Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, honors Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009. (AP/Mehdi Ghasemi)
As has been the case following previous alleged Israeli airstrikes, Hezbollah and its chief Hassan Nasrallah are now faced with a thorny dilemma: to retaliate or not to retaliate, or perhaps more accurately, how to retaliate, since the response is sure to come.
The assassination of Samir Kuntar, who became a member of Hezbollah after his release from Israeli prison in 2008, is another in a series of blows to the Shiite Lebanese militia, on both an operational and a symbolic level.
On the operational level, the assassination is further evidence — after the assassination of Jihad Mughniyeh in January and the killing of Hassan al-Laqis in December 2013 — of the ease with which intelligence services can infiltrate the organization.
Symbolically, the raid was a blow to the terror organization’s morale, as it underlines its weakness and compromises its image amid its ongoing involvement in the war in Syria.
82-year-old Nina Keren, mother of Danny Haran and grandmother of Einat who were killed by Samir Kuntar when he broke into their Nahariya home in 1982 and shot them, holds a picture of her son and her granddaughter on July 15, 2008. ( Kobi Gideon / FLASH90)
Kuntar, who was Druze, is credited with having salvaged Hezbollah’s terror network on the Syrian Golan Heights, and at one time was working separately for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
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He was a marked man from the moment he was released from Israeli prison in 2008, and during the past seven years, was continually preoccupied with planning attacks against the Jewish state.
In recent months, Kuntar was working under the guidance of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and had slightly distanced himself from Hezbollah. In this sense, one could say that Kuntar died as a mercenary for Iran rather than a model Hezbollah fighter. Farhan al-Shaalan, a second commander listed among the dead in the strike, was also enlisted by the Iranians rather than Hezbollah.
Still, because Kuntar was significant to Hezbollah, which had won his release from prison, a retaliation against Israel for the strike is likely to come. He’s identified with the Shiite group despite being Druze, and had been spotted at various events organized by Hezbollah.
A file picture taken on October 22, 2008, shows Samir Kuntar posing for a picture during an interview on the outskirts of Beirut. In the background is a photograph of the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH BARRAK)
In January, after the assassination of Mughniyeh, considered the foremost symbol of the organization, Hezbollah was satisfied with a retaliation that included a volley of rockets toward an IDF convoy that killed Staff Sgt. Dor Chaim Nini and the company commander, Maj. Yohai Kalangel. The strike included some seven rockets and could have ended with far more tragic results. In the end, Hezbollah, like Israel, stopped at that point and did not allow a wider security escalation.
A general view taken on December 20, 2015, shows Syrians gathering at the site of a reported Israeli air raid that killed a senior figure in the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, Samir Kuntar, in Jaramana, southeast of the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)
While it can be assumed that Hezbollah will attempt to retaliate now as well, in light of its situation on the Syrian front — where one-third of its fighters have been killed or injured — it is not expected to seek a broader escalation. The Times of Israel reported last week that between 1,300 and 1,500 of its fighters have been killed in combat in Syria, and some 5,000 injured.
In the past few months, Hezbollah has launched a massive draft of youths 17 and older to make up for its losses. However, the recruits are not at the same level as the trained and sophisticated fighters that filled its ranks just a few years ago. The thousands of young recruits still require months of training, and Hezbollah is thus unlikely for now to seek out war with Israel.
Hezbollah has also found itself in a complex political position in Lebanon with its attempts to push a Maronite Christian presidential candidate. Thus far these attempts have failed, and the political paralysis in Lebanon surrounding the president is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Israel has been careful not to claim the strike, although Hezbollah has already directly accused the IDF of responsibility.
If Israel operated in the Damascus suburbs, at risk of Iranian or Hezbollah retaliation, then one may venture a guess that the operation was designed to thwart an imminent attack by Kuntar.
As Israeli officials used to say with regard to Palestinian terrorists targeted in order to prevent impending attacks, Kuntar was a “ticking bomb.”
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