Israel has sent calming messages to Iran and Hezbollah via Russia, Channel 10 reported Friday night, clarifying that it is uninterested in an escalating conflict with Tehran or the Lebanese terror group.
The report, which cited unnamed government sources, followed days of tensions along the northern border, after Iranian and Hezbollah leaders vowed revenge for an airstrike in Syria which left 12 Iranians and Hezbollah operatives dead. The airstrike has been attributed to Israel and though Jerusalem has not officially confirmed it, anonymous government sources have admitted as much.
The dead included an Iranian general and senior Hezbollah commanders, Muhammad Issa and Jihad Mughniyeh, son of slain terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh.
According to Channel 10, Israeli officials told Moscow that Israel viewed the strike as an act of self-defense, and that Hezbollah had forced Israel’s hand by building an offensive infrastructure on its border. Jerusalem stressed it did not want the situation to deteriorate into a regional conflict. Russian leaders conveyed this message to Beirut and Tehran.
Meanwhile a Hezbollah official has said the group’s response to the attack would not come from Lebanese territory, Israel Radio reported Saturday. Hezbollah parliamentary representative Muhammad Fanish reportedly told the Lebanese government in a meeting Thursday that his organization did not wish to drag Lebanon into a war with Israel and would not endanger the country by attacking Israel from within its territory.
Israel has long feared that Hezbollah would seek to avenge the death of Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh — killed in a 2008 car bombing in Damascus widely believed to have been orchestrated by Israel — by striking at Israeli or Jewish targets abroad, using its global terror network. The group is believed to have been responsible for a bus bombing in the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas in 2012 that killed five Israeli tourists and a local bus driver, as well as thwarted plans to kill Jews and Israelis in Peru, Cyprus and Thailand in 2013-2014.
A report on Channel 2 Friday said the strike in Syria on Sunday targeted the leaders of a substantial new Hezbollah terror hierarchy that was set to attempt kidnappings, rocket attacks and other assaults on military and civilian targets in northern Israel.
The new terror unit involved Jihad Mughniyeh, who was coordinating with the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Qasem Soleimani, the Channel 2 report said. There was no suggestion in the report that Soleimani, a key figure in supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah, was in the area at the time.
The terrorist hierarchy included recruitment and intelligence departments, and was set to begin operations targeting Israel from the Syrian Golan, including “kidnappings, firing rockets and mortar shells, and using anti-tank weapons against Israeli residential areas.”
The unit was set up “with Iranian sponsorship,” the report said. Israel’s targeting of some of its members underlined that “a red line was crossed that Israel would not tolerate.”
Hezbollah, Syria and Iran have all vowed to strike at Israel in the wake of the attack. There have been conflicting reports as to whether Israel knew that Iranian general Mohammed Allahdadi was in the convoy struck on Sunday.
The TV report said Israel was braced for a response. If that response targeted Israeli civilians, however, subsequent Israeli retaliation would endanger the Assad regime in Syria, Channel 2’s military commentator Roni Daniel said. He did not state a source for that assertion.