An Israel Air Force helicopter gunship fired at least two missiles into the Syrian border town of Quneitra on Sunday, killing a top Hezbollah commander and a number of his deputies and advisors, some possibly Iranian.
Hezbollah officials were incensed and vowed that a harsh response would be forthcoming. This was curious, since just days earlier Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah claimed that his militia had not deployed any forces to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
“If Hezbollah say their people were hurt in the targeted killing, let them explain what they were doing in Syria,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Israel Radio, though he avoided directly claiming responsibility for the strike.
At any rate, Israeli and Western intelligence confirmed that the slain commander, Jihad Mughniyeh, son of assassinated Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, had led a large and powerful Hezbollah cell that was planning attacks against northern Israel.
Lebanese media quoted Hezbollah officials as calling the younger Mughniyeh’s death “an unbearable blow,” and threatening revenge against the Jewish state.
Hezbollah “will launch between 4,000–5,000 rockets at Israel and will destroy hundreds of targets per day,” read Monday’s editorial in a Lebanese newspaper affiliated with the group. Hezbollah is estimated to have a stockpile of well over 50,000 missiles.
“The weapons at Hezbollah’s disposal are there to be used, and not to be stored,” the editorial concluded.
A Hezbollah official speaking to another Lebanese newspaper insisted a military response to the Israeli strike was “inevitable,” but insisted the group must carefully weight its options and “not act out of emotion.”
Experts here believe Hezbollah will not launch any major military attack as they fear any serious Israeli reprisal would jeopardize the Lebanese group’s efforts to aid the beleaguered regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.