A Hezbollah commander who was attempting to transform the Syrian Golan into another terror front against Israel was killed in a strike in Syria on Sunday. Israel is thought to be responsible for the strike. The commander, Samir Kuntar, is notorious for carrying out a terrorist attack in Nahariya, Israel in 1979 in which he kidnapped and murdered two members of an Israeli family including a 4-year old girl, whose head he smashed with his rifle. Two others were also killed in the attack. Kuntar was sentenced to three life terms in jail, but after 29 years, he was released in return for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers as part of a swap between Israel and Hezbollah. Kuntar received a hero's welcome upon his return to Lebanon in 2008. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad awarded him the country's highest medal and he was also honored by former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Kuntar then joined Hezbollah and became a senior official in the organization. Additionally, Druze community leaders have stated that Samir Kuntar was behind the lynching last June of a wounded member of the Free Syrian Army in an ambulance en route to an Israeli hospital.
Kuntar was reportedly targeted for his role in mobilizing Syrian Druze on the Golan Heights to commit terror attacks against Israel. In a conference call organized by TIP, former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror stated that Kuntar was "a pivot in the efforts of Hezbollah to prepare the Golan Heights for another front against Israel." Last September, the US Department of State designated Kuntar a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, writing that Kuntar “played an operational role, with the assistance of Iran and Syria, in building up Hizballah’s terrorist infrastructure in the Golan Heights.” During the last few months, Kuntar was working for the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. At the time he was killed he was reportedly with a group of commanders from different terrorist groups that were there planning attacks on Israel.
The mother of the four-year old girl Kuntar brutally killed in 1979 told Israel's Army Radio on Sunday that Kantar's death was a "historic justice." Following the strike in Syria, three rockets launched from Lebanon landed in Israel with no injuries reported. Israel responded with artillery fire into southern Lebanon.
Secretary of State John Kerry wrote a letter to his Iranian counterpart on Saturday to assure him that in order to avoid Iranian claims that the U.S is violating the nuclear deal, the White House will largely ignore recent legislation tightening visa requirements, sparking concerns that the Obama Administration is undermining Congressional authority to satisfy Iranian demands.
After the San Bernardino terror attacks earlier this month, Congress passed legislation, which was signed by President Barack Obama, that would restrict the automatic granting of visas to individuals who travel to Iran, a country that the State Department designates as a leading state sponsor of terror. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif complained over the weekend that the visa restrictions were a new sanction on Iran, which he believed would violate the nuclear deal. (The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, prevents the United States from placing new sanctions on Iran in response to nuclear work, but the U.S. can still sanction Iran for its sponsorship of terrorism, as Kerry has repeatedly stated). In his letter, Kerry reassured Zarif that he is “confident that the recent changes in visa requirements passed in Congress, which the Administration has the authority to waive, will not in any way prevent us from meeting our JCPOA commitments.”
Iran’s complaint about the visa restrictions came amid closer scrutiny of its nuclear and military activities by Congress and the Obama Administration. The United Nations found last week that an Iranian ballistic missile test in October violated a Security Council resolution.
“If we fail in any way to relentlessly enforce what we’ve got in terms of both U.S. unilateral and multilateral abilities to constrain Iran’s actions, they will take that as a clear signal that we’ve taken our eye off the ball,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday. Over the weekend, Congressional sources told the Washington Free Beacon that they were concerned that the White House was undercutting anti-terror measures to placate Iran and keep the nuclear deal on track.
“According to the Obama administration’s latest interpretation, the nuclear deal allows Iran to test ballistic missiles in violation of international law, but does not allow Congress to prevent terrorists from coming into the United States,” Omri Ceren, the managing director of press and strategy at The Israel Project, told the Washington Free Beacon. The Israel Project published The Tower.
For the full text of the letter to Zarif, click here.
Iran’s concerns that American legislation could hurt economic progress comes in the wake of increased anti-American activity and rhetoric by Islamic Republic leaders. Three days after the nuclear deal was signed in July, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted an image of President Barack Obama with a gun to his head, threatening the “aggressive and criminal U.S.” In September, Khamenei declared that Iran would defeat the U.S. in the event of a war.
Last week, Iran banned the importation of more than 200 American products, following a directive issued by Khamenei in November. The regime recently arrested Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and Lebanese-born U.S. resident Nizar Zakka. Last month, Iran also executed Hamid Samiee, a dual Iranian-American citizen it had been holding since 2008.
In October, Iran announced the conviction of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian on charges of espionage, and later sentenced him to prison for an unspecified length of time. A senior Iranian official accused Rezaian of conspiring with the U.S. government to topple the regime in Tehran.
Khamenei’s office also published a video last month accusing the U.S. of orchestrating the deadly November 13 terror attacks in Paris. A little over a week later, Khamenei warned that the U.S. was using “money and sexual attractions” to infiltrate the Islamic Republic. (via TheTower.org)
Following the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the November 2015 attacks in Paris, Western intelligence agencies have doubled their efforts to locate European jihadi cells, all the while increasing the scale and scope of airstrikes against the group in Iraq and Syria. Although the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher atrocities in January should have served as notable warning signs of the Islamic State’s global reach, few could have predicted the scale and scope of what is now the deadliest terror attack in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
There was one clear warning sign that Europe was facing the spread of Islamic State terror and it came from the alleged mastermind of the attack, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Several months prior, Abaaoud had bragged in an interview with the Islamic State’s Dabiq magazine about how easy it had been to evade Belgian authorities, “They [Belgian police] arrested Muslims in Greece, Spain, France, and Belgium in order to apprehend me. I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture [released to the public], but he let me go as he did not see the resemblance,” he said.
Abaaoud went on to describe how he and many others were able to move freely from Syria to Europe, providing important insight into the Islamic State’s emerging global network of terror. This begs the question – how did the Islamic State successfully transform itself from a small group of Arab mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan into what is arguably now the most feared organization in the world?
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the predecessor to the Islamic State, has been well documented; comparably little attention has been given to the group’s global reach. While the Islamic State was born out of Osama Bin Laden’s global jihad against the West, many overlook the importance of another player in the equation – Iran.
This may seem surprising given that Iran, the stalwart of the Shi’a Crescent, is currently embroiled in a regional war against the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq. However, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, described as one of the “largest and most dynamic intelligence agencies in the Middle East” by the Pentagon’s Irregular Warfare Support Program, has, over the past 20 years, provided financial, material, technological, and other support services to AQI. The man responsible for fostering this unexpected relationship was Imad Mughniyeh. While his name may not carry the same perceived significance as Osama Bin Laden, Mughniyeh commanded a vast international terror network that included Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and a myriad of others, spanning over five continents.
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