Israeli-Arab indicted for Ashkenazi plot

Shin Bet says Tira resident admits to helping in Hizbullah plans to avenge Mughniyeh's death.

Salman Harab hizbullah 248 88 (photo credit: Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency))
Salman Harab hizbullah 248 88
(photo credit: Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency))
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was targeted by Hizbullah for assassination, it was revealed Monday, following the indictment of an Israeli Arab who had allegedly been collecting intelligence on Ashkenazi's movements for the Lebanese Shi'ite group. Hizbullah has been actively seeking to avenge the February 2008 assassination of its military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, which it attributes to Israel. The indictment, filed in the Petah Tikva District Court against Rawi Sultani, 23, from the town of Tira, alleges that Sultani, then a member of the Balad political party, was recruited by Hizbullah during a trip to Morocco to attend an annual pan-Arab summer camp in 2008. The camp is held in a different country every year, and the 2008 event was attended by other Israeli Arabs, also Balad activists. During his stay there, Sultani met Hizbullah operative Salman Harab and provided him with information about Ashkenazi, particularly about his routine at the Kfar Saba country club, where the two occasionally worked out together. Since Sultani's arrest, the IDF General Staff Security Unit has altered security around Ashkenazi. Harab, 26, introduced himself to the group of Israeli Balad activists as a Hizbullah member and gave them a lecture about the conflict and struggle against Israel. He also showed the group a video from Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV station about the Second Lebanon War. During his interrogation, Sultani, who was arrested on August 10, told the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) that during his meeting with Harab, he told the Hizbullah operative he had information about Ashkenazi. After his return to Israel, Sultani allegedly remained in touch with Harab by phone and via the Internet, including Facebook. Then, in December 2008, Sultani flew to Poland and met a second Hizbullah operative, known as "Sami." At that meeting, he told interrogators he had provided Sami with intelligence he had collected on Ashkenazi, as well as various suggestions on how to assassinate him. Sultani also allegedly provided Sami with information on additional senior Israeli officials and IDF bases. After returning from Poland, Sultani remained in touch with both Sami and Harab, according to the indictment. Sultani's father and lawyer, Fuad Sultani, maintained his son's innocence and claimed the indictment had been "inflated for political reasons." The attorney said his son was unaware that the men he met were Hizbullah agents, and that his meeting with Sami in Poland was "a regular conversation between two students." The Shin Bet has also questioned the other Israeli Arabs who attended the camp in Morocco and were in touch with Harab. After they denied maintaining contact with Harab, they were warned by the Shin Bet and released. The plot against Ashkenazi is believed to have been part of Hizbullah's efforts to avenge the February 2008 assassination of Mughniyeh in a car bombing in Damascus. While Israel did not claim responsibility for the assassination, Hizbullah has declared its intention to avenge Mughniyeh's death by striking at Israel. According to latest intelligence assessments, Hizbullah is believed to be in the midst of planning a retaliatory terror attack against Israel. According to foreign reports, a plot to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, was recently foiled. The assessment in the Israeli intelligence community is that Hizbullah would like to assassinate a senior Israeli official but is also trying to launch an attack overseas that could not be traced back to it. AP contributed to this report.