January 18, 2015
Beirut - Two key commanders from Lebanon's Hezbollah were killed during an Israeli helicopter strike in Syria, Hezbollah said, raising the possibility that reprisal attacks could follow.
Jihad Moughniyah, the son of Hezbollah's late military leader Imad Moughniyah, was killed when the Israeli strike hit a Hezbollah convoy also carrying commander Mohamad Issa, known as Abu Issa. The strike occurred near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in the province of Quneitra, killing a total of six Hezbollah members.
The strike comes just days after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said frequent Israeli strikes in Syria were a major aggression and that the group, now strong, had a right to respond to the attacks.
Backed by Iran, the Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006 and has been fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria's four-year war.
Several members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards were also reported killed in the attack, according to the semi-official Tabnak news site State-run television said it could not confirm the identity of the "martyrs".
"The enemy has gone crazy because of Hezbollah's growing capabilities and it could lead to a costly adventure that will put the Middle East at stake," the Hezbollah-run al-Manar news channel said of the Israeli attack.
An Israeli security source confirmed to Reuters that the Israeli military had carried out the attack but did not offer any further comment.
What role Jihad Moughniyah was playing in the fighting in Syria was not immediately clear. In 2008, Hezbollah accused Israel of assassinating his father, Imad Moughniyah, who had been implicated in major attacks on Israeli and Western targets. He was also wanted by the United States. Israel has denied any involvement in that killing.
"Killing the son of Moughniyah is dangerous. I do not think that the group can be quiet now, now that the father and the son are killed. I expect that it will do something,” said Nabil Boumonsef, a columnist at Lebanon's newspaper an-Nahar. He believes the Israeli strike was a direct response to Nasrallah's speech.
Local sources said U.N. peacekeepers intensified their patrols on the border between Lebanon and Israel on Sunday night.
Imad Moughniyah, who son was in his 20s, was linked to the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine and French peacekeeping barracks in Beirut, as well as the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.
He was indicted by the United States for his role in planning and participating in the hijacking of a U.S. TWA airliner and the killing of an American passenger on June 14, 1985.
He was killed in a car bombing in Damascus in 2008 and his son, Jihad Moughniyah, first appeared in public a week after his father's death to pledge loyalty to Nasrallah.
"We are with you and we will go wherever you go. We will never leave the battlefield and we will never drop our guns, we answer for you Nasrallah," Jihad, then aged 16, proclaimed in front of thousands of mourners while wearing Hezbollah's military uniform.
Quneitra has been an area of heavy fighting between forces loyal to Assad and rebels including fighters linked to al Qaeda. According to Syrian state television, six people were killed in the attack and a child was wounded.
Since the start of the war, Israel has struck Syria several times, mostly destroying weaponry including missiles that Israeli officials said were destined for Hezbollah.
Last month, Syria said that Israeli jets had bombed areas near Damascus international airport and near the border with Lebanon.
"The frequent attacks on different sites in Syria is a major breach. We consider (those) hostilities (to be) against all the resistance axis," Nasrallah said on Thursday. "(Retaliation) is an open issue," he added.
Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and some Palestinian factions regard themselves as an "axis of resistance" against Israel.