Sunday, January 18, 2015

18-Jan-15: Meanwhile on Israel's Syria front

It's too soon to know what is actually happening in southern Syria tonight. The Hezbollah-affiliated media are busy spinning their own reality while Israel, as usually happens in such situations, remains officially non-committal, with the media doing plenty of speculating and un-named insiders connecting dots in creative ways.

Lebanon's Daily Star reported during the Sunday evening hours that a military strike by Israeli forces in the general area of Quneitra in the Golan Heights scored a hit on two Hezbollah vehicles, destroying one, damaging another. Using the Lebanese paper's language, "a number of mujahedeens were martyred"; only some of the names have been publicized, adding to the confusion of what happened.

Quneitra has been the site of heavy fighting between forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime on one side, and forces connected to Al-Qaeda on the other. The Daily Star article does not say it, but the battle raging in the vicinity is over control of  a border crossing nearby which connects Syria to Lebanon, and therefore has real strategic value. Lebanese sources, not named by Daily Star, say Hezbollah's "top commander" Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the late Imad Mughniyeh is one of the dead. The older Mughniyeh's name is invoked frequently whenever Hezbollah announces plans for a 'revenge attack' or acknowledges having just done one. Imad Mughniyeh died as he walked past an exploding car in Damascus, Syria, in 2008. A Reuters obituary ascribes a long list of blood-soaked atrocities to him.

The son, evidently killed today, was mentioned in news reports just four months ago that said he had become Hezbollah’s Golan District commander. The same source said Jihad Mughniyeh was "close to current Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, his father’s brother-in-law and successor Mustafa Badreddine and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps". AP estimates he was about 25 years old.

Another of the dead is Mohammad Issa, a senior field commander for Hezbollah, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Issa. He was the commander responsible for Hezbollah's Syrian and Iraqi operations, according to this report.

Then the startling revelation that another of the dead is "Iranian field commander Abu Ali Tabtabai", about whom we will probably be hearing soon. Other names: Mahdi Nasser al-Moussawi, Ali Fouad Hasan, Ghazi Ali Dawi, Hussein Hasan Hasan and Hussein Ismail al-Ashhab. What were those 'mujahedeen' doing there? Busy with "an inspection mission", says the Lebanese paper. 

Ynet quotes an unnamed Israeli official confirming today's attack which "targeted terrorists planning attacks against Israel." That's about the extent of Israeli comment tonight.

The Hezbollah media arm, Al-Manar, led its evening news bulletin with a item that calls the Israeli strike "a foolish venture" that reflects Israel's "madness" in light of Hezbollah's growing military might and that could lead to a costly adventure that puts the entire Middle Eat region in jeopardy."

The head of Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, is said to be about to deliver a speech tonight threatening Israel with retaliation via "a painful strike". His last round of warnings to Israel came just a few days ago, when he said Hizbullah
"has had Iranian Fateh-110 missiles that can hit the whole of Israel since 2006, adding that it is always ready to fight Israel."
A different source quoted Nasrallah just two days ago:
"The axis is capable of responding. This can happen any time... [Hezbollah has] "all (the weapons) you can imagine... and in great quantities... We are now stronger than we ever were as a resistance movement."
Iran, the nuclear face-off with the Americans: Syria, Hezbollah: commentators are going to have plenty of scope for unraveling the complexities in the hours and days ahead.

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