The death of atleast six Hezbollah fighters in Quneitra, Syria (including Jihad Mughniyeh, son of deceased Hezbollah figure Imad Mughniyah) by an Israeli attack helicopter prompted speculation that the aggression would be met with a break in the unofficial ceasefire between the two parties and lead to renewed violence.
It is not the first attack by Israel on pro-government forces in Syria. Strikes have continuously taken place throughout the war, against Syrian Arab Army positions, resulting in tactical victories for Al-Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda branch in Syria. There is currently no indication that the United Nations will sanction the infringement on Syrian sovereignty, nor the aiding of Al Qaeda, though a report was released by the international body documenting IDF contact with rebels.
In previous confrontations between Hezbollah and Israel, Israel’s position in south Lebanon collapsed, unable to hold the territory (in 2000), nor reposition themselves there in 2006, leading to a retreat seen by most commentators as a defeat.
Recent statements by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah have remarked on the strengthened capabilities of the group since then, including the ability to strike any part of Israel with advanced rockets and occupying Galilee. Until now, these capabilities have had the desired deterrent effect in Lebanon, but not Syria where Hezbollah forces are engaged. It is not clear, though it can be surmised that Israel is seeking retaliation from Hezbollah to ignite a new war in Lebanon, which has enjoyed a relatively peaceful though uneasy border with Israel until now.
Nasrallah has stated in the past that they can be engaged in Syria without effecting stand-by capabilities in the event of Israeli aggression. It’s quite possible that this attack will have military consequences for Israel, though no one can be sure how Hezbollah will choose to respond. Whether they will strike from South Lebanon, or make attempts on Israeli embassy’s in overseas territory, like the 1992 bombing of the embassy in Buenos Aires. What is certain to some is that Hezbollah will respond. Nabil Boumonsef, a columnist at the Lebanon newspaper an-Nahar stated the following:
Killing the son of Moughniyah is dangerous. I do not think that the group can be quiet now, now that the father and the son are killed. I expect that it will do something.
Nasrallah is fully aware of how dangerous Israel can be as an enemy, does Netanyahu understand the dangers he faces if Hezbollah chooses to respond? The group has strengthened under the duress of war, acquired a new crop of battle-tested commanders, is aided with advanced weaponry from Iran, and have become a leading political entity in Lebanon’s political establishment. Israel has the ability to respond disproportionately with air power, largely at the expense of civilians, but it may not have the ability to fight an open war with Hezbollah, nor fend off a multifront attack that reaches beyond its northern border.