Monday, February 18, 2008

Israel Readies Patriot Missiles in North

Israel has deployed U.S.-made Patriot air defense missiles near the northern city of Haifa in case of an attack by Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas in response to the killing of the group's top commander, security officials said Monday.

Hezbollah and its Iranian backers swiftly blamed Israel for last week's car bombing that killed Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, Syria. Israel's government denied involvement, but Israel is widely believed to have carried out similarly daring, complex and deadly strikes against other terror masterminds in the past.

In his eulogy for Mughniyeh, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed to retaliate against Israeli and Jewish targets anywhere in the world.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel is "prepared on all fronts" for an attack.

Security officials said the a Patriot battery was put on standby Sunday for the first time since Israel's monthlong war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, when the Lebanese guerrillas fired nearly 4,000 rockets into northern Israel. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The Israeli military said it did not comment on "operational readiness."

Patriot batteries were first deployed in Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, but they failed to stop most of the 39 Scud missiles launched by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. They were originally designed to intercept aircraft, and Israeli media reported their role in the current situation would be to shoot down bomb-laden pilotless planes as well as rockets.

Israel blamed Mughniyeh for the 1992 bombing of its embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 29 people. Argentine prosecutors linked him to the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center that killed 85 people.

He was also implicated in bombings that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s and the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon. (AP)


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