Israel on high alert for possible Hezbollah retaliation after strikes on fighters

Israel is on high alert for possible attacks from the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah following an airstrike on Hezbollah fighters in Syria, Israeli defense officials said Tuesday.

Israel has boosted deployment of its "Iron Dome" anti-missile aerial defense system along its northern frontier, which borders Lebanon and Syria, and has increased surveillance activities in the area, the officials said. Israel's Security Cabinet is scheduled to meet to discuss a potential escalation in violence, they said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss security deliberations publicly.

Hezbollah claims Israel carried out Sunday's strike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which killed a prominent Hezbollah fighter, a senior Iranian general, and five other Hezbollah members. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its role in the strike.

The prominent fighter killed, Jihad Mughniyeh, was the son of Imad Mughniyeh — a top Hezbollah operative widely considered to have built Hezbollah's military operations infrastructure and the second most revered figure inside Hezbollah. He was assassinated in 2008 in Damascus in a bombing that Hezbollah says was carried out by Israel's Mossad spy agency.

Thousands of mourners marched in a Beirut funeral procession Monday for Jihad Mughniyeh, chanting "Death to Israel."

Since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, Israel has reportedly carried out several airstrikes in Syria that have targeted sophisticated weapons systems, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, believed to be destined for Hezbollah.

The last such airstrike was in early December, when warplanes struck near Damascus' international airport, as well as outside a town close to the Syria-Lebanon border. Israel has not commented on its role in those strikes.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in an interview last week, said Hezbollah reserves the right to retaliate for those attacks. He also reiterated that Hezbollah may retaliate at any time for the assassination of Mughniyeh senior.