The Syrian vortex has made strange bedfellows over the past year. The rise of the Islamic State had the effect of briefly putting everyone else on the same team, a federation of American fighter pilots, Hizbullah commandos, Syrian Army rank-and-file, and Iranian military strategists. Israel contributed the odd play, but mostly communicated its support for Team World in the language of press conferences and interviews with ex-Mossad chiefs. Some even wondered whether a more enduring geopolitical realignment was underway…
This was the backdrop to Israel’s puzzling strike in the Golan yesterday, which killed six members of Hizbullah and several Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Among the dead were Jihad Mughniyeh (son of the assassinated Hizbullah kingpin, Imad Mughniyeh), whose pictures with Hassan Nasrallah, Qassem Soleimani, Naim Qassem, and other top brass are all over the Internet. More importantly, the casualties included Mohammed Issa, whom some outlets have identified as Hizbullah’s commander of field operations in Syria.
As expected, Hizbullah has vowed to retaliate. These threats have been empty, of late; however, I think this operation will compel the party to act. For one thing, the recent revelation that Hizbullah’s overseas operations were thwarted by an Israeli mole has made the party look unusually vulnerable and distracted by the Syrian conflagration. Optics may be a minor concern for a party that thinks like a state, but there are strategic implications to consider as well.
For one thing, when was the last time that an Iranian general was killed by an Israeli missile?
The game of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” was bound to be short-lived. Still, I find this escalation to be very puzzling. I can think of two ways to interpret the strike:
- Israel either knew exactly who it was targeting, and is now changing the rules of the game in Syria (and potentially beyond Syria).
- Israel was moving to protect one of its spying devices and ended up squashing a more high-profile target than it had intended.
Neither argument is entirely convincing. Thoughts?
Update: Apparently Jabat al-Nusra is claiming that it was responsible for the above operation, and not Israel. That would certainly make more sense, but it doesn’t explain why Israel took credit for the operation. According to Al-Monitor, Israel and Jabhat al-Nusra have been coordinating operations in the Quneitra area since last fall, but I haven’t seen reports of this anywhere else.
Update: Apparently, the hashtag “#جهزوا_ملاجئكم” (#PrepareYourShelters) has been trending on Twitter since yesterday. Hizbullah’s TV station, al-Manar, mocked up a graphic of the hashtag in Arabic and Hebrew.