Hizbollah adopts an 'eye for an eye' tactic

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THE LEBANESE Hizbollah did not need to claim the destruction of the Argentine Jewish centre on Monday - the Israelis did it for them. In Beirut, they stayed silent as Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, yesterday blamed the pro-Iranian Hizbollah 'and their patrons' for the car bomb which killed at least 27 people in Buenos Aires.

'How many people died in the Buenos Aires bomb?' a Hizbollah sympathiser asked rhetorically. 'And how many people died in the Israeli air raid on the Hizbollah last month? Twenty-six? Then they are about the same.'

After Israel's nighttime jet and helicopter attack on the Hizbollah training camp near the city of Baalbek on 2 June, Islamic leaders in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley talked of revenge in 'Europe or America' for the assault, in which wounded Hizbollah trying to escape were cut down by machine-gun fire from Israeli helicopters equipped with searchlights; none was more pointed in his warnings than Hussein Moussawi of Islamic Amal. 'Some of the bodies (of the Hizbollah) were cut in half,' he said. 'If people see Jews blown apart, they shouldn't blame us. Because this is the result of what our people have seen here.'

If the Buenos Aires bombing was revenge for the Israeli attack in the Bekaa, then the Hizbollah appear to be adopting Israel's tactic of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Not only that, both Israel and the Hizbollah now boast of their 'long arm'. Within six weeks of the Israeli assassination of the Hizbollah leader, Abbas Moussawi, along with his wife and child, in southern Lebanon in February, 1992, a car bomb exploded outside the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 28 people and wounding more than 200. A telephone caller claiming to represent 'Islamic Jihad' - a name once used by the group which kidnapped Westerners in Lebanon and which was a 'satellite' of the Hizbollah - claimed responsibility. American and Israeli secret service agents concluded the Hizbollah planned the attack.

A Lebanese intimate with the Hizbollah's thinking yesterday described the situation in the following elliptical - but pointed - way: 'No one could doubt it was the Israelis who bombed the Hizbollah training camp in the Bekaa, but you can't be absolutely certain that Hizbollah made the attack on Buenos Aires. Hizbollah will not claim it. There is obviously a link, but there is no direct link.' Asked why Argentine Jews rather than Israelis should be targeted, he replied: 'The Jews of Israel come from Poland, from Russia, from Europe or from Latin America,' he said. 'What is the difference? It is the same.'

The obvious difference, of course, is that while Hizbollah's casualties last month were trainee fighters, the Jewish victims in Buenos Aires were civilians. But neither side has flinched from retaliating against civilians. When Hizbollah men killed eight Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon a year ago, an Israeli bombardment on Lebanese villages killed 120 Lebanese civilians and turned 300,000 refugees on to the roads. The Hizbollah's message none the less seems clear - major Israeli attacks on the Hizbollah - who are fighting to drive Israeli occupation forces out of southern Lebanon - are likely to provoke cruel reprisals against Jewish communities elsewhere in the world.

Buenos Aires contains not only the largest Jewish community in Latin America - estimated at a quarter of a million - but a large number of Shias from Lebanon, the religious group from which the Hizbollah have drawn most of their recruits.