Hizbullah in the Niger Delta?

By Ibrahim Usman

A sixty-year-old Israeli businessman working with Gilmore Engineering Nigeria Limited Mr. Ehud Avni was kidnapped in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, by the Niger Delta militants that have been launching series of attacks on Nigerian military and oil installations in the region. Spokeswoman for the Rivers state Police command, Mrs. Rita Innoma-Abbey, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, confirmed the abduction.

About the time the Israeli was kidnapped, the Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria Moshe Ram was having dinner with the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, in Government House Port Harcourt, where he declared the Niger Delta as safe for foreign nationals and described reports on the situation in the region as being blown out of proportion by the media. "We are safe here,” he said. Reacting to the abduction, the Israeli foreign ministry in a statement argued that, “the abduction of an Israeli businessman in Nigeria was criminally motivated and not related to any political or terrorist organization”.

Despite the constant abductions and hostilities, both the Nigerian military in the Niger Delta, as attested by the military spokesman Col Sagir, and the Israeli government argued that the region is peaceful and shied away from describing militants in the Niger Delta as terrorists. Instead, Mr. Ram said the media hype of the Niger Delta situation is similar to that of Israel, and described Israel and the Niger Delta as victims of unwarranted media propaganda. While the Nigerian army downplayed the situation in the region to cover up its inefficiency in the face of defeat as a result of the fierce battle being put by the militants, the Israeli ambassador down played the situation to look for a dog elsewhere to give a bad name in order to hang it.

Earlier last month, Mr. Ram made a spurious speculation that Hizbullah was planning to attack Israelis and their interests in West Africa to avenge the killing of its member by Israeli secret service, MOSSAD. The Nigerian Inspector of Police, Mike Okiro, was said to have visited Israeli embassy when Mr. Ram made the statement. According to Ram, the security report uncovered by the Israeli media did not specifically mentioned Nigeria, but it is all pointing towards that direction. This is what he said: “We know that they were not particular about Nigeria but I think that it is very feasible and might, you know, in the chain of events it might happen and eventually it can become a problem”.  Reporting the alert, The Jerusalem Post said, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, in a rare move, restricted the Counterterrorism Bureau from commenting on the issue. It however cautioned Israelis, especially business men who deal with Muslims, to be on the alert for possible attack and abduction.

Mr. Ram speaks on behalf of Israel, and i want to believe that Israel is targeting Muslim regions in Nigeria as potential terrorists. One would have thought that with the terror alert, the Israelis will be cautioned against travels or business dealings in the turmoil Niger Delta region. Instead they were cautioned against dealings with Muslims only. Surprisingly, the abduction of the Israeli national by the Niger Delta militants was completely downplayed by the Israeli embassy in the face of the earlier terror alert. Had the abduction of the Israeli businessman happened in Northern Nigeria, Moshe Ram would have confirmed his terror alert to be true. “”, an Israeli online medium confirmed that, the security threat in Nigeria exists from Lagos to Port Harcourt, and less pronounced in the north and around Abuja (the capital), which has not yet witnessed kidnapping for ransom. But it was quick to add that, “Threats against Israelis from Al-Qaida and Hezbollah have also been reported”. What an irony!

For the Israeli ambassador to say that, Hizbullah in West Africa is plotting attack on Israeli nationals and their interests is to indirectly express the fear of his country over Islamic resurgence in Nigeria, Northern Nigeria to be precise. This is because it is only in Nigeria that exist a vibrant Islamic Movement that has unflinching support and admiration for Iran and Hizbullah. In 2007, the US embassy in Nigeria had warned American citizens of a potential terror attack on official and commercial installations in Abuja and Lagos, alleging that, Al-Qaeda had shifted its base to Nigeria. The Islamic Movement in Nigeria sometime ago organized a symposium on the sixty years of illegal existence of Israel as a state, where scholars, credible journalists and social commentators spoke.

The Israeli ambassador made uncouth statements on the revered leader of the Movement Sheikh Ibraheem Yaqub Zakzaky, the Daily Trust newspaper (for participating at the seminar and allowing “unfriendly” write-ups to be published in the paper) and certain credible journalists, for asserting that there was no cause to celebrate the sixty years of existence of Israel as a state.  It is an open secret, as attested by the Israeli ambassador, that the Zakzaky - led Islamic Movement had been an Israeli target over the years by way of overt and covert operations.

Shortly after the ambassador issued the terror alert, world media started pointing accusing fingers at the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. World Defence Review posted on its website a picture of Sheikh Zakzaky addressing a large Muslim audience to commemorate the Ashura and other pictures depicting public activities of the group and made the following comment: “...that these pictures were shot in Nigeria is the fact that first; there is indeed a large Shiite minority in Nigeria with whom Hezbollah would find a natural ally, and second; there is a large Lebanese Shiite immigrant community in that country who settled there in the 1960s and 1970s, coming mostly from south Lebanon.

 The photographs show an unidentified Shiite mullah (his religious affiliation is easily identified by his dress) being given full military honors during a parade complete with uniformed militiamen and hundreds of Hezbollah yellow flags as well as giant posters of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. Another picture shows hundreds of uniformed young men during a military parade, preceded by large posters of Nasrallah and of assassinated Hamas leader Ahmed Yassine”.

