While Jerusalem made no formal comment about Saturday’s killing in Syria of Lebanese Druse terrorist Samir Kuntar, various ministers and MKs were not shy Sunday about expressing their satisfaction, without in any way acknowledging any Israeli responsibility.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who often uses the opening of weekly cabinet meetings to comment on hot topics on the national agenda, made no mention Sunday of Kuntar’s killing.
Hezbollah and Syrian state media accused Israel of assassinating the Hezbollah leader in an air strike in Damascus.
The pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspapers Al-Akhbar and As-Safir had pictures of Kuntar on their websites. “How will Hezbollah respond to the assassination of Kuntar and when?” read the headline on As-Safir.
“I am not confirming or denying anything to do with this matter,” Construction Minister Yoav Galant told Israel Radio, adding: “It is good that people like Samir Kuntar will not be part of our world.”
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, however, said on his way to the cabinet meeting that while he usually does not react to “such rumors or reports,” Kuntar was “known to be a very brutal terrorist.”
“He killed a civilian family, including a baby, many years ago and he’s still involved in terrorism,” Steinitz said of the terrorist whose brutal attack in Nahariya in 1979 killed four Israelis, including a four-year old girl. “So if something happened to him, I think that no civilized person can be sorry.”
Kuntar is a “despicable person,” Steinitz said. “It is possible that the Finnish intelligence service acted here, I have no idea, I know only what I see in the media.”
Israel released Kuntar in a deal with Hezbollah in 2008 for the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, IDF reservists who were killed and had their bodies taken in a 2006 cross-border attack that led to the Second Lebanon War.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) told Army Radio that she, like everyone else, first heard of Kuntar’s death in the media.
“Like everyone, I have to say I am happy,” she said. “We are talking about an arch-terrorist who smashed the head of a four-year-old girl against a rock, never repented, and as soon as he was released, returned to terrorism and established a terrorist infrastructure on the [Syrian] Golan Heights. It is good his soul was returned to the Creator.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) posted on Twitter that Kuntar was “a terrorist who did not abandon, for one day, the path of terrorism and murder. The region is safer without him.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said that while “we have no idea who killed him, those who did deserve congratulations from the people of Israel.”
Prof. Eyal Zisser, a leading expert on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post, “The liquidation of Kuntar is a blow to Iran and Hezbollah and also to the Syrian regime that supported his actions, or at least glanced the other way.”
The killing of Kuntar, if indeed Israel was behind it, “has re-drawn a redline – that Israel will not allow terrorist activities from Syrian territory,” he said.
Despite the hardship Hezbollah is going through due to its involvement in the war in Syria, Zisser said the terrorist organization might try to find a way to take revenge against Israel.
“But, it is clear that the current state of affairs leaves the group with no desire or ability to drag the region into escalation,” he added.
MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi), who served as a commander in the Paratroop Brigade in 1979 in the North, welcomed the death of Kuntar.
“With thanks and appreciation to those who worked for the elimination of Kuntar and other terrorist leaders,” Yogev said.
MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), who also is a Middle East expert, told of how during her visit to Lebanon during 2005 and 2006, she saw Kuntar’s picture everywhere.
Israel has formally kept out of Syria’s civil war, which started almost five years ago, but has bombed Hezbollah targets there without publicly acknowledging these sorties.
Hezbollah, which has sent hundreds of fighters to Syria to support President Bashar Assad, said Kuntar was “martyred” in an Israeli raid on the residential district of Jaramana in the Syrian capital.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station reported on its website that the attack completely destroyed the targeted building and caused damage to surrounding structures.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was due to speak on Monday evening as both supporters of the group and Syrian loyalist groups said the death of Kuntar would be avenged and not be in vain.
Yaakov Amidror, the former Israeli national security adviser, predicted Hezbollah would seek to exact “small revenge” for Kuntar’s killing, but said the terrorist group, like Iran, was likely too busy fighting in Syria to afford a new front with Israel.
“It would not be in their interest, and if they did so, they would have a big problem,” Amidror said, alluding to Israel’s threats to respond to any major Hezbollah attack with strikes in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s official media said Kuntar would be buried on Monday in a Shi’ite cemetery in its main stronghold of Dahiya in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
The party opened a condolences hall to receive the public.
“Such acts of the Zionist regime, which have become a consistent method, are the most dangerous forms of state terrorism,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari was quoted as saying by the country’s ILNA news agency.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al Zubi pointed a finger at Israel but fell short of blaming it directly.
“The party that gains most from the assassination of Kuntar is the Zionist enemy whom we have long known for these cowardly attacks,” Zubi told Al-Manar television.
Syrian state media said Kuntar was involved in a major offensive earlier this year in Quneitra, near the border with Israeli on the Golan Heights.
Rebels in southern Syria also claimed he was present in battles this year to defend a Syrian air base near the Druse city of Sweida, near the border with Jordan, that rebels sought to capture.
The Assad loyalist National Defense Forces in Jaramana, a bastion of government support and home to many of Syria’s Druse minority as well as Christians, mourned Kuntar on its Facebook page.
“Two Israeli warplanes carried out the raid which targeted the building in Jaramana and struck the designated place with four long-range missiles,” the NDF said.
Meanwhile, Kuntar’s brother mourned him on his Facebook page on Sunday without giving details about his death.
“With pride we mourn the martyrdom of the leader Samir Kuntar and we are honored to join families of martyrs,” Bassam Kuntar said in his post.
In January, according to foreign media, an Israeli strike in Syria killed six members of Hezbollah, including a commander and the son of the group’s late military leader Imad Mughniyehm near the Golan Heights.