The assassination of Samir Kuntar on December 20, 2015, marks a further stage in Israel’s struggle, so far successful, against Iran’s attempts to turn the Golan Heights into an active anti-Israeli front. From Israel’s standpoint in general, and that of the families of victims of Palestinian terror in particular, this strike constitutes the closing of a circle. In April 1979, Kuntar took part in a Palestine Liberation Front terror attack in Nahariya that killed four Israelis. Several Hizbullah fighters and Iranians were also killed in Sunday’s strike.
Kuntar, immediately upon being freed in 2008, was welcomed with open arms by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative in Lebanon, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Working in accordance with Tehran’s instructions and receiving assistance from Hizbullah, he began building a network of terror operatives for attacks against Israel in the Golan area. 1In September 2015 the U.S. State Department designated Kuntar as a terror operative2 and called him “one of the group’s [Hizbullah’s] most visible and popular spokesmen.” Kuntar’s partner in planning the attacks against Israel from the Golan and the Har Dov area, Jihad Mughniyeh, was killed in an Israeli air force raid in January 2015 in the Kuneitra area.
Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, announced that Kuntar, “known in Lebanon as ‘Dean of the liberated detainees,’ was killed in an Israeli airstrike on a residential building in Jaramana.” Tasnim also reported that Kuntar’s brother had confirmed his death on his Twitter account3 and had said the family “was honored to join families of martyrs.”4
Samir Kuntar’s assassination in Jaramana, which is in the southeastern part of the Damascus governorate, occurred very close to the Shiite pilgrimage site of Set Zaynab (the daughter of the Shiite Imam Ali and granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad). Dozens of Hizbullah, Revolutionary Guard, and Basij (the volunteer arm of the Revolutionary Guard) fighters, as well as Shiites brought by Iran to Syria to protect the site along with Bashar Assad’s regime, have already been killed in defending Set Zayna.
The operation also occurred at a time when the Russian air force, air forces of the Western anti-Islamic State coalition, and Iranian forces have been active in the vicinity. It indicates a high level of coordination and understandings between Israel and Russia both regarding flight zones and attack targets in the Syrian-Lebanese theater, aimed at preventing any possibility of a clash between them. This sensitivity has increased since Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane.
Iran will likely respond to Kuntar’s assassination within the limits of its capabilities in the Lebanese-Hizbullah theater and not spill over to Syria. This is in keeping with Russia’s dictates and desire to keep the Syrian president in power at a sensitive time when negotiations on a solution to the Syrian crisis, presided over by Russia with American consent, are being conducted. At the same time, the fact that Kuntar was killed near one of the Shiite shrines while Iranians were also killed, and will keep being killed in its defense, may lead Iran, via Hizbullah, to carry out a “proportionate” retaliation in the Golan area, Kuntar’s last stomping ground.
Al-Alam, the Iranian Arabic-language news channel that broadcasts to a target audience in the Arab world, has already offered an overview of Samir Kuntar’s activity in the anti-Israeli struggle, period of imprisonment, and release. In one form or another, Iran’s support for the terror organizations operating against Israel will continue, and Kuntar’s family will join the families of shahids that receive support from Tehran.5 For his efforts against Israel, Kuntar was given the honor of meeting with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
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