It was a professional hit. It was the result of the most meticulous of planning and audacity over several weeks.
There must have been at least five of them, deploying in Lebanon under the guise of foreign tourists, students or businessmen.
They had prior data, gleaned from a synthesis of aerial reconnaissance, human intelligence and telecommunication intercepts on the targets description, places he was known to frequent and with whom.
Then there was a fatal flaw in the threat-assessments of his personal security, probably the regular vehicle he used, that eventually lead his pursuers to the apartment complex he resided in – located outside of the southern Beirut security zone in area called Hadath.
Once they were able to anticipate his routine to and from the apartment, they made the necessary operational assessments: the most opportune timing, the vulnerabilities, the weapons to be used, the escape routes and the getaway vehicle.
Then, sneaking under cover of near-midnight darkness just over a week ago, two assassins struck him five times with silenced handguns.
The victim, whose real identity was obviously never betrayed to his immediate neighbors, was Hajj Hassan Hulu Al-Lakkis, the shadowy air defense commander of Lebanon’s ever-powerful Hezbollah movement.
An unknown Sunni extremist group affiliated with the war in Syria immediately claimed responsibility.
In the days following the killing, even some journalists close to Hezbollah gave credence to this potential by implying that there was a slim possibility of another party, in addition to Israel, being involved.
But deciphering the true identity, and then killing without any serious trace, such a secretive individual cannot be the work of those who’ve been targeting Dahiyeh recently.
The targets of their monstrosity have uniformly been innocent bystanders, blowing up anything and everything—and something indicative of their lack of intelligence and feasible bank of targets.
In any case, and metaphorically speaking, suspecting indifferent identities between the consigliore and the capos of this assassination is pointless—since Hezbollah has affirmatively accused Israel of being responsible.
In turn, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman denied the allegation and responded by saying “these automatic accusations are an innate reflex with Hezbollah…they just blame anything on Israel.”
But if Israel, as is widely believed, is indeed responsible for the killing, then the ‘timing’ of it is what really makes war-weary analysts leery.
This is because in the aftermath of the deadly 2006 war between the two foes, there seem to exist a scope of mutual deterrence for not militarily targeting each other’s territory—with the exception of occasional border skirmishes.
It was made plausible by Israel’s recourse to externally killing Hezbollah top military commander, Hajj Imad Mugniyeh in Damascus, and Hezbollah’s then vow of not responding in Israel itself, as if to mimic them.
However, with Hezbollah adamant that Israel’s secret services are behind the killing, that equation has now been altered for good.
In targeting Lakkis, Israel has not only moved the goalposts; it’s done so with a stinky eye on domestic Lebanese and regional events.
And it’s these events that her cost-benefit analysts determined would allow for the commanders elimination to be carried out with only limited, if any, possible repercussions and which included:
1. Hezbollah’s yet empty vow of retaliating for Mugniyeh’s killing even after a five-year impasse.
2. An appetite for not wanting to open up a second front in south Lebanon whilst its fighters are heavily embroiled in shoring up an allied government in Syria.
3. The spiraling of domestic sectarian tensions does not make it conducive for them to retaliate openly.
4. Remaining stationary even after Israel intermittently bombed several convoys of arms in Syria—purportedly en route to them.
5. A perception that explicit instructions from Iran had ordered its Lebanese protégé not to put a spoiler in the way of its on-going nuclear power negotiations with the west.
6. The unusual restraint, shown by both Hezbollah and Iran, after twin-bomb attacks targeted the Iranian embassy in Beirut last month.
All in all, Israel clearly exploited these vulnerabilities to strike at Hezbollah while it perceived the movement’s hands were tied, and therefore that it was in no position to ignite renewed tensions across the border.
But it may soon prove to be a disastrous set of calculations.
Hezbollah, judging by its immediate accusation of Israel being responsible, either via its own agents or local proxy’s, knows that if it doesn’t respond to the latest killing, its very credibility as a ‘resistance movement’ will be at stake.
Its leadership is well versed in knowing how and when to accuse Israel, even if there appears to be little stomach for renewed military actions from its support bank.
Although Hezbollah’s concurrent military strategy is still designed to avoid all-out conflict with Israel, it’s still very much of aware that in the event of Hezbollah taking retributory actions of a similar nature, domestic and international pressure on Israel would also render it not to initiate a major military confrontation.
Hezbollah, by all accounts, is a rational movement and one that understands the real operational capacities of proffering threats—perhaps the very reason it refrained from immediate tit-for-tat retaliation.
But it has been preparing, and has at its disposal, many an option to inflict wounds of a serious caliber on its mighty Israeli neighbor.
Its military doctrine is such that it views Israel as an enemy unconstrained by any scruples, and thus constantly punishing it remains an over-arching ethos.
On this account, perhaps we could soon be accustomed to hearing of long-range snipers or booby-trapped cars having targeted sensitive personalities in Tel-Aviv with the help of local Arab-Israeli and Palestinian allies.
Perhaps we may even see a new round of Kamikaze bombings that are then claimed by some evanescent group in the name of Palestine.
Then it has the options of targeting Israeli’s externally.
It might begin with utilizing the conflict in Syria to initiate the firing of rocket salvos against Israeli positions on the occupied Golan Heights.
Otherwise, it could resort to ordering its operatives to arbitrarily attack Israeli embassies and consulates around the globe, something they’ve done on a grand scale in the past.
Hezbollah’s latest vows of vengeance may even render it to resort to measures more synonymous with those of Israel’s secretive but deadly Mossad intelligence agency.
It might feel the time is ripe to employ sophisticated poisons and/or chemical agents to deceptively do away with Israeli military and intelligence operatives on foreign sojourns or vacations abroad.
It certainly has an innumerable bank of physical and material targets; its operatives are well trained and can obsequiously act at a moments notice.
One thing for sure is that on whatever premise Israel’s leadership sanctioned Al-Lakki’s killing, be it as a response to Hezbollah and Iran’s entanglement in Syria, to show displeasure with the Iran-P5 +1 interim nuclear deal or simply to conserve the margin of deterrence against its enemies; the next few weeks will be very telling ones.
Hezbollah’s history of retaliatory measures, in particular during times of intensive pressure, alludes to the movement desiring to make the avenging of Hassan Al-Lakkis a spectacularly deadly one.