Iran, Hizbullah shaken by penetration leading to assassination
ABU DHABI — Arab analysts said the assassination of Hizbullah operational chief Imad Mughniyeh represented a huge security lapse by both Hizbullah and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard and could be followed by the killing of other Hizbullah leaders.
They said Mughniyeh, the subject of a $25 million bounty, had been tracked for months by Western and Israeli intelligence services before he was killed in a car bombing on Feb. 12 in Damascus.
"Certainly, there is a very big security infiltration in many directions, and it is the duty of the Syrian security apparatuses to clarify what really happened," Ahmed Mosulli, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, said.
[On Feb. 17, U.S. National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell raised the possibility that Mughniyeh was killed by Syria or his Hizbullah colleagues. McConnell said Mughniyeh had been responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other insurgency operative with the exception of Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden.
"It is a serious threat," McConnell said. "There's some evidence that it may have been internal Hizbullah. It may have been Syria. We don't know yet, and we're trying to sort that out." ]
Appearing on a Feb. 13 panel discussion on the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite channel, Mosulli said the 45-year-old Mughniyeh, who had just left a reception in Damascus, was not protected by bodyguards. Instead, the Hizbullah operative was said to have moved without escorts to avoid being tracked through his security detail.
"Mughniyeh was not part of Hizbullah, but part of its founders, and consequently his activities were outside this organization," Mosulli said.
The analysts said Mughniyeh was sought by at least four countries — France, Germany, Israel and the United States. They said the search was assisted by Arab victims of attacks attributed to Mughniyeh, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
"Either he was killed by the Israelis and Americans in retaliation for the many operations he carried out against U.S. interests, the U.S. Marines, and the U.S. embassy car in Beirut that was carrying a U.S. official," Mohammed Al Qahtani, a Kuwaiti journalist and analyst, said. "The second scenario is that a vehicle that Imad Mughniyeh was booby-trapping for a next attack, probably in Beirut, blew up."
"Imad Mughniyeh, like Carlos and Sabri Al Banna, alias Abu Nidal, was throughout his life a mercenary, and was killed by the party that hired him," Al Qahtani said.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and currently a researcher at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said the United States had searched for Mughniyeh for more than 25 years. But Riedel believes Israel assassinated the Hizbullah operational chief.
"He was most probably killed by the Mossad, because this operation that took place in Damascus has many characteristics of Mossad operations," Riedel said.
"Regardless of who killed Mughniyeh, it is a fact that this party was able to infiltrate into the inner circle of the Hizbullah security system. Whoever was able to reach Mughniyeh will be able to reach other senior Hizbollah figures, including [Hizbullah secretary-general] Hassan Nasrallah."
1) Iran, Hizbullah shaken by penetration leading to assassination