If anyone deserved the title of "the serpent's head," it was Imad Mughniyah, who was killed Tuesday evening in a mysterious bomb blast in a residential neighborhood of Damascus.
He was on the list of terrorists most wanted by Western intelligence services - primarily Washington and Jerusalem. Mughniyah, who was 45 years old when he died, was one of Israel's most dangerous enemies. He was to Israel what Osama Bin Laden is to the United States.
If Israel is behind this incident, as suggested by most world experts, it can be seen as the most significant intelligence accomplishment in the war on terror - even more significant than the assassination of Fathi Shikaki, leader of the Islamic Jihad, in 1995.
Mughniyah, who hailed from a poor Shi'ite family from southern Lebanon, started his career as a terrorist with Fatah, where he served as a low-ranking militant. He helped found Hezbollah when the Shi'ite organization was first formed, as early as 1983.
Mughniyah first started at Hezbollah's internal security body, climbing to the position of head of security. He later became leader of Hezbollah's executive command. Eventually, he reached a position equivalent to supervising chief of staff.
He was generally recognized as a determined operative, ruthless, ambitious and persistent. Mughniyah, more than anyone else, can be credited with bringing Hezbollah's military wing to the level of performance the organization demonstrated during the Second Lebanon War.
In fact, Mughniyah has been described by leading experts on Hezbollah as the man responsible for the attack on July 12, 2006, which resulted in the death of eight Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and the abduction of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - the event that sparked the war.
His greatest achievements included forming Hezbollah's wing for carrying out terrorist attacks abroad, as well as forging Hezbollah's special relationship with the Iranian intelligence establishment.
At the time of his death, Mughniyah was believed to have had strong ties with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps' military wing, the "Al-Quds" force. The force is responsible for the group's connection with the international Shi'ite community and Iranian-backed terror organizations.
It was through this cooperation that Mughniyah was able to carry out the terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires - the events that might have motivated Israel to assassinate him. In 1992, Hezbollah struck the Israeli embassy in Argentina, and in 1994 it bombed Buenos Aires' Jewish community center. The attacks killed more than 100 people.
Another score that Israel might have sought to settle pertained to Ron Arad, the Israel Air Force navigator who went missing in action and is believed to have been abducted by Hezbollah after abandoning his plane over Lebanese territory in 1988. Mughniyah is believed to have been responsible for transferring Arad to the Iranians.
Experts on terrorism believe that during the past few years, Mughniyah began thinking about succeeding Hassan Nasrallah as Hezbollah's leader. This would have meant leaving his place in the secret world of intelligence and terrorism, where he lived most of his life.
According to various reports, the international hunt drove Mughniyah to frequently change identities, and he even underwent plastic surgery to change his appearance. These procedures, along with a collection of fake passports, reportedly allowed Mughniyah to travel with relative ease throughout the Arab world.
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 also was involved in planning and carrying out several kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon at that time.
Mughniyah is believed to be behind a 1983 bombing at the U.S. embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 people.
In the 1990s, foreign reports claimed that Israel's Mossad intelligence agency tried to assassinate Mughniyah in a complex operation in southern Beirut. However, the operation killed his brother, a car shop owner. Mughniyah was expected to be present at the funeral, which would have provided an additional chance to assassinate him, but he never showed.
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