Israelis ‘at risk from Hizbollah assassins’

The Israeli defence establishment is readying itself for another round of warfare with Hizbollah following fears that the Lebanese movement is planning an operation against Israelis overseas and stepping up its efforts to rearm itself with weapons that would change the balance of power.

February 12 is the first anniversary of the assassination of Hizbollah’s operations chief, Imad Mughniyeh, in a car bomb in Damascus. Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah last week blamed the Mossad for the assassination.

The Counter-terrorism Bureau in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office this week issued a global warning to Israelis of a “concrete and high-level” threat of assassinations and kidnaps planned by Hizbollah to avenge the killing.

Israeli intelligence has received information of Hizbollah assassination teams operating in a number of countries abroad. In two cases in Europe, attempted murders were thwarted in cooperation with local security forces, but the main fear now is of an attempt to kidnap or kill Israeli businessmen, especially those who served in the past as officers in the IDF.

To this end, Israelis have been warned against attending meetings with unknown contacts abroad and from taking up suspicious business offers.

While the warning is general and not limited to one country, the main areas of concern are currently Latin America, where large Shia and Lebanese communities live, and West African countries where Hizbollah is known to have networks.

Sheikh Nasrallah’s speech last week caused special concern when he raised the issue of body parts of Hizbollah fighters that he claimed were still in Israel’s possession, and the fate of four Iranian diplomats, believed to have been murdered by Christian militias in Lebanon 25 years ago but for whom Iran still holds Israel responsible.

“Nasrallah needs an excuse to attack Israel again, after coming under such criticism in Lebanon for provoking Israel’s rage in the last war,” said one Israeli source.

Along with the Mughniyeh anniversary, Israel is concerned that Hizbollah have been trying to use the fighting in Gaza as a distraction from its efforts to upgrade its weaponry. Israel is on the lookout for boats arriving from Iran and convoys from Syria to Lebanon that may be carrying Sam-8 anti-aircraft missiles that could limit Israel’s operations above Lebanon.

The warning to Israelis worldwide is also a precaution against Hizbollah’s efforts to retaliate against Israel’s action against arms consignments.

    Last updated: 3:24pm, February 5 2009