WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 (JTA) — Some U.S. Jewish leaders see the inclusion of several Hezbollah militants on President Bush’s list of 22 most wanted terrorists as a nod toward Israel following a diplomatic clash earlier this month with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
But others note that the three men were cited by the Bush administration for their attacks on U.S. embassies and the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, not for their attacks on Israel.
Though tension with Israel has subsided since early October — when Sharon warned the West not to sell out Israel to appease the Arabs — Bush on Wednesday took the first step to include aggressors against Israel in his war on terror by naming Imad Mugniyah and two Hezbollah colleagues to the terrorist list.
Mugniyah, who heads security for Hezbollah, is a suspect in the attacks on the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. Two other Hezbollah members, Hasan Izz-al-Din and Ali Atwa, also were included on the list, released by the State Department and FBI.
A State Department spokesman said it was logical to include the men based on the government’s priorities.
“It’s an honest assessment of what the government considers the most dangerous of terrorists out there,” the spokesman said.
The administration went even further in a meeting with the American Jewish Committee on Thursday.
After meeting with administration officials Thursday, the executive director of the AJCommittee, David Harris, said his group and the administration agree Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaida network overlaps in some respects with Hezbollah and Hamas.
Harris said the administration had pledged to eventually go after the two anti-Israel groups.
“It’s a matter of sequence and a matter of timing,” he said.
American Jewish leaders said the new list shows the White House understands that its anti-terror coalition must target all terrorists.
“It is recognition that you cannot separate terrorists,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “More and more the Bush administration will see the interlocking nature of this network.”
Until now, the administration had been reluctant to include Hezbollah and Hamas in its list of terrorists, and did not freeze the two organizations’ assets last month when it targeted other groups. Many analysts say the White House fears alienating Arab states — which it considers essential to the anti-terror coalition — by targeting groups that threaten Israel.
The State Department spokesman said the organizations did not have their assets frozen last month because previous actions already had done that.
Israeli Embassy spokesman Mark Regev hailed the proclamation.
“It shows the Americans are extremely serious when they say that the struggle against international terrorism starts with Al Qaida but will continue until international terrorism is dealt with entirely,” Regev said. “These three men should have been dealt with years ago.”
Bush’s move has raised some concern in Israel that Hezbollah members may stage suicide attacks across Israel’s northern border if they feel in danger of being captured.
However, for that to happen, Regev noted, it would take the “active support of Iran, acquiescence of Syria and the inaction of Lebanon,” three countries who have joined Bush’s coalition.