Wanted Hizbullah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh was killed Tuesday (02/12/08 ) in a car bombing in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Mughniyeh operated in Syria and Lebanon, and served as a top-level Hizbullah liason with the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the al-Qods unit within the Iranian Pasdaran. The International Herald Tribune reports,
One of the world’s most wanted and elusive terrorists, the 45-year-old Mughniyeh was the suspected mastermind of attacks that killed hundreds of Americans, including 241 U.S. Marines, in Lebanon and the brutal kidnappings of Westerners in the 1980s.
He went underground in 1990s, reportedly undergoing plastic surgery, and was a mastermind behind with the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, a Jewish center in Buenos Aires and an attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.
Mughniyeh was wanted by half a dozen state intelligence agencies, including the FBI, early speculation in much of the Arab and Muslim world is Israel was responsible for the operation. However opinions of have been mixed. Predictably, Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, appealed to the Muslim world to “rise up to confront the Zionist devil, which is backed by the Americans.” Yet Sheik Jaber Al Khaled Al Sabah of Kuwait welcomed the attack as an act of divine retribution. Mughniyeh was behind the hijacking of a Kuwait Airways flight in 1998 and the killing of two of its Kuwaiti passengers. “The killing of the criminal Imad Mughniyeh was divine vengeance for those who killed the sons of Kuwait and threw them from planes at Limasol Airport in Cyprus,” the minister said.
In light of the recent bombing of a suspected Syrian nuclear installation this recent operation would represent a significant representation of the reach of Israeli military power. Israeli government officials denied any involvement in the attack. Military officials would neither confirm nor deny the allegations. Hizbullah vows to retaliate against Israeli targets abroad while Israel is steadily boosting troop levels along the Lebanese border. Israel ordered all embassies and military personnel on alert status and suggested international Jewish organizations be on guard against any potential acts of violence.
This was a welcome blow to Hizbullah both for the amount of blood on Mughniyeh’s hands as well as the political impact on the Baathist regime in Damascus. If Israel is responsible for the attack, this is a clear signal: if Damascus continues to support Hezbollah, when the next war comes, prepare to get hit with overwhelming force.
From the Jerusalem Post:
Mugniyeh operated against the US and Israel from Lebanon, had a hand in operations directly against both and in third countries like Argentina, shuttled between Beirut, Damascus and Teheran, and was central to training Hamas on Iran’s behalf. This sort of networking puts the lie to the strangely persistent myth that Shi’ites and Sunnis don’t work together. Just as Shi’ite Iran and Hizbullah, through Mugniyeh, have no compunctions helping Sunni Hamas, there is no reason to believe that these same terror centers are disconnected from al-Qaida, just because it is a Sunni group. Furthermore, Mugniyeh died, having evidently felt particularly safe in, the Syrian capital, Damascus. This should serve as a reminder, in case any was needed, that Syria remains a terror state par excellence.
His death revives central questions in the battle against Islamist terror: What is happening with the endless UN investigation of Syrian assassinations in Lebanon, while Syria seems to keep adding to its hit list? What is happening with the Chapter 7 embargo against Hizbullah that Syria is rampantly violating. When will the UN Security Council take steps to enforce the weapons embargo imposed by Resolution 1701? Most importantly, when will UNIFIL be charged with helping the Lebanese government to prevent the weapons flow to Hizbullah across the Lebanon-Syria border?
The death of Mugniyeh should also refocus attention on the danger posed by his real masters in Teheran. Every time the world contemplates a nuclear Iran, it must also contemplate the possibility that Mugniyeh’s successors will be tasked with using that weapon in a way the bears no obvious fingerprints leading back to Iran, presents no clear address for retaliation, and therefore leaves the entire deterrence model in shambles.
Read more at The Contentious Centrist, Contentions, Counterterrorism Blog, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Small Wars Journal, The New York Sun, The Terror Wonk.