Israeli media is reporting that an IAF strike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights border killed several pro-Assad fighters today. One of them is believed to be Samir Kuntar. Many are hoping that it is.
The 53 year-old Kuntar killed a four-year girl with the butt of his rife and shot her father to death on an Israeli beach in 1979. He was held in Israeli prisons for 29 years and was released in 2008 in exchange for the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed and captured by Hezbollah. Kuntar, from a Druze family, was celebrated in his native Lebanon and throughout the Arab world as a hero of the resistance to the “occupation.” Al Jazeera threw a birthday party for him in 2008. Hezbollah gave him a job.
Kuntar was responsible for recruiting Druze from Syrian villages on the Golan to partake in Hezbollah operations on the Israeli border. Kuntar is believed to be responsible for inciting a gang of Israeli Druze to attack an IDF ambulance and lynch the two wounded Syrians the vehicle was carrying. More generally, Kuntar seems to have been tapped to lead Hezbollah Syria, the Party of God’s sister outfit, a post that was once filled by Jihad Mughniyeh, before he was killed by an Israeli strike in January.
The Golan is key strategic ground that Israel is loath to see Iran and its allies turn into a second front from where it can launch missile and rocket attacks. Accordingly, Israel has been coordinating with various Syrian rebel units in order to keep the Iranians and Hezbollah off the Golan. This morning’s strike is likely the product of intelligence provided by Syrian rebels.
It’s not yet clear how the Obama administration will react to today’s news. Surely there are no Samir Kuntar fans in the White House, and yet Kuntar was a significant part of Iran’s regional security architecture. The Iranians therefore are not going to be happy, and they may cause problems for the administration.
John Kerry says that the White House can and will push back against Iran, but that’s delusional. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is structured so that Iran pushes the buttons and controls the levers—if they don’t like what the White House is doing, or isn’t doing, they can threaten to cheat on the deal, or trash the agreement entirely. The White House is heavily invested in making sure the regime in Tehran is pleased with the new arrangements. What will the White House think about Israel bumping off Iranian assets?