In the aftermath of the Hamas assault on October 7, the single deadliest day for the Jewish people collectively since the Holocaust, Israel’s security apparatus was faced with a multitude of challenges, chief among them being how to properly respond to the massacre and retrieve hostages from Gaza. One thing, however, was clear: Israel would never again allow an enemy to conduct a similar attack on its soil, returning to a previously dormant policy of targeted elimination as a means of bringing the perpetrators and enablers of that massacre to justice. This change in policy marks a radical shift in the Jewish State’s security posture that will help deter acts of mass terrorism in the future.
In late October, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the creation of a new, special unit of security and intelligence agents named Nili, an acronym in Hebrew for “The Eternity of Israel Will Not Lie,” dedicated to hunting down and eliminating those who played a role in the deadly attack. While Israel has a storied history of exacting revenge against its enemies around the world, exemplified by Operation Wrath of God after the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, the last decade has seen a marked decline in such activities as Israel shifted to a control-and contain-model vis-a-vis Hamas. However, October 7 laid bare the clear and present danger posed by the terror group, and Israel has now shifted to a more active, public, and purposeful position of removing the organization’s operatives and leaders wherever they reside.
Saleh al-Arouri was a senior leader of Hamas and a founding commander of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. He was most recently active in Lebanon, strengthening the operational and political connections between Hamas and Hezbollah until he was killed alongside six other alleged members of the terror group by an Israeli airstrike inside the country. Tellingly, al-Arouri’s death occurred not in Gaza or the West Bank, but rather the Dahieh neighborhood of Beirut, known generally as a stronghold for Hezbollah. The decision to kill al-Arouri on foreign soil by means of a very public airstrike (as opposed to using special forces) risked escalating tensions between Israel and Hezbollah. This suggests that Israel—a nation famous for conducting its counterterrorism operations in the shadows—was intent on both sending a message that Hamas’ leaders are not safe abroad and demonstrating Israel’s commitment to dismantling the terrorist group both in Gaza and abroad.
Hamas is a unique organization divided between its military wing, which is mostly centralized within Gaza with small cells in countries including Lebanon and Syria, while its political arm directs operations remotely, ostensibly to avoid the wrath of Israel’s military. Hamas leadership, including its chairman Ismail Haniyeh and former head of the military arm and now political leader Khaled Meshal, have for years resided in Qatar—a U.S.-allied country that has consistently harbored and supported the terror group. They have, ostensibly, been untouchable, particularly Meshal, who in 1997 was the target of a botched Mossad assassination in Jordan ordered by Netanyahu. In a 2008 interview, Mashal even referenced the attempt on his life, saying “I will die when God decides, not when Mossad decides.” Given recent events, and particularly following the turning point of October 7, it appears Mashal’s declaration may be put to the test.
More recently, on January 30, 2024, Israeli security forces conducted an undercover raid in a hospital in Jenin—a Palestinian Authority-controlled area of the West Bank—killing Muhammad Jalamneh and two brothers, Muhammad and Basel Ghazawi, all members of Hamas. According to media reports, Israeli forces entered the medical center dressed as doctors, nurses and even Palestinian women, headed to a room on the third floor, and shot the individuals dead with silenced weapons before leaving the building without facing resistance. According to Israel, the three terrorists were allegedly planning an attack similar to October 7 within the Israeli-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria. While the descriptions of the raid conjure up images from the popular Israeli television show Fauda, the raid further illustrates Israel’s seemingly renewed aggression toward eliminating those plotting acts of terrorism.
The formation of the secret Nili unit, alongside public declarations by Israel’s top leadership, all point to the re-establishment of a more active policy of targeted eliminations by Israel in the wake of the deadly Hamas massacre, what may be called the “October 7” doctrine. The eliminations of al-Arouri and more recently the cell in Jenin alongside the systemic hunting down of Hamas’ Nukhba forces in Gaza, all lend credence to the active nature of the October 7 doctrine, and are emblematic of Israel’s commitment to continue engaging and eliminating its enemies at a time and place of its choosing.