Archive for the 'Hezbollah' Category



The Role of International Intelligence in the Mughniyeh Assassination

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

As expected, there is world wide buzz over the involvement of the international intelligence community in the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh.  In addition to the public claims by Hezbollah that the Mossad directed the event, there is the assertion that the U.S. masterminded the plan.

A Kuwaiti newspaper reports that Hizbullah terrorist chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car-bomb attack in Damascus on Tuesday, was in the midst of planning major terrorist attacks in moderate Arab countries when he was killed. 

Al-Watan reports that American intelligence had learned that Mughniyeh arrived in Damascus three days earlier with instructions from, and in coordination with, the Iranians.  His objective was to meet with Hizbullah leaders and coordinate a mass attack, for which he was to receive help from Syrian intelligence.

The American involvement in the killing is explained as being in retaliation for a recent car bomb attack that targeted a U.S. Embassy vehicle; three passersby (sic).

Another Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Siasa, reports that Mughniyeh took part, shortly before he was killed, in a secret meeting in the Iranian School in Damascus.  Also participating in the meeting were Syrian Intelligence Chief Gen. Aisaf Shwackath, Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, and an Islamic Jihad representative.  On the agenda: planned attacks in Arab countries that refuse to take part in the coming Arab League summit in Damascus.  The newspaper entertains the possibility that the meeting was merely a camouflage for Syrian involvement in Mughniyeh’s killing.

In addition to Mughniyeh’s atrocities against America and her interests there is no question that the U.S. administration was desirous of his demise.  Mughniyeh trained Moqtada al Sadr’s forces in Iraq, the Mahdi Army.  In fact, in case there was any remaining doubt as to the inclinations of Sadr and his followers, al Sadr declared three days of mourning after learning of the assassination of Mughniyeh.  As I stated in Assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, I continue to believe that the U.S. was not involved in the assassination plan, at least not directly.  The report of American involvement is possibly disinformation.  If the CIA was involved, it is a good sign of the resurgence of the field capabilities and human intelligence of the CIA.  This report sweeps from blaming the U.S. to Syria.  But Syria either looks inept or complicit.

A Western diplomat based in Damascus said the incident was a double embarrassment for Syria — “on account of (Mughniyeh) being here and because they could not protect him.”

“The Syrian security agencies have a lot of explaining to do as to how a hit like this could be carried out in a city that’s remarkably secure,” said Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Some in the security services were either caught unaware or are complicit in the killing,” he said.

Kuwait also had reason to want him dead.

The Interior Ministry confirmed Mughnieh’s role. Interior Minister Sheikh Jaber Khaled al-Sabah was quoted Wednesday that “all of Kuwait is pleased by Mughnieh’s killing.” He was also quoted as saying that “The killing of the criminal Imad Mughniyeh was divine vengeance from those who killed the sons of Kuwait and threw them from planes at Limasol Airport in Cyprus,” the minister said.

Most Kuwaiti dailies welcomed his assassination and recalled the hijackings, the killing of two Kuwaiti passengers and the series of bombings. The 17 prisoners consisted of 12 Iraqis who belonged to the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and five Lebanese, one of them Ilyas Saab, the brother-in-law of Mughnieh, according to Kuwaiti dailies. Kuwaiti courts convicted three of them to death and the rest to various jail terms. Three others were sentenced to death in absentia, allegedly including Iraq lawmaker Jamal Jafaar Mohammed of the Dawa party.

Yet it doesn’t end there.  Internal Lebanese politics and civil war (due to actions by Hezbollah) has taken its toll on the balance of power in the Middle East, and sabers are rattling.

There was alarm when Walid Jumblatt used the word “war” in a statement on Sunday in Baaqlin. The Druze leader’s words were harsh, even if he did not say that he welcomed war, but only made his willingness to fight one conditional on the opposition’s wanting war. But Lebanon has been split by a cold civil war for over a year now, and as the country commemorates the third anniversary of Rafik Hariri’s assassination today, Jumblatt’s rhetoric may have, paradoxically, helped stabilize the situation – even if stabilization remains a relative concept.

The assassination in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, whatever its larger implications, may actually bolster this modest stability. Hizbullah’s leadership will likely need time to assess where it is, and what Mughniyeh’s killing means for the party and its relations with Tehran.

