It is quite possible that terror master Imad Mughniyeh was not killed Tuesday night in Damascus for his past crimes, but to prevent him from carrying out additional attacks in the future.
On January 30, French security services raided a Paris apartment and arrested six Arab men. Three of the men – two Lebanese and one Syrian – were travelling on diplomatic passports. According to the Italian Libero newspaper, the six were members of a Hizbullah cell. Documents seized included tourist maps of Paris, London, Madrid, Berlin and Rome marked up with red highlighter to indicate routes, addresses, parking lots and "truck stopping points." The maps pointed to several routes to Vatican back entrances.
Libero's report explained that the "truck stopping points" aligned with information the French had received the week before from Beirut. There, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah had convened a conference of his senior terror leaders where he ordered them to activate Hizbullah cells throughout Europe to kidnap senior European leaders.
The day of the arrests, French Defense Minister Herve Morin was meeting with his American counterpart, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on a previously unannounced visit. During his public appearances, Morin criticized the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program from November. Morin said, "Coordinated information from a number of intelligence services leads us to believe that Iran has not given up its wish to pursue its [nuclear] program," and is "continuing to develop" it.
Other recent reports relayed French concern that their embassy in Beirut is being targeted for attack by Hizbullah. On January 15 terrorists attacked a US Embassy car in Beirut, killing four and wounding 16. This week, French President Nicholas Sarkozy's chief of staff told L'Express newsweekly that the threat of terror against France "remains quite high."
All of the feared terror attacks against French and European targets have the classic earmarkings of Hizbullah operations chief and Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh was the pioneer of embassy bombings and high-profile kidnappings.
Most of the reports of his death treated Mughniyeh as a has-been. Coverage was devoted to his attacks against American, Israeli and Jewish targets in the 1980s and early 1990s. Yet at the time of his death, Mughniyeh remained one of the most dangerous and prolific terror operatives in the world.
Mughniyeh's broad-based leadership role in the global terror nexus was made clear by the reaction of seemingly unrelated terror groups to his death. Representatives of the reputedly nationalist, secularist Fatah terror group expressed their pride in his life's work. "We're very proud to have had a Palestinian holding such a high position in Hizbullah," a Fatah official who worked with Mughniyeh in the 1970s and 1980s told The Jerusalem Post. Every Palestinian terror group – from Fatah to Hamas to Islamic Jihad, to the Popular Resistance Committees, the PFLP and DFLP – mourned Mughniyeh as a hero and martyr and called for revenge against Israel and the US.
In Iraq, Shi'ite and Sunni terrorists alike bemoaned his death and called for revenge. Shi'ite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose forces were trained and organized by Mughniyeh and Iran, condemned Mughniyeh's killing. Sadr's supposed arch-foe, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who leads al-Qaida in Iraq and whose operational commanders are in Iran, responded to his death by calling for attacks against Israel.
And of course, Hizbullah and its state sponsors Iran and Syria all condemned Mughniyeh's death in the strongest terms and vowed to avenge his killing.
These condemnations were not nostalgic pinings for a has-been. These uniform reactions from across the terror spectrum were the cries of Mughniyeh's soldiers for their commander. Through Iran, Mughniyeh was in effect the commander or godfather or both of all of these forces. His life's work embodied the growth, development and modus operandi of the forces of global terror and jihad. And understanding his life's work is a key to understanding the nature of the jihadist forces arrayed against the Western world and Israel.
MUGHNIYEH BEGAN his terror career in the 1970s in Fatah leader Yasser Arafat's Force 17 in Lebanon. There, in addition to terrorizing Lebanese Christians, he and Arafat trained Iranian Shi'ite jihadists. These men arrived at PLO camps in Lebanon in the early 1970s to train to overthrow of the Shah of Iran and install their leader Ayatollah Khomeini as the head of a new Islamic state. In 1979 they became the backbone of the newly formed Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
When Israel forced Arafat and his Fatah terror army to flee Lebanon in 1982, Arafat gave Fatah's arsenal to Mughniyeh, who at that time, as an officer in the new Revolutionary Guards Corps, was forming Hizbullah. As Fatah's terror heir, Mughniyeh and his colleagues set out to throw the Americans, French and Israelis out of Lebanon and to disenfranchise Lebanese Christians and Sunnis. They accomplished their goals through a mix of terror tactics including car bombings, suicide bombings, airline hijackings, kidnappings, assassinations, missile and rocket attacks on civilians, and embassy bombings; and guerrilla warfare tactics like ambushes, RPG attacks on convoys, sniper fire, popular indoctrination and psychological warfare operations. Most of these operations were carried out in Lebanon.
In the 1990s, Mughniyeh and Iran took their show on the road. Not only did they reenact their car bombings in South America, they also expanded their terror nexus to the then nascent Sunni Wahabist al-Qaida organization. As Thomas Joscelyn documents in his short book Iran's Proxy War Against America, Iran through Mughniyeh has been instrumental in training, arming and sheltering al-Qaida since the early 1990s.
