Imad Mughniyeh good 248.
(photo credit: AP)
Eight months after he was assassinated in a meticulously-planned car bombing in Damascus, Hizbullah arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh has been succeeded by a senior Iranian intelligence official, an Italian newspaper reported Thursday, indicating an Iranian determination to consolidate its control over the Lebanese group.
According to the report in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Hizbullah's new chief military commander is Muhammad Riza Zahdi, aka Hassan Mahdawi, who in the late 1980s served in the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.
According to the report, Zahdi will be in charge of coordinating weapons smuggling to Hizbullah from Syria as well as the construction of military positions in southern Lebanon. The paper said that the appointment was part of an Iranian plan to restructure Hizbullah in the wake of the Second Lebanon War.
Mughniyeh, who had been one of the world's most wanted men for decades, met his demise last February. Since his assassination, Hizbullah had entrusted his duties - including international operations as well as relations with Iran and Syria - to a council of several officials.
In September, The Jerusalem Post reported how Iran was solidifying its control over Hizbullah and had instituted a number of structural changes to the group under which Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah no longer enjoyed exclusive command over the military wing.
According to Israeli officials, following the Second Lebanon War Iran decided to step up its involvement in Hizbullah's decision-making process and instituted changes to the guerrilla group's hierarchy under which Nasrallah now has to get Iranian permission prior to certain operations.
"There is a real Iranian command now over Hizbullah," a top IDF officer said at the time. "This doesn't mean that Nasrallah is a puppet, but it does mean that whenever he pops his head out of his bunker he sees an Iranian official standing over him."
Reports of Iranian discontent with Nasrallah began to surface following the 2006 war, which Teheran reportedly was not interested in seeing erupt at that time.
Several reports in the Arab press claimed that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had ousted Nasrallah from his post as Hizbullah secretary-general and replaced him with the Naim Qassem, Hizbullah's second in command. Iran has denied the reports.
Iran's consolidation of its control over Hizbullah is seen as an attempt to gain the ability to fully direct its military forces in the event of a conflict in the Middle East. If Iran is attacked by the US or Israel, it may now be able to order Hizbullah to retaliate on its behalf. In the past, the IDF's Military Intelligence has speculated on what Nasrallah would do in such a scenario and had even raised the possibility that Hizbullah wouldn't necessarily attack Israel.