(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The assassination of Hezbollah operations officer Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a 2008 car-bombing in Damascus, was the result of a joint Mossad-CIA operation, according to a detailed report on Friday in The Washington Post.
The killing of one of the world’s most wanted terrorists was widely attributed to Israel in the foreign media.
US involvement in the death of Mughniyeh was confirmed to the news outlet by five former US intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to the report, the CIA obtained the legal authority to kill the Hezbollah leader because it was able to prove that, “he was a continuing threat to Americans,” through his connection to the arming and training of Shi’ite militias in Iraq who were targeting and killing US forces.
Mughniyeh’s son, Jihad, was killed on January 18 in an air strike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights that has been attributed to Israel. Besides Mughniyeh, five other Hezbollah operatives and six Iranian Revolutionary Guards personnel, including a general, were killed in the attack.
Among other terrorist attacks against US citizens, Mughniyeh the father was linked to the 1983 bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut that killed 63 people, and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 US servicemen.
Mughniyeh was also implicated in the 1992 suicide bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people and the 1994 attack on the Jewish community center in the Argentinian capital, which killed 85.
The US and Israeli intelligence organizations worked together for months monitoring Mughniyeh in Damascus to determine where the bomb should be planted, according to the report.
At one point an opportunity presented itself to kill both Mughinyeh and Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, who according to the report is an “archenemy of Israel,” and had also orchestrated the training of Shi’ite militias in Iraq. The trigger was not pulled, however, because the operatives did not have the legal authority to kill him.
According to the uncovered information, on February 12, 2008, Mughniyeh was killed, “on a quiet nighttime street in Damascus after eating dinner at a nearby restaurant... when a bomb planted in a spare tire on the back of his vehicle exploded.”
A team of CIA spotters in Damascus was tracking his movements, and Mossad agents in Tel Aviv triggered the bomb remotely according to the report.
“The way it was set up, the US could object and call it off, but it could not execute,” a former US intelligence official told the newspaper.
Planning for the operation was “exhaustive.”
The Israelis proposed placing a bomb in the saddlebags of a bicycle or motorcycle, but the US rejected the idea over concerns that the device might not project outward properly and cause collateral damage.
The bomb was repeatedly tested and reconfigured to minimize the blast area, officials said.
One official said that facial recognition technology was used to confirm Mughniyeh’s identity after he walked out of the Damascus restaurant in his neighborhood, moments before the bomb exploded.
The officials told the Washington Post that the Israelis “wanted to pull the trigger as payback.”
“It was revenge,” one former official said. “The Americans didn’t care as long as Mughniyeh was dead,” and there was little fear of blowback because Hezbollah would most probably blame the Israelis, he said.