Michele Chabin, Special for USA TODAY
JERUSALEM - Israel's internal security agency said Wednesday it arrested three Palestinians for allegedly planning to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem International Convention Center and other targets.
The Shin Bet intelligence agency said the three men, two from Jerusalem and one from the West Bank, were recruited by a Gaza-based operator working on behalf of al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri.
Aviv Oreg, an Israeli expert on al-Qaeda and Global Jihad, called the thwarted attack "very serious."
"It appears that this is the first time since 2001, when the so-called Shoe Bomber came to Israel to conduct reconnaissance for a possible attack, that hard-core al-Qaeda elements are involved within Israel."
The security agency said one of the arrested recruits revealed that he was in the initial stages of planning twin terror attacks at the embassy and convention center, where U.S. President Obama spoke during his March 2013 visit to Israel.
The recruit said he was planning to travel to Syria to plan the attacks with other al-Qaeda-affiliated operatives who would attempt to enter Israel with fake Russian IDs.
The plan called for two suicide bombers to blow themselves up at the embassy's entrance. At the same time in Jerusalem, terrorists planned to detonate a large bomb at the entrance to the convention center as people were entering, and another when first responders arrived.
Oreg said Israel would be particularly disturbed by the role of the Syrian-backed jihadists in the alleged plot.
"It seems that the three recruitees were about to go to Syria, where they would have been trained to construct explosive mobile devices and would be joined, on their return, by foreigners, who are attracted to the Syrian jihadi arena," Oreg said. "This isn't a lone wolf. We know what al-Qaeda is capable of, so this is a big development."