J'lem: Syria-Hizbullah tension rising|
Herb Keinon and Yaakov Katz , THE JERUSALEM POST
Mar. 24, 2008
Syria's reticence in blaming Israel for killing arch-terrorist Imad
Mughniyeh, despite Hizbullah's claims of having "100 percent proof" that Israel
was involved, indicates that the issue is causing some friction between Syria
and the Lebanese guerrilla group, according to assessments in Jerusalem.
Last month, Syria announced that it was launching an investigation into
Mughniyeh's assassination, but has so far not released any findings. This has
raised eyebrows in Jerusalem, especially since Hizbullah's Deputy
Secretary-General Naim Kassem categorically blamed Israel over the weekend for
the February car-bombing.
According to these assessments, Kassem's speech would have been a good time
for Damascus to come out with some evidence of alleged Israeli involvement -
something that did not transpire.
Mughniyeh's widow has been quoted as suggesting Syrian involvement, and was
quoted by an Italian wire service as saying that "the Syrian traitors assisted
in killing my husband. The Syrians' refusal to allow Iranian investigators to
probe the assassination proves their involvement in the murder of my husband in
According to assessments in Jerusalem, Damascus's silence may be an
indication that the investigation has revealed information that could be very
embarrassing to Syria, such as the involvement of Syrian nationals in the
assassination - even if they were not at all connected to the Assad government -
or the involvement of agents from other Arab states.
If Syria has information linking the assassination to another Arab state,
they would likely hold on to that information until after the Arab League summit
in Damascus later this week, in order not to do anything to further weaken that
conference, according to these assessments.
Meanwhile Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the defense establishment
was preparing for the possibility that Hizbullah would attack Israel to avenge
Mughniyeh's murder. He said that Israel was currently in a "sensitive period"
but would overcome the risks.
"We cannot be lightheaded about the possibility of retaliation," Barak said
during a tour Monday morning of a West Bank checkpoint. "The defense and
intelligence establishments are gearing up, and it's a good idea for Israelis to
keep their eyes open in the near future."
The 40 days of mourning for Mughniyeh ended on Saturday, and Israel has
raised its level of alert worldwide - in embassies and Jewish institutions - out
of fear that Hizbullah will avenge last month's assassination by striking a
Jewish or Israeli target abroad.
Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah renewed his vow to retaliate for the
death of Mughniyeh.
"The one who killed our commander must be punished. The killers must be
punished, and they will be punished, God willing," Nasrallah said in a
videotaped speech aired during a mass rally in Beirut on Monday to commemorate
Mughniyeh. "We will choose the time, place and manner of punishment."
While the possibility for war is deemed low, the IDF beefed up its presence
along the Lebanese border on Friday, and units were diverted there from training
facilities and other operations.
Defense officials said that a likely attack by Hizbullah could be the
targeting or kidnapping of an Israeli official while abroad.
"They will likely do something that will not lead to war but can be
considered payback for killing Mughniyeh," one official speculated.
Nasrallah said the elimination of Israel was possible since following its
withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and its "defeat" in the 2006 summer
war, the "myth" of its "invincible" army had been shattered.
"Can Israel be eliminated? Yes and a thousand yeses, Israel can be
eliminated," he said.
"I want to remind you that an Israeli war is no longer a picnic. An Israeli
war has become very costly because there is in Lebanon the strength, will and
education of the resistance as well as the blood of the resistance's martyrs,"
he said, drawing cheers from the crowd, who gathered at a rebuilt complex
destroyed during the Second Lebanon War.
Nasrallah added that UN-mediated negotiations with Israel for a prisoner swap
"Although the Israelis have killed the pillar of the resistance, we did not
halt the negotiations on a prisoner exchange," he said, disclosing that meetings
were recently held with UN mediators.
"We will not stop the negotiations ... because we want to achieve one of the
aspirations of martyr Imad Mughniyeh, that is, to see our prisoner brothers free
among their parents and loved ones," Nasrallah said.
AP contributed to this report.
Original article: Jerusalem Post
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