Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Life and Death of Imad Mughniyah

The notorious terrorist Imad Mughniyah was killed yesterday.
According to the London newspaper Asharq Alawsat, a car bomb tore Mughniyeh apart as he left an Iranian school in Damascus. Iran was one of Mughniyeh’s many sponsors over his nearly 30-year history of terrorism: others included the PLO, Hezbollah, various Lebanese Shiite militia groups, and several lesser-known entities in the sphere of radical Shiism. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the death of Mughniyeh, who pioneered suicide terrorism during the bloody Lebanese civil war of the 1980s. But many intelligence and counterterrorism analysts interviewed by The Washington Independent speculated that Israel was probably responsible, as part of its longtime policy of targeting anti-Israel terrorists.
The article also worries that Hezbollah is considering a strike against the United States in retaliation. Writing in Time (not my favorite magazine), Robert Baer, a former CIA analyst, is skeptical about some of the different events that have been tied to Mughniyah, though he agrees the man is guilty as sin.
There are two ways to look at today's assassination of Hizballah's most notorious terrorist, Imad Fa'iz Mughniyah. In this country it will be one of rendering justice, one less terrorist, a turn on the war in terror.

There was an outstanding American arrest warrant for Mughniyah, for the murder of a Navy diver in 1985. The diver was a passenger on TWA 847, which was diverted to Beirut. Mughniyah personally ordered the diver's murder. And, unlike other cases where Mughniyah's role was shadowy, there is solid evidence for his presence in the hijacking; his fingerprints were found on the airplane.

Mughniyah also was the mastermind of several other savage hijackings and the taking of Western hostages, including a former colleague, CIA station chief Bill Buckley. All of these attacks were carried out at the behest of Iran.

The mainstream press has reported that Mughniyah truck bombed the Marines and two American embassies in Beirut in the 1980s, as well as being behind two bombings against Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina. Whether he was responsible or not for all of this mayhem — there is no conclusive evidence he was — no one is going to shed a tear in this country, in Israel, or the West for his passing.

Baer doesn't really get around to what the other way to look at Mughniyah's death is.

So who did this? To me, it seems there are two likely perpetratos, Israel and Syria. Syria, on the other hand, might have killed this man in a good-will gesture to the United States. Both of these governments has used these kinds of tactics in the past. The CIA is generally considered less likely to pull this off nowadays, but that's also a possibility. From the Israeli paper Haaretz:

If America did it, it would come as a great surprise to most experts in Washington. They refused Wednesday to assume America had a hand in the matter, damning evidence of the low regard in which the CIA is held.

The third version has Syria as a potential suspect, perhaps as a means of signaling to the Americans that it wishes to resume talks and sever ties, at least partially, with the terror groups that have made Damascus home.

Syria condemned the killing, but anyone looking for signs of Damascus' involvement could find them. For example: Syria's intelligence services are notorious for using car bombs for assassinations.

In any event, the fact that Mughniyah was killed on Syrian soil will go on the growing list of American charges against it.

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