IDF kills top Hamas man in Lebanon; US said to promise Israel full support if war erupts

Army says operative Ayman Ghatma procured arms for terror group and an allied Lebanese faction; officials reportedly vow backing in Washington talks with Israeli counterparts

A vehicle allegedly hit by the IDF in an airstrike that killed top Hamas and al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya operative Ayman Ghatma, near the Lebanese town of Khiara, June 22, 2024. (Video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A vehicle allegedly hit by the IDF in an airstrike that killed top Hamas and al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya operative Ayman Ghatma, near the Lebanese town of Khiara, June 22, 2024. (Video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israel said Saturday it had killed a top Hamas operative in Lebanon, as global fears of a war in Lebanon mounted.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that in meetings with Israeli officials in recent days, senior US officials said Washington would fully support Israel in case of a full-blown war.

The military said it struck a vehicle near the town of Khiara in Lebanon’s West Beqaa District, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the two countries’ border, Lebanese media reported.

The Israel Defense Forces later published footage from the attack, saying it had targeted Ayman Ghatma. Ghatma was killed in the attack, the army said. It said he was responsible for supplying weapons to Hamas in Lebanon as well as to the al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya terror group.

The army said the drone strike was carried out over Ghatma’s involvement in advancing attacks against Israel.

The attack came as Israel braces for large-scale conflict with Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group. The Iran-backed militia began striking Israel’s northern communities a day after October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people and take over 250 hostages. Hezbollah says it is attacking Israel to support Hamas during the ongoing war in Gaza.

The Jama’a, like Hamas, is a Sunni faction that forms part of the broader Muslim Brotherhood political network. The armed wing of Jama’a, the al-Fajr Forces, has repeatedly targeted Israel from Lebanon in the current war, often working in conjunction with the Shiite Hezbollah.

Iran-backed Hezbollah has in recent months escalated the ongoing violence with Israel in response to IDF airstrikes on top operatives, including those associated with Jama’a.

Tensions between Hezbollah and Israel have recently reached a fever pitch, after an Israeli airstrike targeted Taleb Abdullah, the terror group’s commander for the central region of the southern border strip and its most senior commander killed in the current war.

Explosive-laden drones launched by Hezbollah have in the past two weeks caused fires that ravaged northern Israel, which has been largely evacuated of residents since October 7. The group also recently announced that one of its surveillance drones had successfully mapped out some strategic assets in northern Israel, including the Haifa port and Iron Dome batteries.

Amos Hochstein, United States President Joe Biden’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, has led efforts to get Hezbollah to retreat north of the Litani River, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Lebanon’s border with Israel. The United Nations resolution that ended 2006’s Second Lebanon War mandated that Hezbollah not be active beyond that line, but has been flouted by the group for years.

Hochstein, who brokered a 2020 maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon, met with Israeli and Lebanese officials over the past week as part of the effort, and reportedly warned Beirut that the US would support an Israeli attack if Hezbollah is not reined in.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, meets with US envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut, Lebanon, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

US officials have expressed concern that Israel’s missile defense systems would be overwhelmed in the event of an all-out war with Hezbollah, which is significantly better armed than Hamas, CNN reported on Thursday. Three US officials told CNN that their Israeli counterparts share their concerns.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior aides, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hangebi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top officials this week to discuss the potential for war in Lebanon.

According to CNN American officials promised Israel would get the full military assistance it needs for war against Hezbollah if it erupts, while noting no US troops would be deployed on the ground.

(Left to right) Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi at the State Department in Washington on March 7, 2023. (Antony Blinken/Twitter)

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 15 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have been displaced from their homes for over eight months.

Hezbollah has named 349 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 63 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

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