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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Attacks Fuel Jews' Fears Worldwide

JERUSALEM -- A spate of bomb attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets in the last eight days, ranging from London to Argentina, have fueled fears of a new, highly organized terrorist campaign and demonstrated the vulnerability of Jewish communities throughout the diaspora.


"Jews once again are being killed precisely because they are Jews," Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told his colleagues at a special cabinet meeting last week. "The motive this time is to halt the search for peace. We know where the trail leads. Israel will do all within its power to find and punish those responsible for these bombings. Peace must not succumb to terror."


The attacks -- a car-bomb explosion outside a Jewish organization in Buenos Aires that left 96 dead and 230 wounded; a bomb aboard a commuter plane in Panama that killed 12 Jewish businessmen as well as nine others; a blast outside the Israeli Embassy in London that injured 14; and a car bomb outside a building in north London housing Jewish community organizations in which five people were wounded -- have raised some profoundly troubling questions:


Are Jews around the world -- not only Israelis but all Jews -- now targets in a new surge of Middle East terrorism, a campaign able to strike globally with deadly suddenness? Can the Middle East peace process, still fragile despite the breakthroughs of the past year, survive such murder? Or will terrorism push the region toward war once again?


Israeli and Western intelligence analysts and counterterrorism specialists respond with pessimism to such questions. Any Jewish group virtually anywhere in the world is now a potential target, they say, with Israeli and high-profile Jewish institutions at a significantly higher risk.


"Perhaps the most dangerous time is still ahead as the peace process is actually implemented and as barriers between Mideast states come down," said Bruce Hoffman, co-director of the Center for Terrorism and Conflict Studies at St. Andrew's University in Scotland. "As peace takes hold, terrorists will have even more to lose and more motivation to demonstrate their capacity as spoilers."


The attacks set off alarms in particular because of their boldness and changes in tactics. In the past, neither of the organizations on which the Buenos Aires investigation has focused -- Hizbollah, the radical Islamic group based in Lebanon, and its offshoot Ansarallah, which claimed responsibility for both the Argentinean and Panamanian attacks -- has been involved in a systematic series of bombings. Their attacks have generally been tit-for-tat reprisals. And, although Lebanon's Shiite extremists have hijacked airliners, they have never carried out a midair suicide bombing.


The four attacks also demonstrated deadly expertise. Advance intelligence in Panama, where the flight patterns of Jewish businessmen were noted, and in one of the most protected sections of London is of deep concern to counterterrorism officials. The Panama incident surprised experts -- as a site, for the evident knowledge about and precision of the target, and for originality. In London, a female bomber who parked her car outside the Israeli Embassy had coolly talked her way past a roadblock and a policeman.


Counterterrorism specialists also believe that those who carried out the attacks had deep roots in the places where they were operating. They noted the local support networks, extensive reconnaissance and advance preparation.


"This appears to have been planned for a long time," said Frank Brenchley, chairman of London's Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism. "It's part of a widely spaced campaign that includes Buenos Aires, Panama, and the attempt to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, in March. That kind of planning must be done months ahead.


"I think this is not the end of the process. They may hit targets in other high-profile capitals like Paris and Rome," he added."


Israel has encouraged speculation that, just as it did after 11 athletes were killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics, its intelligence agents would secretly hunt and kill the Buenos Aires bombers.