Hizbullah paying Palestinian groups to avenge Mughniyeh assassination

Fearing a harsh military response if it attacks Israel directly, Hizbullah has paid Palestinian terrorist cells to avenge the assassination of the group's military commander, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Hizbullah, Israeli officials told the Post, has paid tens of thousands of dollars to Palestinian terrorist groups, asking them to carry out large-scale attacks against Israel - including the kidnapping of IDF soldiers - in retaliation for the February assassination of Imad Mughniyeh. Hizbullah has accused Israel of killing Mughniyeh in a Damascus car bombing on February 12. Hizbullah has threatened repeatedly to avenge the assassination. Hizbullah's decision to ask the Palestinian groups to attack Israel in its place stems from concern, officials said, that an attack carried out directly by Hizbullah operatives would lead to a fierce Israeli military response in Lebanon. Defense officials have said in recent months that in the event of a renewed conflict with Hizbullah, Israel will not limit its strikes to Hizbullah targets but will also feel free to strike at Lebanese infrastructure now that Hizbullah is part of the government in Beirut. According to the defense officials, while the Palestinian terrorist groups have received large sums of money from Hizbullah, their failure to carry out attacks against Israel has caused tension between Gaza and Lebanon. Israel has beefed up security around embassies and institutions abroad out of fear that they may be targeted by Hizbullah, which is suspected of carrying out the bombings against the Israeli Embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. Fearing a kidnapping attack, the defense establishment has also warned Israeli businessmen, and particularly former defense officials, to take extra precautions when traveling abroad. Meanwhile on Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that Hizbullah had greatly improved its capabilities since the Second Lebanon War and was in possession of rockets that could reach as far south as Dimona. Barak also warned Beirut that the Shi'ite militia's integration into the Lebanese government could lead to extensive attacks on Lebanese infrastructure in the event of a military conflagration. "Hizbullah has three times the ability it had before the Second Lebanon War and now has 42,000 missiles in its possession, as opposed to the 14,000 it had before the war," Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, warning that Hizbullah's recent maneuvers south of the Litani River were a liability for Lebanon. "In practice, UN Resolution 1701 isn't working, and Hizbullah's integration within the Lebanese republic exposes Lebanon and its infrastructures to a more massive strike in the event of a future standoff," he added. Also addressing the committee, the head of the research division of Military Intelligence, Yossi Baidatz, said that Hizbullah was attempting to purchase surface-to-air missiles in order to try to bring down Israeli airplanes flying over Lebanon. Shelly Paz contributed to this report.