Imad Mughniyeh 224 88.
(photo credit: FBI Website)
Israeli and Jewish institutions in Africa are likely targets for Hizbullah, which is working to avenge last week's assassination of the group's operations officer, Imad Mughniyeh, a senior defense official said Sunday.
According to the official, Hizbullah maintains a strong presence in northern and western Africa and could take advantage of lax security throughout the continent, as well as weak security services, when perpetrating its retaliatory attack.
"There are three elements Hizbullah is looking for," the official explained. "They would look for a country with a weak regime, weak intelligence and security services, and relatively easy escape routes."
Israelis have been targeted in Africa before. In 2002, suicide bombers killed 13 people and injured over 80 in an attack on the Paradise Hotel, a popular Israeli vacation spot, in Mombasa, Kenya. At the same time, two shoulder-to-air missiles were launched at an Israeli charter jet that had taken off from a nearby airport. The missiles missed their target.
On Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak speculated during the cabinet meeting that Syria and Iran might help Hizbullah retaliate for Mughniyeh's assassination.
"While I think that Syria, Hizbullah and Iran don't really know who did it, as heard during [Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah's speech last week, he pointed an accusatory finger at Israel," Barak said. "Based on this, it is safe to assume that Hizbullah will try to retaliate either in Israel or abroad. It might do this with Iranian and Syrian assistance."
Barak said the defense establishment was "prepared on all fronts."
"We have no interest in escalation, but we will conduct ongoing situation assessments, including threats abroad, in order to be prepared," he said.
Mughniyeh was one of the most-wanted terrorists in the world and was wanted by the US and Israel for his involvement in countless deadly attacks over the past 25 years.
Meanwhile Sunday, the Sunday Times of London cited "informed Israeli sources" as saying that at the time of his assassination, Mughniyeh had been cooperating with the Syrians in planning an attack on Israeli targets to avenge a September 2007 IAF strike on a Syrian site.
According to the paper, "Israeli intelligence sources" said Mossad agents had replaced the headrest of the driver's seat in Mughiyeh's SUV with another headrest containing a small cache of explosives.
Israel, the Sunday Times report said, believes Mughniyeh was also charged with rehabilitating Hizbullah's arsenal after the Second Lebanon War. Mughniyeh allegedly rearmed the group with Iranian Fateh 110 rockets, which can reach Tel Aviv and, according to the report, may also be capable of delivering a chemical payload.
According to a source quoted by the paper, Mossad chief Meir Dagan was summoned to Jerusalem by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the day after the assassination, where he was "complimented by his boss" on a job well done and told that his contract at the helm of the intelligence agency would be extended through the end of 2009.
Jerusalem Post staff and AP contributed to this report