Syrian security forces have arrested several Palestinian suspects in connection with the assassination, but this may be for show.  The smoke still hasn’t cleared concerning this assassination.  However, one thing is clear.  Mughniyeh was considered untouchable and to most unrecognizable,” a senior intelligence source said. “This is a monumental intelligence achievement.”

Assassination of Imad Mughniyeh

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

At this point it is not news that someone has assassinated the chief military commander of Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyeh.

Mughniyeh was killed late Tuesday night after a bomb, planted inside the seat of his car, exploded in Damascus’s upscale Kafar Soussa neighborhood. Security forces quickly sealed off the area and removed the destroyed car, which had its driver’s seat and the rear seat blown away by the blast.

Considered Hizbullah’s operations chief, Mughniyeh co-founded the group in 1982 together with Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, and was a member of its ruling Shura Council. He was in charge of all overseas operations, and as the chief operations officer, coordinated Hizbullah relations with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Not only was he a very bad actor, he was perhaps the smartest terrorist in the Middle East, and getting inside his daily habits is an incredible feat.

As Robert Baer, who hunted Mugniyeh for years as a CIA officer, describes Mughniyeh, ““He is the most dangerous terrorist we’ve ever faced. He is probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we’ve ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else. He enters by one door, exits by another, changes his cars daily, never makes appointments on a telephone, never is predictable. He only uses people that are related to him that he can trust. He doesn’t just recruit people. He is the master terrorist, the grail that we have been after since 1983.”

Haaretz is carrying a short list of his accomplishments (also here), one of which is masterminding the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983.  Mughniyeh was a major player in the world of terror, and was probably more important than Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.  The U.S. is welcoming the news of his demise.  Israel is denying any involvement in the assassination, and perhaps the most interesting assessment of who might have done this is given to us by Michael Ledeen.

There will be a lot of speculation about his killers. Hezbollah has already accused the Israelis, which is what you’d expect them to say. But there are many others who hated Mughniyah, ranging from various Lebanese and Saudi groups who held him responsible for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, to anti-Iranian and anti-Syrian groups, especially some of the Kurds, to our very own spooks and soldiers, who have long yearned for revenge against the man who organized the brutal murder of Robert Stethem, the suicide bombings against the U.S. Marines in Beirut, similar acts against U.S. diplomats and spooks at our Embassies in the same city, and of course Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the dreadful death-by-torture of our top spy in Beirut in the mid-1980s.

I doubt we did it. Indeed, I rather suspect that CIA was bound and determined NOT to go after Mughniyah, even though there was a bounty on his head. I know of several instances in which CIA vetoed proposals from well-placed people who claimed to be able to kill or capture Mughniyah, and I have spoken to government officials in Washington who were astonished at the Agency’s lack of vigor. Nonetheless, I have no doubt we will hear from several “experts” that it was a CIA operation.

Israel is more likely, and has a proven ability to operate in Damascus, although Olmert has denied any Israeli involvement. On the other hand, it may have been a joint operation involving a European intelligence service (the French, who were big supporters of Hariri, come to mind) and a local group, perhaps Lebanese Druse, perhaps Syrian and/or Iranian Kurds.

There are a number of possibilities, but I agree with Ledeen – the U.S. didn’t do it.  President Gerald R. Ford signed Executive Order 11905 on February 18, 1976, which in part states that “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.”  Whether this was wise is beside the point.  This, in addition to two administrations under President Clinton, stripped the CIA of its human intelligence and also its capability to effect change within the international intelligence community.

In a national atmosphere in which CIA employees are at risk of prosecution for waterboarding – something that wasn’t illegal when it was done, is not illegal now, and only recently received a vote from the Senate – to believe that a CIA employee would either be involved in such a plan or even hire operatives who would be involved in such a plan, is not credible.  This is especially true given that, like the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, there are CIA employees who are actively working for the loss of the global war on terror and would willingly turn over fellow employees if it was found out that an executive order had been violated.

Still, I will observe that this order hamstrings the CIA.  It was succinctly stated by one Israeli commando officer that in order to fight people like this the U.S. needs to “adopt Israel’s assassination policy.”  I am in agreement, and have called for the assassination of both Hassan Nasrallah and Moqtada al Sadr.  Too much can be made of individuals and personalities.  As I have pointed out before, the focus on high value targets can take the focus off of the necessity for kinetic operations against the enemy holistically.  Yet replacing this individual will be difficult for Iran, and the world is a far better place because he is dead.


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