As an Iranian agent, in the early 1990s, Mughniyeh built operational alliances with Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri and al-Qaida's military chief Saif al-Adel when al-Qaida was based in Sudan. Adel, along with several hundred other al-Qaida operatives, travelled to Lebanon to undergo training at Hizbullah camps. Hizbullah trainers also worked at al-Qaida camps in Sudan and al-Qaida operatives also trained at Revolutionary Guard camps in Iran. From 1996 through 1998, 10 percent of bin Laden's satellite phone calls were to Iran.
Operational cooperation between Hizbullah and al-Qaida quickly followed.
In 1996, Iran ordered Hizbullah to blow up the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that housed US military personnel; 19 US servicemen were killed. Although al-Qaida was never officially tied to the bombing, Zahawiri phoned bin Laden to congratulate him on the attack.
The al-Qaida terror cell in Kenya that carried out the Kenyan arm of the twin US Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dars el-Salaam in 1998 underwent training in Hizbullah camps in Lebanon. That attack had all the markings of Mughniyeh operations. Like the 1983 attacks on the US Marine barracks and French paratrooper base in Beirut, the 1998 attacks were double car bombings carried out in disparate locations nearly simultaneously.
As Joscelyn recalls, the 9/11 Commission called for further investigation of Iran's role in the September 11, 2001, attacks on America. Adel, a veteran of Hizbullah camps, was intimately aware of the bombing plans before it took place. Ramzi Binalshibh, the plot's mastermind, travelled in and out of Iran several times in the months before the bombings. Then, too, eight to ten of the September 11 bombers transited Iran assisted by Hizbullah and Revolutionary Guard officials in late 2000. The Iranians did not stamp their passports. Several of the bombers transited Iran en route to Lebanon. Mughniyeh himself fl
ew to Beirut from Teheran aboard the same flight as September 11 hijacker Ahmad al-Ghamdi.
Although Iran and the Taliban nearly went to war against one another in 2000, in the wake of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, according to jailed Taliban leaders, Iran pledged to assist the Taliban in their war against the US. Teheran opened its doors to fleeing Taliban leaders and senior al-Qaida commanders – including Adel and bin Laden's son and heir apparent, Saad and Abu Musab Zarkawi. From Iran, Adel and bin Laden Jr. planned and ordered attacks in Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, from Iran, Adel and bin Laden worked with Zarkawi in planning the group's insurgency in Iraq. Citing an extensive report from the German Cicero magazine, Joscelyn describes how Zarkawi set up his terror network under the protection of the Revolutionary Guards. Zarkawi had no problem operating in Iran in spite of his avowed hatred of Shi'ites who, after entering Iraq, he massacred at every opportunity.
Then, too, as Al Sharq al Aswat reported Wednesday, Mughniyeh played a central role in organizing and training Shi'ite militias in Iraq. He worked as the head of Iran's intelligence directorate in southern Iraq, trained Sadr's Mahdi army fighters in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon and set up shop in Basra to facilitate their entry into Iraq from Iran.
After the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, Iran abandoned Arafat as a traitor. Mughniyeh was responsible for mending fences. In 1999 he brought Fatah back into Iran's orbit when he acted as a middle-man in negotiating the Iranian sale of the Karine A weapons ship to the Palestinian Authority; the vessel was intercepted by IDF naval commandos in January 2002.
After Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Mughniyeh worked as a middle-man bringing Hamas under Iranian control. That control was consolidated in a meeting between Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Mughniyeh in Damascus in January 2001, after Hamas's electoral victory in the PA's legislative ballot.
Later in 2006, Mughniyeh returned to Lebanon to plan the kidnapping of IDF soldiers that was carried out on July 12, 2006, and precipitated that summer's Second Lebanon War. Mughniyeh reportedly commanded Hizbullah forces during the campaign. After the war, he oversaw Hizbullah's rearmament as well as the training of Hizbullah and Hamas forces in Iran. Saad bin Laden had reportedly travelled to Syria to oversee weapons shipments to Hizbullah during the war.
IT IS possible that Mughniyeh was irreplaceable. The pivotal role that he played in the nexus of global terror was unique. No one else had such wide-ranging accomplishments. But placing too much stress on Mugniyeh's uniqueness would serve to obfuscate the basic reality that his life's work embodied.
Mughniyeh embodied the fact that terrorists of all shapes and colors willingly collaborate with one another against their common enemies in the West. Mughniyeh personally bridged all the divisions within the world of Arab and Islamic terrorism. He showed that when it comes to attacking the West, there is no distinction between secular, nationalist, religious, Islamist, Sunni or Shi'ite terrorists.
His work revealed the inconvenient truth so fervently denied by policy-makers and politicians throughout the Western world. He showed that for the jihadists there is no distinction between terrorists who attack in Israel or against Jewish targets abroad and those who attack non-Israeli and non-Jewish targets. Moreover, his work as an Iranian agent demonstrates Iran's central role in sponsoring jihad throughout the world.
Mughniyeh's legacy is not simply a laundry list of massacre and torture. It is the nexus of global terror. While it is a great thing that he is dead, it must be understood that his death is insufficient. Hundreds of thousands converged in Beirut to celebrate his life's work. The West must understand the significance of that work and unite to destroy it – layer after layer.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.