Israelis cautioned of possible Hizbullah attack in W. Africa

Security officials inform Israeli businessmen and community leaders about intelligence regarding a possible abduction or a terror attack being planned by Hizbullah.

Security officials have warned Israelis who live in West Africa about Hizbullah's attempts to carry out a terror attack in revenge for the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, which it attributes to the Mossad. The Counterterrorism Bureau has not yet issued a formal travel alert for Israeli visitors to West African countries. Instead, security officials were sent to inform Israeli businessmen and community leaders about the information regarding a possible abduction or a terror attack being planned by Hizbullah against Israelis in one or more West African countries. The Prime Minister's Office, in a rare move Monday, restricted the Foreign Ministry and the Counterterrorism Bureau from commenting on the issue. The office has retained an alert on its Web site since Mughniyeh's February assassination advising Israelis, and especially businessmen who deal with Arab colleagues, to stay alert and to avoid areas frequented by Israelis. Israel has diplomatic ties with the majority of the West African countries: Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. Hundreds of Israeli workers and businessmen frequent these countries on behalf of multinational companies, often involved in the diamond trade. "West African countries have a large Arab community, and many of them are Shi'ite immigrants from Lebanon - who constitute the Hizbullah infrastructure in the region," a senior official at the Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post, Monday. Shortly after Mughniyeh's assassination in February, security officials warned that Israeli and Jewish institutions in Africa were likely targets for Hizbullah retaliation. Officials said Monday that Hizbullah maintained a strong presence in northern and western Africa and could take advantage of lax security throughout these areas when perpetrating its retaliatory attack. "Hizbullah looks for a country with a weak regime, weak intelligence and security services and relatively easy escape routes," a defense official explained. 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 Mombassa, 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. The working assumption in the Israeli security establishment is that now that the Regev-Goldwasser-Kuntar swap deal has been completed, Hizbullah has a greater motivation to carry out a revenge operation than before. Another working premise suggests that Hizbullah activists in West Africa are planning either the abduction of Israelis or a "low profile" terror attack, such as the two attacks in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. Eighty-five people were killed in the famous terror attack on the AMIA Jewish community building in Buenos Aires in 1994, and 29 were killed in an earlier attack on the Israeli Embassy building in the city in 1992. Neither Hizbullah nor any other organization has ever claimed responsibility for the attacks. Nonetheless, Israelis who live or lived in West Africa told the Post they do not believe Hizbullah will dare to carry a terror attack on such flammable ground. An Israeli who works in Nigeria and is on a visit in Israel told the Post he was not especially concerned for his security there. "Normally, there is not much tension between the Israeli and the Lebanese communities living in Nigeria, because these people are there for business purposes and not for political reasons," said Gloria, who refused to provide her last name. "Since no white businessman can move freely in West Africa without a bodyguard, an armored vehicle and a secure compound in which he must live, a possible attack turns out to be less attractive" there, Itzhak Oren, former ambassador to Nigeria and Benin, told the Post. "Besides, Hizbullah does not tend to carry attacks abroad, and it seems less likely that they will do it in West Africa where the regimes are highly aggressive, and can severely limit the movement of the Lebanese people living in West Africa as a result of an attack on their territories," Oren added. Yigal, another Israeli who works for a cellular company in Ghana, added that as someone who travels the country installing cellular antennas and Internet infrastructure, he has not felt hostility, whether from the Muslim or Christian residents. "It is pretty calm here, but that might be because it is pre-election period. Still, none of the Israelis I am in touch with here on a daily basis has received such an alert," he said.