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In a few weeks we shall mark the 23rd anniversary of the attack on Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people, of which 4 were Israeli Foreign Office employees. Additionally, over 220 people were injured in this attack on March 17 1992 – about 2 and a half years prior to the attack on the Jewish Community complex in Buenos Aires.
Despite the many years that have passed, these days seem very similar to those days prior to the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina. In reference to the outlines of the struggle against Iran and its messengers, namely Hezbollah, and their ultimate goal to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. Their current pretext is the elimination of an Iranian General in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, near the border with Israel. The general had been killed along with Hezbollah terrorists, including Jihad Murniyeh.
Let us recall the 1990’s: between the series of terrorist attacks which was set off following the removal of Hezbollah Chairman Abbas Mussawi, as well as the IDF raid on Ein Dardara, and the retaliatory terrorist attack by Hezbollah and or Iran in Argentina, two additional attacks took place. Both match the contemporary state of affairs. The first event reminiscent of our own time, is the assassination of Ehud Sadan of blessed memory, Israeli Embassy security officer at Ankara. An explosive device was placed under his car. At first glance, it had seemed as though this was what Hezbollah’s retribution for Mussawi’s elimination amounted to. But then, it turned out this was but a prelude to their principal vengeance, the attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. On the same timeline, between the IDF attack on Ein Dardara and the retribution attack on the AMIA complex on July 18 1994. Before that attack, another significant event transpired: the Hezbollah failed to detonate a truck filled with explosives near the Israeli embassy in Bangkok.
Faced with car bombs, security forces must address this threat (and others like it) by making special preparations ranging from strategy, through procedures to technological means. The security means designed to address this attack mode in the form of a car bomb, have developed significantly over the years in view of the security challenges Israeli Special Forces had to face head on, along with parallel services worldwide. For instance, the car bomb in the World Trade Center in February 1993. Its goal was to bring the towers down – as Bin Landen’s organization ultimately succeeded in achieving in a “slightly different” way.
These terrorist attacks, and others like them, served as test cases for deriving myriad lessons in the framework of addressing the terrorist threats. Exchanging and sharing data and know how between Western countries, with Israel among the leading nations in this field, proved important in ushering in high security preparedness, which greatly evolved since then. On the other hand, the terrorist adversaries too have evolved, closely following security innovations and finding new ways to hit targets with maximum effect. Tight security has led terrorist organizations to look for creative ways to circumvent any barriers to their success. For instance, ahead of the terrorist attack against US soldiers in 1996, the perpetrators gathered intelligence. In the course of their rounds at the US Air Force compound in Dahran, Saudi Arabia, they discovered the base featured perimeter defense. So they found an external field, a few yards from the last building. In order to carry out an ultimately successful attack, Hezbollah eventually used a truck filled with 8 tons of explosive, so the distance meant nothing, at the end of the day. Another such example is also from 1996. In February of that year, Belgian customs at the port of Antwerp checked a container aboard a ship which originally came from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. According to the ledger, it was supposed to have pickles. Nevertheless, aside from a few token cans, it also contained a heavy duty mortar capable of firing rockets weighing dozens of kilos.
The “finger prints” on the mortar unequivocally led to Iran. It turned the Iranians used this same type of mortar to attack Iranian opposition forces in Iraq. “Quite by chance”, they happened to use it to attack a hospital, as well as other installations. Estimates are the mortar was bound for some team preparing to attack a secure facility somewhere in Europe. The mortar was supposed to circumvent any security measures or perimeter defense, by simply using it from a distance. There are numerous examples, but the point is clear. Terrorist methodically check security means and procedures in their attempt to trace breaches and vulnerabilities, in order to maximize their effective attacks.
Written by: Meir Gershuni, former department head at Israel’s GSS and at present Senior Vice President for HLS at MAYDEX AG