By Sarah Wildman
Foreign Policy Correspondent
As Days of Rage continue across the Middle East, and thoughts are far from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Israeli Foreign Ministry took the unusual step earlier this week of quietly shutting down four embassies and putting others on high alert. That's because as attention has turned to protests in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, and Iran, sabers are rattling between Lebanon and Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that his nation could once again enter Lebanon, and Hezbollah once again promised to avenge its martyrs.
That would be one martyr, in particular. At least this week.
While Israel's embassy in Cairo was already in flux due to the 18-day Egyptian uprising, the decision to shut down four, thus far unnamed, diplomatic missions coincides with the third anniversary of the death of Imad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah leader, in Lebanon. Mughniyeh was killed in a car bombing in February 2008; Hezbollah blamed Israel. Israel denied culpability.
Indeed, this week the Israeli Foreign Ministry acknowledged it had received enough credible threats to believe the lives of embassy staffers were at risk. "A number of irregular incidents targeting Israeli destinations were recorded in the last few days," the ministry said in a statement Tuesday. "At this point we estimate that a threat exists against the locations and it is being dealt with. The relevant Israeli authorities are in contact with the relevant authorities in the countries in question."
The countries weren't named, but observers noted that on Friday Israel's Counter Terrorism Bureau declared eight countries were high risks for Israeli and Jewish travelers -- Egypt, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania and Venezuela. The foreign ministry did not confirm embassy closings in those nations, possibly to throw off any planned attacks.
Closing an embassy is a relatively unusual step. The United States and the United Kingdom, however, temporarily closed embassies in Yemen in early January 2010 due to threats of an al-Qaeda attack there.
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Something big is just around the corner. Israel must go on the offensive soon. The box in which they find themselves today is getting cramped for space, and is very uncomfortable.