that there is no safety for cadres or centers outside the camps," Dabsi said.

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