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As Days of Rage continue across the Middle East, and thoughts are far from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Israeli Foreign Ministry took the unusual step earlier this week of quietly shutting down four embassies and putting others on high alert. That's because as attention has turned to protests in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, and Iran, sabers are rattling between Lebanon and Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that his nation could once again enter Lebanon, and Hezbollah once again promised to avenge its martyrs.
That would be one martyr, in particular. At least this week.
While Israel's embassy in Cairo was already in flux due to the 18-day Egyptian uprising, the decision to shut down four, thus far unnamed, diplomatic missions coincides with the third anniversary of the death of Imad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah leader, in Lebanon. Mughniyeh was killed in a car bombing in February 2008; Hezbollah blamed Israel. Israel denied culpability.
Observers pointed out that there were others around the globe who were happy to see Mughniyeh dead (the United States is at the top of that list). Mughniyeh was widely believed to be involved in the hijacking of TWA flight 845 in the early 1980s (and was indicted for that crime in the U.S.) and other attacks on Americans, as well as bombings against Jewish and Israeli sites in Argentina -- including the deadly AMIA bombing in 1994 against a Jewish community center that killed 85 people and wounded 151 more. He then dropped off the radar for years, though intelligence believed him to be still active -- and even blamed him for the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996.
Upon his death, then State-Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "The world is a better place without this man in it. One way or the other, he was brought to justice." And the FBI's Richard Kolko told the Associated Press, "If this information proves true, it would be considered good news in the ongoing fight against terrorism."
But good news for fighters of terrorism didn't mean there wasn't revenge in the works. Hezbollah promised as much. Wednesday morning, at a rally marking the party's Martyr's Day, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah reiterated that promise. "I say to the Zionist leaders and generals: Wherever you go in the world . . . at any time, to watch your heads because the blood of Imad Mughniyeh will not be wasted."
He promised war and he promised bombs. "I say to the fighters of the Islamic Resistance: Be ready. If a new war is imposed on Lebanon we may ask you to take Galilee, to free Galilee," Hassan Nasrallah said. "I hope the people of Israel have good bomb shelters."
Agence France-Press reported that on the dais with Nasrallah was Mohammed Yusuf Mansour, a Hezbollah leader who escaped from a Cairo prison last week.
Indeed, this week the Israeli Foreign Ministry acknowledged it had received enough credible threats to believe the lives of embassy staffers were at risk. "A number of irregular incidents targeting Israeli destinations were recorded in the last few days," the ministry said in a statement Tuesday. "At this point we estimate that a threat exists against the locations and it is being dealt with. The relevant Israeli authorities are in contact with the relevant authorities in the countries in question."
The countries weren't named, but observers noted that on Friday Israel's Counter Terrorism Bureau declared eight countries were high risks for Israeli and Jewish travelers -- Egypt, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania and Venezuela. The foreign ministry did not confirm embassy closings in those nations, possibly to throw off any planned attacks.
Closing an embassy is a relatively unusual step. The United States and the United Kingdom, however, temporarily closed embassies in Yemen in early January 2010 due to threats of an al-Qaeda attack there.
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