Damascus - Several fighters from the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah were killed in an attack by an Israeli helicopter in the Syrian province of Quneitra. Different casualty figures are given but a Hezbollah statement said that six fighters had been killed.
One of the dead was Jihad Mughniyeh , the son of Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in Damascus in 2008 in a suspected attack by Israel. The attack took place on Sunday near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights as the Israeli helicopter fired missiles at Imad's car. This attack came just a few days after Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, threatened to retaliate against any Israeli attack either in Lebanon or Syria. He added that the group had missiles that could strike anywhere in Israel. Muhamad Issa, chief of Hezbollah operations in Syria was also reported as among those killed in the attack. Nicole Johnston of Al Jazeera also confirmed Issa was killed:
"Mohamad Issa, the chief of Hezbollah operations in Syria, who died in the air strike, is also a big name, making this a major strike on Hezbollah. The group says there will be retaliation for the attack."
The Iranian news site Tabnak claims that several Iranian troops were also killed in the assault. Hezbollah and some Iranian fighters are aiding Assad's forces to fight against Syrian rebel groups. Israeli Channel 10 TV quoted an Israeli official source as confirming that Israel was responsible for the attack. An Al Jazeera correspondent in Jordan claims that this is the 7th Israeli attack on Syria close to the Israeli border since the civil war began.
A columnist at an-Nahar in Lebanon said that the Israeli attack may have been in response to Nasrallah's earlier speech. He thought that Hezbollah would retaliate in some way. Al Manar TV, run by Hezbollah said Israel was "playing with fire that puts the security of the whole Middle East on edge." A Hezbollah statement said of the attack: "While a group of Hezbollah fighters were on a field inspection of the town, Mazrat al-Amal, ... they faced rocket shelling from helicopters of the Israeli enemy, leading to the martyrdom of a number of holy warrior brothers, whose names will be announced once their honorable families have been informed." There has been no official comment from the Israeli military as yet. Imad Salmey, a Lebanese political analyst, thought that Hezbollah would not want to fight on another front by attacking from Lebanon, and if it attacked from Syria it risked more attacks on its Syrian operations.
If only to save face, Hezbollah may feel that it must retaliate against continued Israeli attacks that are happening with complete impunity in spite of the fact that Israel knows that Hezbollah has formidable resources to attack Israel. Former Israeli national security adviser Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror estimates Hezbollah has an arsenal of more that 150,000 missiles and rockets, including surface-to-sea missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, modern anti-tank missiles and even drones. Pentagon officials claim that Hezbollah has 50,000 missiles including some capable of hitting Tel Aviv. Israel's actions could result in a dangerous escalation that could engulf the Middle East in a new war.