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Analysis by Mona Alami

Israeli Bombs Giving Hezbollah Legitimacy In Muslim World (2006)

(IPS) BEIRUT -- For many in the Middle East, politics is essentially a matter of converging interests -- and the life and death of Imad Fares Moughnieh is no exception. His assassination in Syria has resonated across the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

At 10.30PM on Tuesday, Feb. 12, a powerful blast disrupted the posh residential neighborhood of Kafr Susseh in Damascus, Syria. Residents witnessed a silver Pajero SUV set ablaze by an explosion, as nondescript charred remains scattered on the road.

Syrian security forces, several headquarters of which are located in the area, quickly intervened, removing the remains and sealing off the area. Few knew at the time who was inside the burning vehicle.

Approximately 12 hours later, Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance movement, announced that its deputy leader Imad Moughniyeh, to FBI one of the most wanted terrorists, had been killed in the explosion. Israel was immediately accused of the assassination.

Until his demise, Moughniyeh had led a life shrouded in secrecy, constantly moving between Lebanon, Iran, and Syria. "It is interesting to witness the public mourning given to Moughnieh by Hezbollah, which had previously distanced itself from the man," says Amal Saad Ghorayeb, author of 'Hezbollah Politics and Religion.'

Moughnieh, aka 'Hajj Radwan,' a Shia born in Teir Dibba in South Lebanon, was initially a member of the Palestinian Fatah movement at the start of the Lebanese civil war. In 1982, the fighter refused to leave Beirut with the PLO, which was forced by Israel to depart. He thus joined the Shia Amal militia headed by Nabih Berri.

Moughnieh is thought to have been behind the establishment of Islamic Jihad, a shadowy pro-Iranian group accused of masterminding the kidnapping and killing of CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley, and the abduction of AP correspondent Terry Anderson. He was later dubbed one of the founding members of Hezbollah, along with Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, current leader of the 'Party of God.'

According to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the first high profile terror stunt attributed to Moughnieh was the 1983 attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut, leading to the death of 63 people. He was also linked to the twin truck bombings in Beirut the same year targeting French and U.S. army barracks, that killed more than 300.

Moughniyeh, however, is perhaps most known for his involvement in the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847 en route from Rome to Athens. The 39 passengers and crew were eventually freed in exchange for 700 Shia prisoners.

Outside Lebanon, he allegedly engineered the 1992 bombings in Argentina, targeting the Israeli embassy, killing 29 people, and a Jewish community center, which left 85 dead. Moughniyeh was also implicated in the Karine-A affair, an attempt to supply the Palestinian Authority with a shipment of weapons.

In the 1990s, Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, tried unsuccessfully to assassinate him in a southern Beirut bombing. It killed Moughnieh's brother instead.

"All these events have been attributed to Moughnieh but none were ever actually proven," says Saad Gorayeb. "His contribution to Hezbollah and its military resistance in general is significant. It is evident that he played a central role in Hezbollah's command but one nonetheless masked in secrecy."

It is common knowledge that Moughnieh acted as a liaison between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. Magnus Rantrop, professor at the Swedish National Defense College recently declared to Figaro magazine that the militant was believed by some to be Jawad Nouredine, the secretive member of Shoura al-Karar, Hezbollah's management council.

He is also said to have planned the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers, which led to the July 2006 war in Lebanon. "Some also say that he is one of the founders of El Shoura Jihadi, the party's military arm. But again, this is all speculation resulting from the lack of factual information," says Saad-Ghorayeb.

The assassination of Moughnieh in a country known for its impenetrable intelligence apparatuses raises many questions. According to Saad Ghorayeb, Moughnieh, who has managed to thwart U.S. and Israeli intelligence for more than 20 years, probably relied very little on traditional security networks.

"Only a chosen few, whether in Syria or Lebanon, knew his true identity. Syria being the weakest link, the security breach must have occurred high up in Syrian intelligence hierarchy."

On Feb. 14, Shias coalesced around Dahyeh in Beirut for a massive state-like funeral for the slain party member. It was followed by a broadcast speech by Nasrallah. "If the Zionists want war, they shall have it," he threatened. He added that the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel was far from over, and that the blood of Imad Moughnieh would contribute to the demise of the Jewish state.

According to Saad-Ghorayeb, Nasrallah's speech was significant in terms of pointing the blame. "Sayyed Hassan (Nasrallah) accused the factions who supported Israel in the July war -- perhaps hinting at Arab countries -- of collaboration in the Moughnieh killing," says the analyst. "This type of operation could not have been engineered by a single intelligence agency, acting alone, and was perhaps the result of a joint effort between different countries." The place of the assassination are also of considerable importance, says the analyst, especially since Nasrallah hinted that since "Mougnieh's killing took place outside the natural battlefield," so too would Hezbollah's retaliation.

"A Hezbollah leading figure was killed in Damascus, which makes the implications certainly regional. The presence and intervention of Iranian foreign minister Manoucher Mottaki at the Moughnieh funeral also underlines Iranian support to Nasrallah's stance and any action he might undertake in the future," says Saad Ghorayeb. He believes that in the event of a military intervention, the conflict will, this time, most likely be regional.

More speculation continues to fuel conspiracy theories in Beirut. The official Syrian news agency, SANA, reports that Syria denied Iranian claims that the two countries would conduct a joint probe into the assassination of the top Hezbollah commander. This contradicts Iranian deputy foreign minister Ali Reza Sheikh Attar's announcement of a joint investigation earlier.

What motivated Syria's change of heart? Who killed Imad Moughnieh? The answers to these two questions will undoubtedly shape future events in the region.

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Albion Monitor   February 21, 2008   (

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