The first anniversary of the murder in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, Hizballah's idolized military-intelligence commander, falls on February 12.
On Jan. 21, the Hizballah al Manar TV website carried the following message:
“Israel is still worried that Hizballah will avenge the assassination of its top military commander Imad Mughniyeh. Israeli media are saying the latest assessments still believe Hizballah is planning a retaliatory attack.”
Last week, Russian intelligence sources leaked out of the blue a terse word to a group of British correspondents that the Azeri security service had foiled a Hizballah plot to blow up the Israeli embassy in Baku.
With the flames of the Gaza war shooting high, the disclosure had sensational overtones as a demonstration that Hizballah had not contented itself with two rocket attacks from Lebanon against the northern Israeli towns of Nahariya and Kiryah Shemona, but was trying to open another front to support its embattled Palestinian ally, Hamas.
But here is the mystery. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources, the incident the Russians referred to occurred in early April 2008, six weeks after Mughniyeh's death and almost a year before the Gaza War. So what convoluted game were the Russians playing?
At the time, Azeri security services picked up a six-man Hizballah group complete with suicide bombers for blowing up the Israeli embassy in Baku by the same method as its embassy was demolished in Buenos Aires in March 1992, killing 29 people and injuring 242.
Israel cautions Hizballah and Syria against terror outside Middle East
In March, a month before the attack in Azerbaijan, two suicide bombers rented a villa in a high-end suburb of Baku. They tried to carry out surveillance, but encountered difficulty because the three floors occupied by the Israeli embassy were situated in a high-rise building which was hard to access.
They therefore turned for help to Azeri followers of al Qaeda.
To this day, it has not been established how the plot was foiled – whether because one of those locals was a double agent who went to the Azeri security service and tipped them off, or by the Israel security guards noticing suspicious watchers and raising the alarm.
In the end, when the terrorists seemed to be on the verge of striking, special Azeri forces surrounded the villa and burst in. They found bagfuls of explosives, bomb vests, RPG rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles and a pile of ammunition.
The Hizballah team had been preparing to use this massive fire power to assault the Israeli embassy before seizing the offices and personnel. They would then have wired the building with explosive devices and blown it up.
Israel and Azerbaijan agreed to impose a blackout on the Baku incident – the former so as not to have its hand forced against Hizballah; the latter because the involvement of Iranian agents was uncovered in interrogations and the Azeris preferred to keep it quiet.
Back to the present, the Russian sources' “disclosure” of an eight-month old thwarted suicide attack on the Israeli embassy in Baku set alarm bells jangling in Washington and Jerusalem.
Was it an oblique heads-up to put the Americans and Israelis on guard following intelligence received about a second Hizballah terrorist attack impending in Azerbaijan – or some other Central Asian target?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources recall that at the outset of its Gaza offensive in late December, Israel warned Syria and Hizballah that any terrorist action against Israeli or Jewish targets outside the Middle East would elicit the same powerful Israel retaliation as a direct assault on its territory.
That warning is still in force.