Analysis: The Second Lebanon War is not over yet

The war against Hizbullah continued with the assassination of the group's chief operations officer.

IDF in Lebanon 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF in Lebanon 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli soldiers pulled out of Lebanon following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, but the world's war against Hizbullah continued Wednesday with the assassination of the group's chief operations officer, arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. As was the case with the air strike it carried out against what the foreign media claimed was a Syrian nuclear facility in September, Israel is now not only keeping quiet, but in the one statement released by the Prime Minister's Office, claims not to have been involved in Mughniyeh's assassination. This very well could be the case. Mughniyeh was wanted not just by Israel, but also by the United States for his involvement in the murder of over 300 people in the 1983 bombings of the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut. Intelligence analysts also raised the possibility Wednesday that Mughniyeh's assassination was connected to internal Hizbullah power struggles or a falling-out with his Syrian or Iranian patrons. Any of these possibilities might be true, but the feeling in the Israeli defense establishment on Wednesday was of immense satisfaction when word arrived of the successful elimination of one of the country's fiercest enemies. It is also difficult to ignore the modus operandi - a carefully planned car bomb in the heart of Damascus, killing an arch-terrorist. It is the type of story that Israeli legends are made of. There is no doubt that Mughniyeh's assassination was a heavy blow to Hizbullah, although not mortal. In the end, even the greatest terrorist in the world has a replacement. It will, however, set the organization back, since Mughniyeh was the key liaison with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and is believed to have coordinated the January 2006 meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Salah in Damascus. He was also in charge of the organization's extensive operations abroad in over 40 different countries, particularly in Africa and South America. Hizbullah certainly has the capability to retaliate abroad, and Israel has already ordered its embassies to raise their alert levels in preparation. Mughniyeh was behind the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina, in which 29 people were killed, as well as the 1994 bombing of the Israelite Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires, which killed 85. "Terrorists will think twice before responding," former Mossad chief and Labor MK Danny Yatom told The Jerusalem Post. "But for us and the Americans, the assumption needs to be that this might happen, and we need to be prepared." Whether Israel was involved or not, the assassination clearly demonstrates that the conflict with Hizbullah is far from over, and while Katyusha rockets might no longer be pounding the North, the war has moved to behind the scenes and the dark shadows where Mughniyeh lived. More importantly, if Israel was involved in the assassination, the success in infiltrating Mughniyeh's security sends a clear message to every Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist around the world, particularly to Khaled Mashaal, who lives not far from where Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus. The assumption in the defense establishment on Thursday was that Hizbullah would not respond by firing Katyushas into northern Israel. The last thing the guerrilla group needs right now is another war with Israel, particularly due to the sensitive political situation in Beirut and the planned million-man march on Thursday in commemoration of the third anniversary of former president Rafik Hariri's murder.