Seven years after senior Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus, the intelligence agencies reportedly behind the car bomb that killed him – the Mossad and the CIA – are tussling over who should get more of the credit, with Israeli intelligence officials saying they aren't getting enough of it and downplaying the American role in the operation.
The Washington Post reported last month that the United States helped build the bomb and cooperated closely with Israeli intelligence officials to assassinate the man who was one of the most wanted terrorist in both Israel and the United States. And Newsweek cited former U.S. intelligence officials as saying the 2008 hit was a CIA operation.
"The Israelis told us where he was and gave us logistical help," Newsweek
quoted a former official who participated in the operation as saying. "But we designed the bomb that killed him and supervised the operation." U.S. officials said the bomb was tested in North Carolina.
Neither the CIA nor the Israeli government would comment on the record, but that didn't stop a former senior CIA operative from telling the newsmagazine that though it was an Israeli-American operation, "Everybody knows CIA did it – everybody in the Middle East anyway."
Well, not exactly everybody.
Israelis close to their country's security services – "apparently miffed that the Americans were taking too much credit," Dan Raviv wrote for CBS News on Sunday – told Western officials and diplomats that the hit on the Lebanese terrorist was almost entirely a "blue-and-white operation" In other words, they told him, it was predominantly Israeli.
The Israeli sources said that not only did Israel pick up Mughniyeh's trail, it also designed and tested the bomb, "while respecting the CIA's insistence that it not be too large so as not to kill any innocents," wrote Raviv, a security expert and co-author of the book Spies Against Armageddon. The Damascus bomb was detonated from Tel Aviv, by a Mossad operative and in the presence of a CIA liaison.
The CIA had initially pulled out of the operation, Raviv wrote, coming back only after then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert showed then U.S. President George Bush video clips proving the accuracy of the bomb as tested in Israel. Impressed, Bush brought the agency back in.
According to the Israeli version of events, Dick Cheney, the U.S. vice president at the time, called Olmert to exchange praise for the assassination.
Mughniyeh is suspected of having been behind the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people, and brokering the ill-fated Karine A arms shipment to the Palestinian Authority in 2002. Israel has also called him the mastermind of the cross-border raid that sparked the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.
By most accounts, Newsweek reported, Mughniyeh killed more Americans than Al-Qaida before most people had even heard of Osama bin Laden. He topped the FBI's Most Wanted list by the mid-1980s and was the CIA's public enemy No. 1 for engineering the 1983 attack on the American Embassy in Beirut, which killed legendary CIA agent Robert Ames, the newsweekly said. He was also behind multiple other attacks, but evaded several U.S. attempts to kidnap or capture him.
Imad Mughniyeh's son Jihad Mughniyeh was killed last month, along with several other Hezbollah operatives and Iranian military officials, when an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a convoy in the Syrian province of Quneitra, near the Israeli border.