ANALYSIS: Hezbollah Terror Chief Was More Wanted Than Nasrallah

Foreign reports say Israel tried killing Mughniyah, nicknamed Hezbollah's 'defense minister' in 1985.

Yossi Melman
Haaretz Correspondent
Yossi Melman
Haaretz Correspondent

If there is a definition for the term "the snake's head," it is Imad Mughniyah, who started his terrorist activities as a militant with Fatah, and joined Hezbollah afterwards with the establishment of the Shi'ite organization.

If Israel is behind this act, it can be seen as the most significant intelligence accomplishment in the war on terror, coming before the assassination of Fathi Shikaki, leader of the Islamic Jihad in 1995.

Mughniyah first started as Hezbollah's head of security, afterwards leading their operational command, until he reached his current status of a sort of "super chief of staff."

In past years he saw himself as the probable successor to Hassan Nasrallah in leading Hezbollah, leaving the shadowy world where he lived most of his life. According to different reports, because of the international hunt for him, Mughniyah frequently changed identities and even underwent through numerous plastic surgeries.

Imad Mughniyah was Israel's most wanted terrorist ahead of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah.

In the 1990s, foreign reports claim, Israel's Mossad intelligence agency tried to assassinate him in a complex operation in southern Beirut.

However, the operation killed his brother, a car shop owner in Beirut. Mughniyah was expected to be present at the funeral, giving an additional chance to assassinate him, but he never showed.

Imad Mughniyah was high on the FBI's wanted list as well, for his involvement in the kidnapping of a TWA airliner to Beirut in 1985, where one of the passengers was killed. He was also involved with planning and carrying out a number of kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon in those same years.

Mughniyah could also be seen as Hezbollah's "defense minister"; he was the mastermind behind the international terror attacks of the organization, and had strong contacts with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps' military wing, the "Al-Quds" force. The force is responsible for the connection with the Shi'ite international community and with Iranian-backed terror groups.

Through this cooperation, they carried out the terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires: in 1992 against the Israeli embassy and in 1994 against the Jewish community center in the city. In these terror attacks, more than 100 people were killed.

Naturally, Israel had a long list of scores to settle with Mughniyah. Hezbollah is now pointing an accusatory finger at Israel because of this, but the U.S. and Western intelligence agencies had an issue with him, because Mughniyah was considered one of the most dangerous and active terrorists in the world.

It must be noted that in the past, there were some terror attacks and assassination attempts on militants in Damascus, especially on the Islamic Jihad- indicating that whoever stands behind this attack is able to reach the heart of the Syrian capital.

Following those attacks and attempts, Syria and the Palestinians blamed the Mossad.

The assumption that Israel stands behind the act is definitely reasonable, but it is expected that the Israeli government will refrain from taking responsibility- as it has done in the past.

Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out that other intelligence organizations are involved as well in what might be a joint operation- including the Jordanians, who also have scores to settle with Nasrallah.

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