Imad Mughniyah / A One-man Axis of Evil

The killing of Hezbollah top-operative Imad Fayez Mughniyah on Tuesday night is a source for concern in several corners of the Middle East, and for different reasons. Damascus, Beirut, Gaza, Tehran and Jerusalem all have different reasons to be alarmed because of it.

Syria's president, Bashar Assad, must be wondering what's going on inside his security apparatus, headed by his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat. If they had no knowledge that Mughniyah was under surveillance by foreign elements who had outwitted his systems of compartmentalization and security to blow him up in the middle of Damascus, then maybe Assad's enemies in Syria might successfully plot against him.

As for Israel, its people and officials know that revenge could take place at any place and at any time, especially after the 40 days of mourning, which will end on March 23.

Except this scheme of action and reaction would be too simplistic when applied to the man who symbolized the Axis of Evil in its most basic sense. Mughniyah was the embodiment of the link between Iran and Hezbollah, between the fundamentalist ideology of the Ayatollah regime and the Shiite terrorist group in Lebanon.

The title of "head of the security organization" or "operations officer," which has been applied to Mughniyah, pertained to only a small portion of his roles. In the cat-and-mouse game of intelligence and terrorism, Mughniyah had played the cat. That is, until he became a kill.

Mughniyah occupied the very top of the FBI's Most Wanted list, almost as high up as al Qaeda's founding father, Osama Bin Laden. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, by contrast, is not on the list. Without explicitly saying so, the Americans view Nasrallah as the semi-political leader of a terrorist organization. Their attitude toward Mughniyah was less ambivalent: They had put a $5 million prize on his head.

If the suspicions that the Arab media hastened to spread turn out to be true, that prize should go to Mossad head Meir Dagan and the men and women of his organization.

Of course, they have no intention of collecting. Israel had enough reasons of its own to wish for Mughniyah's death, even without the added American incentive.

Whoever tracked down Mughniyah in Damascus demonstrated the sort of intelligence capabilities and excellent operational skills that Israel lacked in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

In its brief chapter of special operations during the Second Lebanon War, the Winograd Committee said that the expectation for such a successful operation affected the Israeli hesitant performance along the front.

If Israel's "long arm" is involved, then it is gesturing a warning aimed at Nasrallah and Hamas' leaders in Gaza and Damascus of what will happen if they open a second front against Israel while it tends to Gaza.