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Nasrallah’s Test: Will Hezbollah retaliate for the assassination of Samir Kuntar?

THE LEVANT NEWS — By YOSSI MELMAN FOR THE JERUSALEM POST — The big question disturbing Israel after the assassination of Samir Kuntar is whether Hezbollah will respond, and if so, how and on which front. The answer to this question does not solely depend on the Lebanese Shi’ite group, but depends mainly on what Hezbollah’s masters in Tehran decide.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has already said in the past that the group will retaliate to any attempted strike by Israel, and indeed, following the assassination of Jihad Mughniyeh in a Golan Heights attack attributed to Israel several months ago, Hezbollah ambushed the IDF in the Har Dov area and hit an army vehicle, killing two soldiers. Hezbollah also has tended to retaliate when attacked in strikes on Lebanese territory attributed to the Israel Air Force against weapons shipments intended for the organization. However, the organization has also been known to let alleged Israeli strikes slide without retaliation on more than one occasion.

This time as well, Hezbollah announced that Israel is responsible for the assassination of Kuntar. Hezbollah answered
Sunday evening by firing three rockets from Lebanon which landed in open areas in the Galilee. And its rocket men know to be accurate if they want.

The IDF responded to the rockets with artillery shells and said that it holds the Lebanese army solely responsible for its territory.
It seems at the moment that both sides, Hezbollah and Israel, do not want to escalate the tensions.

The belief is that even if Nasrallah and the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, General Qassem Suleimani (who is responsible for operating Hezbollah) decide that they cannot let the attack go unanswered, it is not in their interest to do so on the Israel-Lebanon border, because Israel would respond with great force to such an action.

In the attack attributed to the Israel Air Force – in which missiles were launched at a building in a neighborhood of Damascus – in addition to Kuntar, Farho Sha’alan, his partner in his terror enterprise and additional field commanders were also killed. In the last two years, the pair established a frontline group called the “National Syrian Opposition in the Golan,” backed by Hezbollah, the Quds Force and Bashar Assad’s Syrian Intelligence, and enlisted or attempted to enlist, mostly without success, Druse from the Golan, Palestinians who live in Syria and Syrians loyal to the Assad regime.

The assassination on Saturday night would constitute a major intelligence achievement for Israel. It is not simple to obtain real-time information on the entry into a safe house by terror operatives who know that they are wanted targets for Israel. Israeli intel has already shown in the past that it knows how to obtain exact pinpoint information that has led to other operations in Damascus, the most well-known of which is the assassination of Imad Mugniyeh, the “defense minister” of Hezbollah who was killed by a car bomb in 2008 in an operation attributed to the Mossad and CIA.

It bares noting that despite Samir Kuntar’s terrorist past and his involvement in the murder of Danny Haran and his daughter Einat, as well as two police officers on the beach in Nahariya, the considerations standing before those who carried out the operation were mainly connected to his current involvement in attempts to organize terror attacks on Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights.

In other words, the reason for his assassination is not his past actions, but rather the danger he currently poses and his potential to continue to carry out terror activities against Israel. In addition, Kuntar is considered an important symbol for Hezbollah as was evidenced by the much-attended ceremony in which he was welcomed in Beirut in 2008 after he was released from prison in Israel in a prisoner swap, by his personal audience with Nasrallah and his meeting with then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The goal of establishing a terror infrastructure in the Syrian Golan Heights was to serve as a deterring and retaliatory force against alleged Israel Air Force attacks targeting weapons transfers from Syria to Hezbollah. In this way, Hezbollah asked that Iran act in a way similar to Israel – from Syrian territory in order to not disturb the quiet in Lebanon. In addition, the terror infrastructure was intended to serve as a force that could enable at least a second front against Israel in the event of an escalation on the Lebanese border. This type of activity on the Golan Heights was also intended to help Hezbollah carry out terror activity against Israel without leaving traces that the organization was involved.

No less interesting is the question of whether the missiles were fired from planes which flew near the border, but inside of Israeli territory, or if they penetrated Syrian airspace and got closer to Damascus. If the strike was carried out from within Israeli territory, it suggests that Israel has decided not to risk a conflict with Russia or to avoid the danger that Russian air defense systems and its intelligence apparatus deployed in Syria would uncover the operation. If Israel Air Force jets penetrated Syrian airspace, it suggests that the cooperation with the Russians is much broader and deeper than either side is willing to admit. And perhaps, the fire was carried out with missiles launched from Israel, as some foreign reports suggested, out of fear of entanglements with Russia.

Source: THE JERUSALEM POST

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