Four Israeli embassies have been closed temporarily, with other embassies being put on alert, following intelligence reports indicating potential attacks on Jewish and Israeli sites around the world. The current threat appears to stem from the desire to avenge the death of terrorist leader Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in a mysterious car bombing in Damascus, Syria, in 2008. At the time, foreign officials blamed Israel for the assassination, but Israel denied responsibility. Israel was not the only country to have a score to settle with Mughniyeh.
On Friday, Israel's Counter Terrorism Bureau issued a travel warning for all Israelis - due to the approaching anniversary of Mughniyeh's assassination - against traveling to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Turkey, and Venezuela. Foreign Ministry reports were intentionally vague to protect sources and obscure Israeli security deployments. The additional precaution of closing the four embassies was taken Monday evening.
Such decisions are typically based on concete intelligence data.
Mughniyeh was born to a Shiite-Muslim family in southern Lebanon in 1963. In 1979 he joined Fatah's Force 17, formed for the purpose of assassinating Israeli leaders following heavy losses by the PLO leadership during Israel's Operation Spring Youth in 1973. Ultimately, Force 17 served as bodyguards for Yassir Arafat, his top lieutenants, and PLO representatives abroad. Following Arafat's deportation from Lebanon in 1982, Mughniyeh left Fatah to act as the bodyguard for Sheikh Muhammad Fadlallah, the Lebanese Shia community's spiritual leader, who died last July.
Shortly after leaving Fatah, Mughniyeh became involved with the Hizbullah terrorist organization, becoming a celebrated figure. He is known to have participated in the bombing of US targets in Beirut in 1983. A car bomb at the US Embassy in April that year killed 63 people, including 17 Americans, and a truck bomb at the Marine compound in October killed 241 American soldiers. In 1985, Mughniyeh was behind the hijacking of TWA 845, during which US Navy sailor Robert Sethem was murdered.
Mughniyeh was also suspected of being behind the torture-murder of William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut in 1984; the kidnapping-murder of Lieutenant Colonel William Richard Higgins of the US Marine Corps, who was on peacekeeping duty in Lebanon in 1988; and through the Islamic Jihad terror group, the seizing of western hostages in Beirut during the 1980s. Of the aforementioned TWA 845 hijacking, then US President Ronald Reagan said “We will not rest until justice is done.”
Following Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Mughniyeh became heavily involved in Hizbullah's anti-Israel operations in southern Lebanon, and during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 reportedly personally fired Katyusha rockets into Israel. Such rocket attacks targeted Israeli civilian population centers, causing many to flee their homes. It is claimed Israel's alleged decision to target Mughniyeh for assassination was taken as early as 2000, but did not become urgent until the cease-fire following the second Lebanon war in 2006.
Mughniyeh's demise came while he was walking to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, where he planned to attend the 29th anniversary celebrations of Iran's Islamic revolution. Eyewitnesses said the street shook when he passed a rented car that exploded, obliterating his body. Pieces of Mughniyeh were later found across the street. Following the assassination, Hizbullah stated it would avenge the 'martyr' Mughniyeh at a time and place of its own choosing.