Hezbollah kept mum Monday on how and when it would retaliate over an Israeli raid that killed six of its fighters and an Iranian general in Syria’s Golan Heights, in a move apparently designed to keep the Israelis guessing and at bay.
Meanwhile, thousands of Hezbollah’s supporters streamed to the streets of Beirut’s southern suburbs to mourn the son of slain military commander Imad Mughniyeh who was killed in the Israeli airstrike.
In similar events in the past, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah would address his supporters through a televised speech to outline the party’s response to any deadly Israeli attack targeting its fighters, but by Monday evening he had still not appeared.
Nasrallah’s no-show gave rise to speculation that Hezbollah would prefer to first avenge the killing of its fighters before speaking on the implications of the raid, viewed as a major military escalation in the decadeslong struggle between the powerful Shiite party and the Jewish state.
The Israeli raid ratcheted up tensions with Hezbollah, which recently boasted of rockets that could strike any part of the Jewish state, and threatened to spark a new confrontation between the two sides which fought a devastating 33-day war in the summer of 2006.
A number of Hezbollah officials contacted by The Daily Star refused to comment either on the Israeli raid or the party’s possible retaliation.
But Mahmoud Qomati, a member of Hezbollah’s political bureau, said in a TV interview the party would respond to the Israeli attack in “the right place and at the right time.”
A former minister said he expected Hezbollah’s retaliation against Israel to be limited to avert a major military conflagration in the region. He also said any retaliation decision to be taken by Hezbollah would have to be coordinated with Iran.
Any Hezbollah response to the Israeli raid would be “constrained and calculated” in order to forestall a major military flare-up in the region, the former minister said.
Speaker Nabih Berri telephoned Nasrallah to offer his condolences for the killing of the Hezbollah fighters.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk described the Israeli raid as “a major incident that reflected magnitude of complication in the region.”
“This complication will increase as a result of this operation and the nature of martyrs who fell,” Machnouk said after meeting with Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea at the latter’s residence in Maarab, north of Beirut. “But we are doing our job to preserve the country’s safety in the hope of reaching the desired solution.”
Jihad Mughniyeh, 25, was one of six Hezbollah fighters killed Sunday when an Israeli helicopter attacked a Hezbollah convoy in the Syrian town of Qunaitra. At least one Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander was also killed in the raid.
A Lebanese security source told The Daily Star that two Syrian fighters affiliated with Hezbollah were also killed.
Amid chants of “Death to Israel” and calls for revenge, thousands of Hezbollah’s supporters poured onto the streets of Beirut’s southern suburbs to mourn Mughniyeh. With women throwing rose petals from balconies, the black-clad mourners raised their fists into the air, chanting religious slogans as the Hezbollah flag-draped coffin of Mughniyeh was carried shoulder high toward the Rawdat al-Shahidayn cemetery in the Ghobeiri district, where he was laid to rest in a tomb next to his slain father’s.
Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s top military commander who was on the U.S. most-wanted list for the attacks on Israeli and Western targets, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus in 2008 which the party blamed Israel.
Funerals for the other five victims of Sunday’s attack are planned in south Lebanon Tuesday.
Iran denounced the Israeli airstrike and confirmed that a Revolutionary Guard general was killed in the raid.
A statement by the Iranian Foreign Ministry did not mention reports that a top Iranian field commander was also killed in the attack.
But Sepah News, the official website for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, confirmed that Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was killed in a “Zionist helicopter attack while he was inspecting the Qunaitra region.”
The Sepah report said Dadi had previously served as a commander in Iran’s central Yazd Province.
“The terrorist act indicates that the Syria war is a part of the confrontation with the Zionist regime [Israel],” the Foreign Ministry’s statement said, praising Hezbollah for its firm stance to continue “on the path of jihad and martyrdom against occupation and foreign interference in the affairs of other nations.”
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Iranian parliamentary committee for national security and foreign policy, said Hezbollah’s retaliation to “the Zionist air attack in Qunaitra will be severe.”
In a letter to Nasrallah offering his condolences over the death of six Hezbollah fighters, he said: “These heinous crimes, which are repeated by the Zionist entity, are aimed at weakening the resistance axis in confronting terrorism and occupation in the region.”
Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army and U.N. peacekeepers intensified their patrols along the Blue Line on the border with Israel amid heightened tensions in the region caused by the Israeli raid.
Security sources told The Daily Star that the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, backing Lebanese soldiers, has been closely monitoring movements on both sides of the volatile border with night goggles and binoculars.
UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said the situation along the Blue Line was calm and under control, adding that the peacekeepers did not take any extraordinary measures. He said he did not see any signal for any escalation or military reinforcements in the region that falls under UNIFIL supervision and control. – Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari
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