For the past three years, the defense establishment has been waited in
apprehension. After that fateful night in the upscale neighborhood of Kafr
Soussa in Damascus on February 12, 2008, when Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated,
the country has been bracing for the expected revenge which has yet to
The fact that Hizbullah has yet to attack is possibly the greatest
proof of just how important Imad Mughniyeh was for the guerrilla organization.
Without his crafty strategic and tactical skills, it apparently could not pull
off an attack, even though it accused Israel of carrying out the
Several known plots have been thwarted, including a plan
to bomb the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan and a plan to hit a target in
Turkey with shoulder-to-air missiles.
Despite the three years that have
passed since Mughniyeh’s death, his position as commander of Hizbullah’s
military forces has yet to be completely filled. Also unfilled, is the position
he held as head of its overseas terrorist infrastructure, the likes of which
carried out the 1992 and 1994 bombings in Argentina.
In more recent
years, he was involved in the 2000 kidnapping of three IDF soldiers and the
abduction of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser on July 12, 2006, an
attack that sparked the Second Lebanon War. His relationship with Iran and Syria
made him something like a nexus of terrorism encompassing the Middle East and
possibly the entire world.
BUT WHO was Mughniyeh? He was born into a
Shi’ite family in 1963 in the southern Lebanese village of Tayr Dibba. His
father was a poor farmer and vegetable salesman and at 16 he joined Fatah and
climbed the ranks fairly quickly, eventually becoming a member of Force 17, its
elite military force. One of Mughniyeh’s first missions was to protect Abu
Jihad, later believed to have been assassinated by Israel in Tunis in
One of the first Israeli intelligence officers to hear the name
Mughniyeh was Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shimon Shapira, who served as Binyamin
Netanyahu’s military aide during his first term as prime minister in the
“He was of interest to us since it was unusual for the
Palestinians to give such a senior position to a Shi’ite like Mughniyeh,” said
Shapira, who wrote his doctorate on Hizbullah and its rise to
“This was a clear indication of Mughniyeh’s skill, talent and
In 1982 though, after Yasser Arafat was deported from
Lebanon following Israel’s invasion, Mughniyeh decided to leave Fatah and
started working for Iran, acting as the bodyguard for Sheikh Muhammad Fadlallah,
the Lebanese Shi’ite community’s spiritual leader who died last July.
was during that period that he became involved with Hizbullah, which was just
taking its first steps into the world of global terrorism. The next year was a
big year for Hizbullah and Mughniyeh, who helped mastermind and carry out the
attacks against the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut which killed
more than 300 people. Two years later, he was involved in the hijacking of a TWA
“We picked up on Mughniyeh when he started working for the
Iranians and following the TWA hijacking in 1985,” recalled Shapira, who worked
for more than 20 years in Military Intelligence with a special focus on
A number of attempts to assassinate or capture him over the years
failed and in 2000, following the withdrawal from Lebanon, Mughniyeh offered
Iran to not just support Hizbullah as it had been doing, but to turn Lebanon
into its frontline base against Israel.
“This is when Iran decides to
turn Hizbullah into their front against Israel and into a real strategic asset
and begins deploying thousands of missiles in Lebanon. Mughniyeh is responsible
for all of this,” Shapira said.
In 2006, Mughniyeh personally joined the
combat and fired Katyusha rockets into Israel. Before the war, he was spotted
once or twice along the border giving tours to his Iranian patrons.
was an old-school type of terrorist,” explained Col. (res.) Eitan Azani, a
former head of Military Intelligence’s Lebanon Desk. “He had a very strong
operational mind-set, and he also invested a lot in watching over himself since
he knew that he was being hunted.”
ACCORDING TO various foreign reports,
the decision to assassinate Mughniyeh was taken before the 2006 war but turned
urgent immediately after the cease-fire went into effect on August 14.After
receiving a tip that Mughniyeh was planning to attend the 29th anniversary of
the revolution celebrations at the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Mossad chief
Meir Dagan tasked the Kidon unit, an elite group of assassins which operates
under the Caesarea Branch, with the mission.
According to one account in
the foreign press, three operatives flew into Damascus on European passports.
Using local conspirators, the three obtained explosives, loaded them into a
rental car and parked it in front of the Iranian Cultural Center.
team set up down the street from the center and waited for Mughniyeh. He finally
showed up, left his car and began walking toward the party, the report claimed.
As he passed the rental car, the entire street shook. Mughniyeh’s body parts
were later found scattered across the street.
His assassination took
Hizbullah completely by surprise, particularly Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the
organization’s leader, who still delivers speeches from his bunker, fearing a
But the void Mughniyeh left has been hard to fill. According
to senior IDF officers, no single person was capable of replacing him and his
responsibilities have been divided among a number of Iranian and Lebanese
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Mughniyeh’s patron,
used his assassination to solidify its control over Hizbullah. Shortly after he
was killed, Iran deployed a top IRGC officer to Lebanon to oversee its
The officer has been identified as Hossein Mahadavi, and his
official title is “commander of Iran’s overseas division,” which, in this case,
is Hizbullah. Mahadavi is believed to maintain an office in Beirut and is a
senior member of the IRGC’s Al Kuds Force, which is responsible for overseas
Relations between Iran and Hizbullah have seen some tension
lately. Mahadavi’s presence has caused friction, as has Iran’s decision to cut
its annual $1 billion in support by some 40 percent.
IT IS unclear if
Hizbullah is still interested in avenging Mughniyeh’s assassination.
organization’s recent takeover of Lebanon with the formation of a new government
essentially controlled by Hizbullah and Nasrallah is an indication of Iran’s
growing regional hegemony, but will also likely restrain the group due to the
potential political losses it would suffer in a future war.
on Mughniyeh’s life, one better understands the transformation that Hizbullah
has made from its humble beginnings as a small-time terror group. At the same
time, his story suggests the threat the Western world will face if Iran is
allowed to continue supporting terror and developing a nuclear weapon.