Why would Hizbullah or its allies carry out an attack in West Africa, or Nigeria to be specific? A veteran of an elite army unit and a security expert in Africa, Nir Kalron while responding to Moshe Ram’s speculation in Israeli online paper, offered reasons: “One reason is the large population of Lebanese Shi’ites who left their country during the civil war in the 1970s. They deal in trade, communications, minerals and other fields. Ironically, so do many of the Israelis in the region, which means people from both groups may meet up in the business world...the warning must be taken seriously by business people in the area, at least for the time being”. True, there exists admirers of Hizbullah and AI-Qaeda in Nigeria, but no Islamic group in Nigeria had ever threatened to attack any foreigner or foreign interest in the country despite constant atrocities being orchestrated by Israel and carried out by American troops in Muslim countries.  

Now that there was no Hizbullah attack or abduction as insinuated by Mr. Ram, instead it happened in the Niger Delta and it is still going on, the Israeli ambassador should issue a fresh terror alert and warn Israelis to stay away from the Niger Delta. The scale of havoc and unrest carried out by armed groups in the Niger Delta on foreigners, foreign oil companies, the Nigerian military and innocent civilians can be described as criminal as well as terrorist act.  In as much as people of the Niger Delta have a case against the Nigerian government, what the armed men are demonstrating is nothing less than terrorist act that must be condemned. For Israel to describe the abduction of its citizen as criminal is like the pot calling the kettle black compared to the daily atrocities being perpetrated by Israel against innocent Palestinians in the last sixty years.

It is true to say that the Muslims in Nigeria are the target of the Israeli media propaganda. This can also explain the reason for the Israeli interest in Nigerian economy. Another interest of Israel in Nigeria is the oil-rich Niger Delta. If you are wondering where the Niger Delta militant groups get such sophisticated weapons, you should also know that Israelis have been engaging in secret arms exportation to Nigeria. Among them was a retired brigadier general Shlomo Ilya and his partners Ben Gal and Meir Dagan (before he was appointed to lead the MOSSAD). He was said to be very active in exporting arms to Nigeria.

The romance between Nigeria and Israel is fake and based on selfish economic interest of the Israel. If the Niger Delta militant groups were to succeed and declare self independence, Israel would also find them the very best of friends. During the Obasanjo regime, several Israelis arrived in the Nigerian capital of Abuja to staff and develop the offices of Aeronautics Ventures that is the operant branch in the largest arms deal ever landed by the Yavneh-based Aeronautics Defense Systems Company. A report on the $260 million deal appeared in Haaretz. The deal involves sales of land and sea drones (that operate from ships) to be used in the defense of the Niger River Delta region. Had the deal went through, it would have been one of the largest in the history of Israel's relations with the African continent (with the exception of the massive military assistance that Israel extended to the apartheid regime in South Africa).

What stopped the deal was the inability of the then president of Nigeria, Obasanjo, to amend the constitution and run for a third term. According to Haaretz, the deal was mediated by Israeli businessman Alon Nelken from Savyon. Nelken, who has played an active role in Nigeria for 25 years, despite the fact that he lacked a permit from the Israel Defense Ministry's security assistance division to conduct negotiations involving security exports.

Legal arms deal between countries is allowed, there is nothing wrong with that. Why then did the Obasanjo government dissociated itself from the deal only when it was exposed?  Several individuals credited with a role in the deal were quick to express their reservations and shake off suggestions of any involvement. According to Israeli media, connections with this deal could have complicated their future lives. The first among them was the then president's national security adviser, who described himself as “friend of Israel”. General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, in a telephone conversation with Haaretz, initiated by him, emphasized that: "I was not involved in negotiations to promote the deal and I was not a partner in it."

Like many others in the world, Gusau was alleged to have tried to help Israel learn the fate of missing navigator Ron Arad. A twist in the tale occurred when the Israeli media contacted former Nigerian Ambassador to Israel Dr. Anthony George Manzo who confirmed that, the transaction was accepted in a proper and normal decision-making process by the [Nigerian] Ministry of Defense. According to him, the Nigerian embassy in Israel was not involved in the deal, and that he only read about it in the Nigerian press. The question is, is it natural that the embassy be excluded from a deal like this? This makes the arms deal questionable, and with insidious intent.

It would be recalled that in 2006, an Israeli national was among six people charged with spying in Nigeria. They were charged with illegally obtaining classified defense documents in Nigeria, which according to court papers presided over by Justice Binta Murtala Nyako, were mean to be passed on to the defense attaché at the Russian Embassy in Nigeria.

With all these catalogue of dubious activities, it is about time Nigeria and other developing and countries as well as those in transition review their ties with Israel. History has shown that in all that Israel did or is doing, no matter how good and beneficial it seems, it has insidious intent. The whole aim is to dominate and control world economies by whatever means. To Israel, the end justifies the means.

Nigeria may be interested in the so-called advanced technology being propagated by Israel, but can it handle the attendant consequences of havoc and sectarian scuffle Israel is known for planting in its insatiable quest for economic domination and plunder?. A review of Israel’s daily cold blood murder of innocent men, women and children in the Palestinian occupied land in the last sixty years upgrades Israel as number one terrorist country in the world that is run by terrorists, unleashing wholesale terrorism.

Ibrahim Usman writes in from Kaduna