On March 11, 1994, a car accident took place on the streets of Bangkok. A
six-wheeled truck rammed into a motorcycle, knocking the driver to the
The truck driver got out and took off on foot. Thinking it was
just another random hit-and-run, Bangkok police towed the truck to a local lot
where they opened it up and discovered a large water tank, packed with
explosives and containing the body of a man who was later identified as the
original truck driver.
A few weeks later, Thai security authorities
arrested an Iranian national named Hossein Shahriarifar after he tried to cross
into Thailand from Malaysia on a false passport – apparently one of many in his
Two years later Shahriarifar was sentenced to death but in
1998, following pressure from Iran, Thailand set him free.
attack in Bangkok was foiled that day, the Jewish community in Argentina was not
as lucky. Four months after the random car accident, an explosivesladen van blew
up in front of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, destroying the
building and killing 85 people.
The foiled attack in Bangkok and the
successful one in Buenos Aires were carried out by Iran and Hezbollah shortly
after Israel abducted Mustafa Dirani, a senior Shi’ite terrorist with close
links to Iran and Hezbollah and the man who had captured and detained Israel Air
Force navigator Ron Arad.
This month, Israel was again lucky in Thailand
when a Hezbollah plot to bomb the Israeli embassy in Bangkok was foiled with the
arrest of Hezbollah terrorist Hussein Atris.
Another Hezbollah operative
succeeded in fleeing the country.
Thai defense officials confirmed that
the Mossad had warned Bangkok of Hezbollah plans to launch an attack already in
mid-December but the suspects had then traveled to the south and left the
country, likely through Malaysia. On January 8, the Mossad again contacted Thai
officials and warned that the attack was in its final stages and would be
launched between January 13 and 15.
A few days after his arrest at
Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bagkok, Atris led Thai investigators to a
warehouse filled with more than 8,000 pounds of urea fertilizer and several
gallons of liquid ammonium nitrate, which are known bomb-making
The description of the Mossad’s involvement by Thai defense
officials shows impressive intelligence capabilities and the likelihood of
success in penetrating Hezbollah. At the same time though, the attack had been
expected, although not necessarily in Thailand.
To be more accurate,
Israel has been waiting for such an attack for four years, ever since a car bomb
ripped through the night in Damascus on February 12, 2008, killing Hezbollah’s
top military commander Imad Mughniyeh.
Several known plots by Hezbollah
to avenge Mughniyeh’s death, which the group attributes to the Mossad, have been
thwarted. These have included a plan to bomb the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan,
a plan to shoot down an Israeli airliner over Turkey with shoulder-to-air
missiles and a plan to attack Israeli tourists in the Sinai.
Now it was
Ely Karmon, a terrorism expert from the Institute for
Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya who has carefully studied Hezbollah’s overseas
activities, said that the group’s decision to again operate in Thailand after it
was caught trying to perpetrate an attack there 18 years ago was a demonstration
of plain old guts.
“Hezbollah looks to operate in countries where it
believes that the police and security forces are not of a high level and are
unaware of what is happening in the Middle East,” Karmon said. “This needs to
serve as a lesson to all of these different countries.”
Mughniyeh was to Hezbollah – the IDF estimates that even four years later, he
has yet to be completely replaced – the Israeli defense establishment believes
that there are other motives behind Hezbollah’s desire to attack Israel
One of the motives is understood to be part of
Iranian efforts to deter the West from launching a military strike against its
nuclear facilities by showing the world that its proxy – Hezbollah – can strike
anywhere it wants, even as far away as Thailand.
This is meant to show
the United States, Israel and Europe that retaliation to a strike against Iran
will be painful for everyone and will not simply be the launching of rockets and
missiles by Hezbollah and Hamas into the Israeli home front.
years, Hezbollah is believed to have significantly upgraded its overseas
infrastructure, putting a particular emphasis on Africa, Europe and South
Hezbollah has an overseas division based in Beirut but it
functions more like a sub-unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’s Quds
Force, responsible for Iran’s support of terrorist groups around the
The head of the Hezbollah unit, which numbers a few dozen
operatives, is a veteran member of the guerrilla organization named Talal Hamia,
who is assisted by his bodyguard Ahmed Faid and by Hezbollah’s top bomb maker,
Ali Najan al- Din Hamia was allegedly involved in the 1992 and 1994 bombings in
Buenos Aires that targeted the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA Jewish community
Another member of the cell, Majd al-Zakur, referred to as “the
forger,” is responsible for procuring and preparing fake passports, like the
Swedish one that appears to have been used by Atris to enter Thailand and whose
authenticity is now under scrutiny.
The question currently at the heart
of a debate within the Israeli defense establishment is what the appropriate
response should be to such an attack, if and when one takes place overseas.
Hezbollah would likely prefer an overseas attack against an embassy, an El Al
plane or a consulate rather than an attack along the northern border since this
would allow it a level of deniability.
Nevertheless, there are some
officials within the defense establishment and the IDF General Staff who believe
that Israel needs to clarify already today that such an attack would be met by
war, similar to the recent declarations of how Israel would respond to the
abduction of a soldier.
These officials believe that making such a
declaration now could potentially deter Hezbollah from launching such an
Other officials believe that Israel should not go to war over any
attack and that the country’s reaction would need to depend on the chosen target
and of course the outcome, i.e. the number of casualties.
warn that if Israel declares today that it will go to war and does not stand up
to its word, then it will undermine its own deterrence and ultimately lead
Hezbollah to believe that attacks overseas are legitimate.