Who will replace a uniquely effective murderer?

Israeli intelligence analysts agree that no successor to Mughniyeh could be more evil.

Imad Mughniyeh 224 88 (photo credit: FBI Website)
Imad Mughniyeh 224 88
(photo credit: FBI Website)
While Israeli intelligence analysts speculated Thursday on who will replace Imad Mughniyeh as Hizbullah's terror chief - with the dead man's close aides Ibrahim Akil and Talal Hamiyah cited as the likeliest duo - the consensus is that no successor could be more evil. They contrasted this tentative assessment with the situation in 1992, when then-chief of General Staff and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak convinced the government to give the green light to kill then-Hizbullah leader Abbas Musawi. Musawi's heir was Hassan Nasrallah, who proved to be far more radical than his predecessor. Over the years, the question of "from bad to worse" also arose concerning Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat. The conclusion: No matter how problematic Arafat was, it was impossible to predict how bad a replacement might be. Plainly, if Israel was behind Mughniyeh's assassination, any such concerns were overcome. "Everyone has a replacement," former Mossad chief and Labor MK Danny Yatom said. "But in Mughniyeh's case there is no doubt that his death is a major blow to Hizbullah and the terrorist world." Israel held Mughniyeh responsible for countless terrorist attacks - against IDF soldiers in Lebanon, and against Israelis and Jews around the world, including the bombings in Argentina in 1992 and 1994. In addition to his role in overseeing the terrorist group's military wing and its buildup over the years with Iranian assistance, Mughniyeh was also in charge of Hizbullah's overseas operations, known as the "Special Operations Branch." Yoram Schweitzer, director of the terrorism research project at the Institute for National Security Studies and a consultant on counterterrorism in the Prime Minister's Office until 2003, said Thursday that it was unlikely one single man would be able to replace Mughniyeh. Instead, Schweitzer, an expert on Hizbullah, said it was likely that Mughniyeh would have one successor to oversee the military wing and another to take charge of the overseas operations, including contacts with Syria, Iran and other terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Schweitzer pointed to Akil as a likely successor as head of Hizbullah's military wing. Head of Hizbullah's forces in southern Lebanon up to the Second Lebanon War, Akil narrowly escaped an Israeli targeted killing attempt in 2000 by jumping out of his car moments before missiles struck. "He is very familiar with the military wing and was for years Mughniyeh's right-hand man in operations in southern Lebanon," Schweitzer said. The Special Operations Branch, the former Israeli intelligence official said, would likely be headed by Hamiyah, who was a faithful confidant of Mughniyeh and was involved in all overseas operations in the past two decades. Hamiyah is not a new name for Israeli intelligence agencies and he is believed to have assisted Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq in recent years to wage war against US troops.