Israelis abroad warned of abduction

PMO issues renewed warning regarding Hizbullah's intent to avenge killing of arch-terrorist Mughniyeh.

Imad Mughniyeh good 248 (photo credit: AP)
Imad Mughniyeh good 248
(photo credit: AP)
Just when the departure halls at the Ben-Gurion Airport were bowing under the record number of Israelis leaving for vacations abroad, the Prime Minister's Office issued a cautionary travel warning on Wednesday. The advisory attempts to inform all Israelis abroad of Hizbullah's intention to abduct or attack Israeli citizens traveling or working around the world in revenge for the killing of the Islamist organization's operations chief Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February, which it attributes to the Mossad. The Prime Minister's Officer's recommendations as they were published on the office's Web site urge Israelis abroad to pay more attention to unusual conduct around them, reject tempting and unexpected business and recreation offers, and avoid taking in or hosting unexpected or suspicious guests in their hotel rooms or homes. The recommendations suggest further to avoid remote areas, especially after dark, and to insist on being around familiar and reliable people. Finally, it is recommended to change one's daily routine every once in a while, including hotels, walking paths, restaurants and recreation sites. Though it was stressed that the warning was not specific, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Elkana Har Nof of the National Security Council's Counterterrorism Bureau told The Jerusalem Post the alert was more concrete for states in South East Asia, South America, West Africa and for Muslim countries. "We know Hizbullah has been trying to conduct an abduction for quite some time now but with no success so far. We also know Hizbullah constantly continues its efforts to achieve this goal but there is no concrete information about the time and the place in which it can happen. This is why we have decided to share this information with the public, to let people know about the existing threat and to ask them to conduct more cautiously," Har Nof said. There was no cause for panic, he stressed. "There is no need to cancel trips to states where the Counterterrorism Bureau has not issued a specific travel alert for, which is most of the world, but it is recommended to follow these five recommendations that we have published and to be extra aware to things that are going on around." Har Nof confirmed that the intelligence services had an idea of the method Hizbullah planned to employ to try to abduct Israelis abroad, but he declined to elaborate. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yechiam Sasson, a former head of the Counterterrorism Bureau, told the Post he was certain the decision to issue the warning was not taken lightly. "A warning like this one is bad. It means there is good intelligence on intentions to harm Israelis, but it is not as good as specific and focused intelligence. Most threats where there is good intelligence would be thwarted by the relevant authorities and bodies," he said. Sasson said he believed Hizbullah had no interest in harming individual or pairs of traveling Israelis unless they were well-known or key people such as businessmen, politicians, leaders etc. "This sort of attack will be considered as a quality attack," he said. Hizbullah was more likely to attempt an attack in a Third World country, "because of the weak supervision of the authorities and the high number of Muslims who constitute easy infrastructure for terrorist organizations," he said. Sasson added several tips of his own; do not enter taxis that stop without being signaled to; play down the fact that you are from Israel; and avoid events planned in advanced for Israelis. "Nonetheless, Israelis should continue traveling. We will be in trouble if Hizbullah manages to change how we conduct our lives," he said. Earlier this month, security officials were sent to personally war Israeli businessmen and community leaders who live and work in West Africa about Hizbullah's intentions to carry out an attack. Still, the Counterterrorism Bureau has not issued a formal travel alert for Israeli visitors to West African countries. "Hizbullah looks for a country with a weak regime, weak intelligence and security services and relatively easy escape routes," a defense official told the Post on August 4.