Iran Assuming Mughniyeh Role Inside Hezbollah

The assassination of terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh left a void that Tehran is increasingly working to fill.

Iran has been increasing its involvement and control over Hezbollah's operations since terror operations head Imad Mughniyeh was killed a year ago.

Hezbollah has not yet found someone of similar stature to replace Mughniyeh. Therefore, the Iranians have taken some responsibility for Hezbollah operations, using a large number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard and intelligence officers in Lebanon.

This means operational cooperation between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah has increased regarding all potential actions against Israel. Iranian officers, most of whom prefer to be based in Syria, often visit Lebanon and tour the Israeli border.

The Iranians are directly involved in running Hezbollah operations in southern Lebanon, and in addition, hundreds of Hezbollah militants head for Iran every month for training and exercises.

Senior Israeli defense officials told Haaretz that Mughniyeh's assassination, which Hezbollah blames on Israel, left a large hole in the organization. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is now stuck dealing with operational matters he never handled in the past, say the Israeli officials.

Nasrallah has much less knowledge and experience on these matters than Mughniyeh, who was very careful about secrecy and compartmentalization of information. His death caused quite a bit of fear and anxiety among senior Hezbollah officials, the officials said.

The Katyusha rockets that struck northern Israel during Operation Cast Lead last month seem to have been fired by a Palestinian organization, Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command. The organization is believed to have acted with Hezbollah's approval, even though Hezbollah itself fired only a limited, symbolic number of rockets and prevented Palestinian attempts for more widespread attacks.

The rocket that struck a western Galilee village last Saturday was most likely fired by the extremist Sunni organization Usbat al-Ansar, a splinter group that identifies itself with the Islamic Jihad movement and is influenced by Al-Qaida. The organization considers the Shi'ite Hezbollah a major rival, and Saturday's rockets were fired without Hezbollah approval.

Three members of a Christian Arab family were slightly injured. The Israel Defense Forces responded to the Katyushas with eight artillery rounds. No one was injured.

After the incident, Israel sent the Lebanese a severe warning via UNIFIL and foreign diplomats, saying the Lebanese government must take responsibility for preventing terror attacks on Israel launched from its territory. Israel told Lebanon that it expects the Lebanese government and the army take action against Usbat al-Ansar, a Palestinian splinter group in the southern Lebanon Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon, with the same determination it used against similar groups in the Nahar el-Barad camp in northern Lebanon over a year ago. The army destroyed large sections of the camp, and dozens were killed in the battles between the extremist groups and the Lebanese Army.

UNIFIL has recently uncovered about 60 Katyushas, though Israeli defense officials are divided over whether UNIFIL and the Lebanese army can - or want to - take action in southern Lebanon. UNIFIL operates effectively and with determination in open areas, say the officials, but avoids built-up areas in the Shi'ite villages, saying it is not included in their mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1701.