- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Iran may have stepped up its proxy war against Israel in recent months, with Hezbollah embarking on a new project: kidnapping and/or assassinating Israeli civilians abroad. On Thursday, senior Israeli officials in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office advised Israelis visiting Egypt (and the Sinai Peninsula in particular) to leave immediately, citing the risk that terrorists might target Israeli tourists.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday that Israel thwarted two attempts by Hezbollah to abduct Israeli diplomats and businessmen travelling abroad, and other government officials say that Hezbollah, with Iranian support, is searching the world for “soft” Israeli targets - usually unarmed civilians - to kidnap or kill. “Hezbollah goes from country to country looking for Israeli prey,” a security source told journalist David Bedein, writing in the Philadelphia Bulletin. In several cases (the government will not say where) Israel has temporarily withdrawn diplomats and their dependents after learning that they could be attacked. Kidnappings were prevented as a result of cooperation between Israeli and foreign intelligence services in Western Africa, Asia and North America and South America. Two recent Hezbollah operations took place in Canada. In mid-June, its members tried to collect information on the Israeli embassy in Ottawa and other Israeli targets in the country. According to Israeli officials, terror cells in Toronto had recently been observed watching members of an El Al crew there. The terrorists were seen at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel - where pilots and crew from the Israeli carrier stay between Toronto-Tel Aviv flights.

Officials also warned of danger to Israelis who visit Jordan, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Morocco. Since mid-August, Hezbollah has become increasingly aggressive in publicly declaring its intent to avenge the Feb. 12 assassination in Damascus of its security boss, Imad Mugniyeh, which the terror group believes was done by Israel. Mugniyeh’s terrorist “credits” included the October 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, in which 241 Americans died, and the 1992 and 1994 bombings of Jewish targets (one of them the Israeli embassy) in Argentina.

Indeed, avenging Mugniyeh may well take the form of a mass-casualty terrorist attack. The case of Hezbollah cadre Hussein Mohammed Hussein Mikdad could contain some clues about what tactics Hezbollah and its Iranian backers might try against Israel. On April 12, 1996, guests at the Lawrence Hotel in Jerusalem were awakened by a massive explosion in the third-floor room registered to Jonathan Charles Newman, an accountant from London. Rescue workers and police initially thought the explosion (which miraculously injured no hotel guests other than Mr. Newman) was a gas leak. But as investigators went through the debris of his room, they found a forged passport and a box of nails - often a component used in building suicide bombs - and C-4, a plastic explosive.

And they learned that “Mr. Newman” (who was blinded and lost two legs and an arm when his bomb went off prematurely) was actually Mikdad, a 33-year-old Lebanese Shi’ite and father of a young daughter, who had trained at terrorist camps in Lebanon’s Syria-controlled Bekaa Valley. He was a member of Hezbollah, who had been contacted in 1995 by one of Mugniyeh’s surrogates and dispatched on a mission to Israel in order to commit some kind of attack. But key details about Mikdad’s operation remain shrouded in mystery: For example, did Mikdad manage to smuggle his C-4 explosive aboard his Swissair flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv (which would mean that he managed to thwart Israeli and Swiss security, no small feat) or did he obtain the explosive after arriving in Israel? Could Hezbollah attempt to blow an Israel-bound flight out of the sky?

As Israelis and their foreign intelligence counterparts work to thwart Hezbollah’s next attack, they are doubtless aware of the possibility that it may come in a form much more devastating than an assassination or kidnapping.

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