The U.S. has not yet confirmed the death of Hamas leader Saleh Arouri, who remained high on the Rewards for Justice program’s wanted list with a $5 million bounty for several years.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said during a Wednesday press briefing that the U.S. had no heads-up about the strike on Beirut that killed Arouri and that the U.S. had no information about Israel’s involvement in the strike nor to suggest they were responsible for it.
Miller called Arouri “a brutal terrorist with civilian blood on his hands” and dodged a question about whether Israel was right to kill Arouri amid the ongoing war between the Jewish state and the terror organization. He said Hamas officials outside Gaza regularly communicate with leaders across the region, and so he would not comment on the impact that Arouri’s death might have on future hostage negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had threatened to kill Arouri since before the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack from Gaza into southern Israel that sparked the ongoing conflict. The U.S. had marked Arouri as a “specially designated global terrorist” and offered a $5 million reward for information on him. The Rewards for Justice website was not updated to note Arouri’s death as of Thursday morning.
Miller noted that Hezbollah has launched strikes across the border into northern Israel from southern Lebanon, to which the U.S. responded with stern warnings that the conflict should not expand and that “it is not in Hezbollah’s interest … to escalate this conflict in any way.”
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the U.S. has yet to confirm Arouri’s death and there’s no indication so far that Israel was responsible for, or involved in, Tuesday’s deadly attack in the Lebanese capital.
Kirby said “nobody should be shedding a tear” over Arouri’s death if he is indeed confirmed dead. He also said the U.S. was not involved in the Beirut strike.
The value of killing Arouri would prove a “great thing” for the United States if confirmed, according to Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former National Security Council official.
Hamas announced that Arouri, a founding commander of the group’s military wing, died Tuesday after a strike on Beirut in which Israeli officials insist they had no involvement. Hezbollah-linked news outlets initially reported on his death in the suburb of Dahiyeh.
“Frankly, if I were the White House, I’d be putting out a congratulatory statement, not trying to distance myself and saying that the White House never tried to encourage this,” Goldberg told Fox News Digital.
“These are the kinds of targeted strikes that help Israel restore its deterrence in the region, and I think we’re going to see more of these,” Goldberg said. “I think the message that Israel is sending here is that if there’s a Hamas operative living in Qatar, in Turkey, in Lebanon or elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, they’re not safe. Their days are numbered.”
“What we need to be doing here in the United States is … looking at all of the Hamas networks in the United States, its financial networks, its supporters that are providing material support and crack down on those,” Goldberg said.
“We need to see the Justice Department, the Treasury Department, step back in to disrupt those financing and political networks the same way it did 20 years ago when it went after the Holy Land Foundation,” he said.
The U.S. has used Rewards for Justice to mark high-profile terrorism targets, usually offering $5 million for its more valuable targets but double that for the most important targets. The program most recently offered a reward of $10 million for information on five people identified as key financiers of Hamas.
The lack of confirmation or accreditation from either the U.S. or Israel likely aims to prevent escalation, according to Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“I think the answer to the question lies in the longstanding American effort to prevent the widening of the current conflict into Lebanon,” Schanzer told Fox News Digital. “Much of what America has done up until now could be described as a broader effort to contain a multi-front conflict.”
“In other words, the Israelis, or we presume it was the Israelis, struck Arouri in the heart of Beirut, [which] was, I think, viewed with hostility by Hezbollah,” he said. “They see Beirut as their territory.”
“I think Hezbollah is considering a very harsh response,” Schanzer said. “At some point, they are likely to hit back at Israel. The United States would be very concerned about watching a spillover of the Gaza war now onto Israel’s northern border.”
Schanzer argued that if Israel was behind the strike it would indicate the country’s willingness to take “greater risks” to eliminate top Hamas leadership, who live in countries across the Middle East, including U.S. allies Qatar and Turkey.
“These are all jurisdictions of significant Hamas presence, and I would expect there to be more of this moving forward,” Schanzer said. “I think it’s part of a broader objective of truly eradicating Hamas on a global scale, so, in other words, there’s the Gaza front and then there is the international front.”
Reuters contributed to this report.