In a world where there is precious little justice to be found, some was done this past weekend in the form of a missile strike on a building in Damascus on Saturday, Samir Kuntar was killed. Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze, had spent 30 years in prison for leading a terror attack on northern Israel that resulted in the deaths of four people, including two children. Released in 2008 in an exchange with Hezbollah, Kuntar returned to Lebanon and was acclaimed a hero by both the Lebanese and Palestinians. Since then, he’s been a leading Hezbollah operative credited with helping to build a terror network in the Golan Heights as well as playing a role in the defense of the murderous Assad regime in Syria. It was in Syria, where he had reportedly been operating under the instructions of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, that what was almost certainly an Israeli mission brought his bloody career to a close. Reportedly, the motivation for the strike was not so much a belated reckoning for Kuntar’s crimes as the fact that he was believed to be part of new terror plots against Israel.
But while this action will generate the usual hypocritical broadsides about Israel’s anti-terror operations, it’s important to place Kuntar’s life in perspective. His record and popularity speaks volumes about what is wrong with the culture of the world that venerated him as a hero.
Hezbollah has threatened to retaliate for his death and has already fired some missiles at northern Israel. But while Israel’s critics will condemn the attack and blame it for doing something that might escalate tensions in the region, the chances of a new war with Hezbollah over Kuntar are not considered great. Hezbollah is in no position to try and replay its 2006 conflict that devastated much of Lebanon. With the terror group having reportedly lost up to one-third of its armed strength fighting as Iranian mercenaries on behalf of Bashar Assad, they can’t afford to pick a fight with the Israelis. Nor is Iran likely to want its Lebanese auxiliaries to waste their carefully hoarded arsenal of rockets on futile attacks on Israeli targets that will be defended by Iron Dome batteries that will likely shoot most of them down. Tehran also isn’t going to want to let Hezbollah do anything that might conceivably undermine efforts to keep Assad in power with the acquiescence of the Obama administration.
Instead, as it has done with various Revolutionary Guard figures that have been slain, Iran will write off Kuntar’s death as part of the price of funding terror and now treat him as a “martyr” to the anti-Zionist cause. His fate will be used to whip up more anti-Israel sentiment. And it is that fact that ought to be of greater interest to foreign observers than Hezbollah’s vows of revenge.
That Kuntar is a hero to Hezbollah’s legions of supporters as well as to Palestinians can’t be denied. He was released in exchange for the dead bodies of two Israeli soldiers who were killed in a cross-border raid carried out by Hezbollah in 2006 that helped set off what was called the second Lebanon War. Like the more than 1,000 Palestinians who were released in an Israeli deal with Hamas that ransomed captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Kuntar emerged from prison to acclaim throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. His seniority as the captured terrorist that had spent the most time in an Israeli jail seemed to confer on him a status that put him above most other prisoners. Though he was not considered the most effective Iranian/Hezbollah operative, he remained popular.
But it’s useful at this point to revisit, at least for a moment, what were the actions that made him a legend. As the Times of Israel writes:
A Lebanese Druze, Kuntar became infamous for a brutal 1979 raid from Lebanon in which he and several accomplices kidnapped an Israeli family from Nahariya, then smashed the head of a four-year-old Israeli girl, Einat Haran, with his rifle butt and stones, killing her.
Three other Israelis, including her father, Danny Haran, were killed in the attack. Kuntar was 16 at the time, and a member of the Palestine Liberation Front.
During the attack, Smadar Haran hid from Kuntar with her two-year-old daughter Yael, but accidentally smothered her to death in an effort to silence her cries.
As every report about Kuntar has confirmed, he never expressed the slightest regret for his crimes. He didn’t do so at the time of the attack nor decades later. As far as he was concerned, every Jew no matter how young was fair game for slaughter.
Were Kuntar an isolated “extremist” that represented the views of only a tiny minority of Palestinians or Lebanese, it might be possible to dismiss him and his small role in the history of the conflict as painful though insignificant. But the problem with the war against Israel that continues to be waged by its foes and their foreign sympathizers is that far from being an outlier, Kuntar’s views and deeds represented those of most Palestinians if not those of the Lebanese Druze. One needn’t resort to studies of public opinion polls to understand that the cheering mobs that acclaimed Kuntar and the equally depraved killers that were exchanged for Shalit weren’t merely expressing resentment about West Bank settlements or registering an opinion about where Israel’s borders should be drawn. Kuntar was not reviled in the Arab world, as he should have been because his compatriots thought killing Jewish children was the act of a hero, not a vile barbarian.
The point about the conflict with Israel is that, despite the endless sermons about the need for the Jewish state to be more forthcoming in negotiations or to empathize with its enemies, it cannot be resolved only by diplomacy. Israel has repeatedly tried to trade land for peace with the Palestinians and gotten only more terror in return for their efforts. But one needn’t rehearse the history of Israeli offers of statehood and far-reaching territorial withdrawals to understand why they all failed. All you have to do is to ponder why Samir Kuntar could have been treated like a hero while alive or acclaimed as a martyr after his richly-deserved punishment was finally meted out.
The survivors of Kuntar’s victims expressed understandable satisfaction about his fate and hoped that the killers’ many fans understand this long-delayed retribution as a warning that no one should think they can slaughter Jews with impunity. They are right that violence is the only language understood by terrorists. But I don’t hold out much hope that his death will discourage those who might seek to emulate his evil deeds. So long as major portions of the Arab and Muslim worlds hold onto their hate of the Jewish state, many of them will be willing to risk death in order to kill more Jews. It will take a sea change in their culture to convince them to view Kuntar with abhorrence rather than admiration. Until that change occurs, peace will remain an impossible dream.