TEL AVIV (Jul. 30)
Israel’s capture of an Islamic fundamentalist leader in Lebanon on Friday has boosted confidence here in the Israel Defense Force, while at the same time raising fears in the United States about the fate of an American hostage.
Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid, a leader of the radical Hezbollah, or Party of God, was snatched from his home in southern Lebanon by Israeli commandos and whisked by helicopter to Israel, where he was interrogated this weekend about anti-Israel activities.
Obeid is said to have been instrumental in planning both rocket attacks on Israeli targets and attacks against the IDF in southern Lebanon.
He also has been linked to various kidnappings in southern Lebanon, including the 1988 abduction of American Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins.
A pro-Iranian group, called the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, warned Sunday that it would kill Higgins on Monday morning if Obeid, and two of his aides who were also captured, are not freed.
That organization, which Obeid heads, is said to be a front group for Hezbollah.
The United States condemned the threat made on Higgins’ life Sunday, in statements issued from Washington and Paris, where Secretary of State James Baker was attending an 18-nation conference on the future of Cambodia.
In Paris, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler called the threat “outrageous and uncivilized.”
In Washington, the White House issued a statement calling for “those who have influence” with holders of American hostages, to ensure their safety.
ONLY ONE KILLED IN ATTACK
Obeid’s capture was reportedly carried out in the wee hours of Friday morning by 25 members of an IDF’s commando unit trained for such operations.
The team ### by helicopter to a wadi (dry river bed) about a mile from Jibchit village, where Obeid lives. The Israelis, dressed in dark clothes and armed with silencer pistols, made their way on foot to Obeid’s house.
A small explosive charge was used to blast open the front door. The raiding party burst in, overcoming the Hezbollah leader’s guards in a short gunfight.
A neighbor of Obeid’s was reportedly fatally shot in the head. Obeid’s wife and five children were gagged and bound, but not hurt.
None of the Israeli soldiers was injured in the encounter.
Obeid and his two assistants, Ahmed Obeid and Hashem Fahes, were then taken back to the waiting helicopter and flown to Israel.
While the raid was in progress, air force planes flew diversionary raids over areas of western Lebanon and other aircraft flew over Jibchit village, reportedly to cover up the sounds of the helicopter as it landed.
There has been wide speculation here that Israel plans to try to exchange Obeid and his two aides, who were also seized, for three Israeli soldiers held captive in Lebanon.
Rahamim Alsheikh and Yossi Fink were captured in 1986, when their patrol was ambushed in the border security zone. They are thought to be held by Hezbollah.
Ron Arad, a navigator of an IDF jet downed over Lebanon in October 1986, was known to have been captured and held by Hezbollah’s rival, the mainstream Shiite Amal militia.
Israeli army sources are refusing to comment on whether or not the capture of the Hezbollah chief in southern Lebanon was performed with the intention of negotiating a prisoner exchange.
The operation itself has been praised in Israel and hailed as proof that the IDF has lost none of its initiative and fighting capability. Senior officers were quoted as saying the operation was performed with “surgical precision.”
It has boosted the image of the IDF, which has been flagging during the past 20 months as a result of its inability to halt the uprising.