Hezbollah leader says Israel killed militant, vows revenge
Nasrallah says attacks can occur anywhere in world
BEIRUT - Hezbollah's leader vowed yesterday to retaliate against Israeli interests anywhere in the world for the assassination of one of the militant group's most notorious operatives, warning of a war without boundaries in a eulogy delivered to throngs of fist-waving mourners.
Israel ordered its military and embassies overseas on high alert and recommended Jewish institutions worldwide do the same, fearing revenge attacks for the car bomb that killed Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world's most-wanted terrorists, in Damascus on Tuesday.
And in Washington, the FBI put its domestic terror squads on alert for any threats against synagogues or Jewish centers in the United States following the Hezbollah leader's assassination.
The fiery speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, delivered via video to throngs of thousands at Mughniyeh's funeral, signaled the Iranian-backed Shi'ite group was ending a yearslong policy of battling Israel only on Israeli or Lebanese territory, raising the specter of attacks in Western or other countries.
Hezbollah and its Iranian backers blamed Israel for killing Mughniyeh, but Israel denied involvement. Nasrallah accused Israel of taking the fight outside the "natural battlefield" of Israel and Lebanon.
"You have crossed the borders," said Nasrallah, himself in hiding because of fears of assassination since the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. "With this murder, its timing, location and method - Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, let the whole world listen: Let this war be open."
The thousands of black-clad mourners raised their fists in the air, chanting, "At your orders, Nasrallah."
Unlike Middle Eastern leaders who have indulged in exaggerated rhetoric, Nasrallah is known for acting on his threats. In 2006, he vowed to take action to free Lebanese prisoners in Israel, and in July that year, Hezbollah guerrillas staged a daring cross-border raid that snatched two Israeli soldiers as bargaining chips.
The incident triggered a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah that devastated southern Lebanon, with the guerrillas lobbing thousand of rockets into northern Israel. It ended with the Israeli soldiers still captive, and no prisoner-swap deal has been reached.
Yesterday's events in Beirut raised fears that Lebanon's internal turmoil could worsen. Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of Hezbollah's pro-Western political opponents filled a downtown Beirut square to mark the anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination.
Fearing clashes, authorities deployed thousands of troops. The two mass gatherings ended with a few fights involving fists, sticks, and knives between government supporters and opponents that left at least four injured.
Officially, the Israeli government denied involvement, but speaking privately, Israeli military officials were more vague, refusing to confirm or deny involvement. Israel has reacted with similar ambiguity after past assassinations widely believed to be the work of its spy agency, the Mossad. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Hezbollah's statements were "quite concerning and they should be alarming to everyone."
"Quite clearly, Hezbollah has a long record of carrying out violent acts and acts of terrorism around the globe."
Some specialists suggested that Hezbollah could count on Iran for help on any attacks against Israeli targets. "The only aspect that is uncertain about Hezbollah's retaliation is its timing and location. Its happening and lethality are almost certain," said Bilal Saab, a Middle East security researcher at the Brookings Institution.
Nasrallah warned Israel that its alleged killing of Mughniyeh was a "very big folly" that will be avenged.