Israeli Air Force kills notorious Hezbollah commander in Syria

The Israeli Air Force reportedly carried out an airstrike in Syria that killed Samir Quntar, a notorious Hezbollah member, and nine others on Dec. 19. Quntar was likely a mid-level Hezbollah operative directing some of the group’s operations in southern Syria. He achieved notoriety for carrying out an attack in Israel’s northern city of Nahariya in 1979, during which he murdered an Israeli father and his four-year-old child, subsequently becoming a symbol within Hezbollah.

According to reports of sources close to Hezbollah, two Israeli F-15I strike fighters took off from Hatzerim Airbase in the Negev and headed north. When they reached the Sea of Galilee, the Israeli pilots fired four SPICE 2000 smart bombs and struck the building outside of Damascus in which Quntar was located. The smart bombs traveled approximately 56 miles before striking Quntar and his Hezbollah contingent. Syrian military radar did not pick up the entry of the SPICE bombs until they were nine miles away from their target in Jarmana.

According to reports, the Israeli jets never crossed over the 1974 Israeli-Syrian ceasefire lines. Syrian Army observatories noticed them flying over the Sea of Galilee before releasing their ordnance, all the while within Israeli territory.

Reports indicate that Quntar had been living in that building for the past year and that he had arrived at the apartment early that Dec. 19 morning, spending 12 hours there before the Israeli missiles struck. The apartment in which he was killed by the Israeli strike was is said to have served as Quntar’s operations room. Among the others killed in the attack were two individuals identified as either Mohammad or Tayseer Na’so, a commander and companion of Quntar, and Farhan Al-Shaalan, the commander of the Syrian Resistance to Liberate the Golan established by Hezbollah approximately two years ago.

Both Israel and the Assad regime in Damascus have remained silent on the operation, leaving statements made by pro-Hezbollah media as the only source of information on the strike. However, Free Syrian Army elements calling themselves the “Knights of the Houran Brigade” tried to claim responsibility for killing Quntar. This claim that was vehemently denied by Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in his speech on Dec. 21.

The reason for Israel’s assassination of Quntar on Sunday remain elusive. However, some have claimed that the assassination was meant to disrupt future attacks being planned by Quntar, and not as a revenge killing for the 1979 terrorist attack in Nahariya which earned him infamy in Israel.

Over the past few years, Quntar has been reportedly working to establish a pro-Hezbollah fighting force in the Golan Heights, though some sources claim that his activities were neither sponsored nor planned by Hezbollah, but by its Iranian patrons. These sources claim that Quntar had, to some extent, retired from Hezbollah and became a hired hand for the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Gurds Corps – Qods Force, trying to establish a terror infrastructure in the Syrian Golan. The focus of his activities was namely in the Druze town of Al-Hader, the last major Assad regime outpost in the area. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives also helped Quntar establish an operations room in the greater Damascus area from which to coordinate attacks against Israel.

However, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, relying on sources “close to Hezbollah,” claimed in August that Quntar was commanding Hezbollah operations in the Syrian Golan Heights and was assigned by the organization to oversee the affairs of Syrian Hezbollah and act as its liaison with the Syrian regime and its mother organization, Lebanese Hezbollah. The sources noted at the time that, despite the fact that Syrian Hezbollah possessed an organization, financial and operation structure, the fighters destined to operate under its command were still spread out among various militias and were awaiting orders to unify under its command.

Quntar was also tasked with recruiting Druze in the Golan Heights and southern Syria to fight the Israelis. He was reportedly establishing cells that would plant bombs on the border, fire rockets into Israel, and carry out cross-border infiltrations into Israel from Syria.

Quntar’s funerary procession demonstrated his importance to Hezbollah as a “symbol of the resistance.” The distinctive yellow flag of Hezbollah draped the coffin of the so-called “Dean of Lebanese Prisoners,” while his eulogy and funeral services were delivered by Hashem Safieddine, the chairman of Hezbollah’s executive council and Hassan Nasrallah’s heir apparent. Shortly after his release by Israel in 2008, rumors circulated that Quntar had abandoned the Druze faith of his birth and had converted to Shi’a Islam. Multiple facts indicate the veracity of these rumors, including his rise within the ranks of Hezbollah – normally reserved for Shi’a only. He was also accorded a Shi’a funeral and was buried in the Shi’a Rawdat al-Hawraa Zainab graveyard. Quntar also married  Zeinab Berjawi after his release –  a devout Shi’a Muslim from a prominent Shi’a family – a matter that would have been religiously and socially unacceptable had he remained a Druze, and fathered a son named “Ali.”

David Daoud is an Arabic-Language Analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? This holiday season we are asking readers to support our independent reporting and analysis by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.

Tags: , , , ,

5 Comments

  • Dennis says:

    Kudos to the IAF!
    Talented air force ops.

  • James says:

    What I can’t understand, is why Israel doesn’t lend a hand in getting rid of a$$ad. He is the major destabilizer in that region. Hopefully, Israel will get a clue. It’s only a matter of time before they are sucked into this growing cauldron (of a$$ad’s war) as we have been. He is the straw man of Putin and the mullah regime (based in Tehran). We all know what a threat Iran is to Israel. He (a$$ad) is a curse.

    To those who try to argue against the removal of a$$ad, based on the erroneous assumption (I believe) about what may follow, my question is, how much worse can it get? What do we (or Israel, for that matter) have to lose?

    If it wasn’t for his paramours (Putin, Kim Jung Ill, and the mullah regime [based in Tehran]), he would have been gone long ago; and, the Syrian people would have been much better off.

  • danny din says:

    Quntar was not commander but a joke. he killed 4 years old Israeli girl.

  • irebukeu says:

    Someday there will be an article like this about abu Bakr, most likely this very next year but that is another article for another day.
    Imagine the intel Israel must be picking up off the battlefield on Hezb. They can pick and choose their targets as they see fit. Can’t blame them for getting this guy but I really wish they would bomb the islamic state as well, while they are out there.

  • Karai says:

    Love your work. The developments in Lebanon are celrtinay more important than Olmert but I dont’ think your characterization of Hizb as ‘declaring war’ on the Lebanese government is accurate, fair or helpful to Israel. The habit of demonizing Israel’s opponents has not worked to the nation’s benefit. I discourages negotiation with people who have repeatedly asked to talk and to that extent makes violence, which REALLY harms Israel, more likely. But aside from that, I love your work! Keep it coming.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis