Israel on Alert After Militant Killed
Associated Press Writer
Israel put its military and embassies on alert Thursday and advised Jewish institutions worldwide to follow suit as Lebanese guerrillas threatened to avenge the killing of a militant tied to spectacular attacks against U.S. and Jewish targets.
Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world's most wanted and elusive terrorists, was killed in a car bombing Tuesday in the Syrian capital of Damascus. He was the suspected mastermind of attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s.
The Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and its Iranian backers blamed Israel. Israel's government denied the charge, although military officials were more vague, refusing to confirm or deny involvement. And officials made no effort to conceal their satisfaction he was dead.
On Thursday, Hezbollah's chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed in a videotaped eulogy broadcast at Mughniyeh's Beirut funeral to retaliate against Israeli targets anywhere in the world. Israel beefed up its troop presence along the Lebanese border.
Mughniyeh, 45, was the Hezbollah's former security chief. Israel blamed him for the 1992 bombing of its embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in which 29 people were killed. Argentina linked him to the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center that killed 85 people.
Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi put forces on heightened alert, instructing them to "take the necessary precautions by air, land and sea in order to protect the northern border and other Israeli interests," the army said.
The military sent more troops to the already heavily patrolled northern border with Lebanon, defense officials said, without elaborating. And soldiers were ordered to be on guard for attacks and kidnappings on both the border with Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories.
Israeli embassies worldwide also were put on alert, and Jewish institutions across the globe were advised to be vigilant, Israeli officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss security matters with the media.
Israel Radio reported that security had been raised on airplanes and ships and at sensitive installations.
A statement from the prime minister's office said the Israeli anti-terror command center warned Israelis abroad to act with extra caution, noting the threat of kidnapping. It recommended staying out of Arab and Muslim countries, avoiding concentrations of other Israelis and turning down "unexpected invitations to meetings in remote places."
Israel fought a fierce but inconclusive monthlong war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, and residents of northern Israel feared a new conflict was brewing.
"Everything can get all messy after one incident like this," said Shuli Oozan, a 47-year-old convenience store employee in the town of Shlomi near the Lebanese border. The town was a frequent target of Hezbollah rocket attacks during the war, and was hit by two rockets fired last month, apparently by a smaller Lebanese group.
The war killed 40 Israeli civilians and 119 Israeli soldiers and more than 1,000 Lebanese, most of them civilians.
But while Israelis worried about the possibility of renewed war on their turf, Nasrallah declared on Thursday that his guerrilla group would hit Israeli targets anywhere in the world.
Israeli analysts were taking the threats seriously.
"Hezbollah doesn't want to heat up the border," said Ephraim Kam, an Israel-based Iran analyst. "It's afraid Israel would strike it again hard, and Israel is better prepared to fight now, having learned the lessons of the war."
The likelier avenue "would be a spectacular terror attack, not necessarily against Israel itself," but something like the embassy attack in Argentina, Kam said. "It won't necessarily take place tomorrow morning," he added. "It takes time to carry out a spectacular attack."
Yaakov Perry, a former chief of Israel's internal security service, said Hezbollah might act against Israel through allied Palestinian militant groups.
"Hezbollah doesn't usually act alone, but acts with others, the best-known being Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Those who live among us, alongside us, could be its long arm."
After word of the assassination got out, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, appealed to the Muslim world to "rise up to confront the Zionist devil, which is backed by the Americans."
Despite its denials, Israel is widely believed to have carried out daring, complex and deadly strikes against other terror masterminds in the past, sometimes deep in enemy territory.
Palestinian Liberation Organization official Khalil Al-Wazir, linked to attacks that killed dozens of Israelis, was assassinated at close range in his home in Tunis in 1988, reportedly by an Israeli commando team ferried from Israel by boat, and aided ashore by Mossad intelligence agency operatives.
Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shkaki was gunned down in Malta in 1995 by a man on a motorcycle. In 2004, a senior Hamas militant was killed in a car bombing in Damascus.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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