Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave no less than three speeches in the last week in which he vowed to avenge the death of Samir Kuntar.
On Monday afternoon he tried to follow through on the promise and, fortunately, he did not have much success. Hezbollah can tell its supporters that it avenged the death of Samir Kuntar and embellish the lie published in the Lebanese media that the attack's target was a senior IDF officer or Mossad operative. Israel could have retaliated to the attack with great force by deploying the air force, but made due with a minimal response.
The incident reflects the new reality on the northern border. The Syrian civil war, in which Hezbollah is involved up to its neck and has already lost about a quarter of its military force, has neutralized the Shi'ite-Lebanese organization's ability to act against Israel. Almost ten years have passed since the Second Lebanon War, and Israel's deterrence is still holding. Hezbollah does not want to find itself in a conflict with Israel on the border, forced to open up a second front in addition to its ongoing role in the Syrian conflict.
However, if Hezbollah acts in accordance with its image, the group cannot let slide the series of hits it has taken at the hands of Israel in recent years. According to reports, Israel has opened up a second front against Hezbollah in Syria. On at least ten occasions in the last three years, the air force has attacked convoys carrying long-range missiles and air defense batteries from Syria to Hezbollah.
With Iranian backing, the Shi'ite group has attempted to respond to the attacks by building an infrastructure in the Syrian Golan from which it can launch reprisal operations against Israel while maintaining deniability. Israel reportedly struck and killed the leaders of this operation - Jihad Mughniyeh, Samir Kuntar and their Iranian consultants.
Despite its stockpile of rockets and missiles - some 100,000 - because of the blood it is spilling in Syria, Hezbollah is a weakened organization on the defensive and its ability to retaliate against Israel is limited. Its responses come in the form of attempts to fire rockets or place explosive devices on Israel's border from Syria or to carry out operations against Israel in the Har Dov area, near the Lebanese border.
Israel has responded to every attempted Hezbollah attack. The responses are measured and are mainly intended to send a message to Hezbollah and to the public in Israel. At this point, neither side wants to be dragged into an escalation that spirals out of control.
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