Israeli Military: Israel-Hezbollah Tension After Samir Kuntar Hit Appears Over

Defense establishment believes that despite failed Har Dov attack, Hezbollah seems to be willing to mark incident as a success - allowing it to return to its main issues: keeping its standing in Lebanon and aiding Assad.

Peacekeeping forces near the Israel-Lebanon border, January 5, 2016.
AP

More than 24 hours after the explosive device set by Hezbollah exploded on Har Dov, Israel’s security establishment believes the current round of blows has ended between the Lebanese organization and the Israel Defense Forces. Security sources told Haaretz on Tuesday that according to Hezbollah’s response to the incident and various signs on the ground, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah seems to be making do with this response to the assassination of Samir Kuntar, which Hezbollah attributes to Israel, and will not be maintaining the tension for much longer.

Nevertheless, IDF forces on the Lebanese border and the Golan Heights will remain on high alert for now, to thwart further possible attacks, if it turns out that the intelligence analysis of Hezbollah’s intentions is mistaken.

Hezbollah’s media outlets in Lebanon released photos Tuesday of the area of the incident on Har Dov. Taken from some distance away on the Lebanese side of the border, the photos show the scene of the explosion, a damaged bulldozer and a nearby IDF outpost. Hezbollah media outlets extolled the achievement of its fighters, who crossed the border into Israel and set the explosive device in thick fog and despite the IDF’s declared high alert. Some of the reports from Lebanon even claimed that soldiers were injured and that Israel was concealing this fact.

The IDF spokesman said no soldiers had been injured in the attack. The initial probe, held by the Northern Command, shows that the unit had been closely following safety regulations as it patroled a road where it was feared that explosive devices had been laid, and that in so doing had saved lives. After the explosion, the IDF responded with limited artillery fire at targets associated with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Security officials believe that Hezbollah’s major coverage of the incident shows that it is “closing out the round.” Samir Kuntar’s brother said Monday that Hezbollah had “checked off an open account” with Israel following the assassination.

After the December 20 assassination, Nasrallah appeared in public three times, threatening revenge against Israel at each appearance. The threats, whose harshness came as somewhat of a surprise to Israel, were explained as stemming from the symbolism Nasrallah associates with Kuntar as a man who owes Nasrallah his freedom.

Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze, was convicted in 1979 of the Haran family murders in Nahariya. He was released from Israeli prison in 2008 in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah following the abduction of the bodies of two IDF reserve soldiers during the Second Lebanon War.

Israel believes that despite the failure of the attack, which caused no injuries, Hezbollah is marketing it as a success and will now go back to its main issues – preserving its standing in Lebanon and the assistance it offers the Assad regime in Syria on orders from Iran. Hezbollah will put this round behind it for fear of clashing with the IDF, also in light of losses it has suffered during the fighting in the Syrian civil war – about a quarter of its fighters.

The Kuntar affair and Hezbollah’s response were perceived in the Arab world as a relatively marginal matter compared to the major crisis between Iran and the Sunni countries, which comes in the wake of the execution of the Shi’ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by the Saudis.