A Dangerous Alliance
By Annie Jacobsen
Pajamas Media | Thursday, November 13, 2008
In the early days of the War on Terror, back when the United States was only fighting one war, in Afghanistan, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made a bold statement: “Hezbollah may be the ‘A-Team of terrorists,’” Armitage said, referring to the Lebanese-based, Iranian-controlled organization, “and maybe al-Qaeda is actually the ‘B’-Team.”
Hezbollah has certainly been killing Americans for longer than al-Qaeda has — beginning in 1983 with the truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut which killed 241 Marines. As recently as June 2006, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield told reporters that Hezbollah teams were involved in attacking U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.
Now, in an alarming new development, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has broken apart an international drug smuggling and money laundering ring which links Hezbollah to the Colombian cocaine cartels though a Lebanese operative named Shukri Mahmud Harb.
This is the first time the U.S. has tied a terrorist organization to a major cocaine cartel. “The profits from the sale of drugs went to finance Hezbollah,” says Gladys Sanchez, the chief investigator for the special prosecutor’s office in Bogotá. The DEA took the lead on the investigation, which went by the code name Operation Titan.
According to documents unsealed by a federal magistrate in Miami last week, Harb, who lived in Bogotá and went by the alias “Taliban,” acted as the money man between the cocaine cartels and the terror organization. Described as a “world-class money-launderer,” Harb’s illegal financial transactions have spanned the globe — from Latin America to Asia — with a cut being diverted to fund terror.
“Harb traveled frequently to Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon, and his arrest occurred when he was about to leave Bogotá for Syria,” the Miami Herald reported last weekend. Also arrested in Operation Titan were 21 individuals in Colombia and “90 others in Panama, Guatemala, Lebanon, Hong Kong, and the United States.” According to the Colombian special prosecutor’s office, investigators analyzed more than 700,000 intercepted phone conversations from 370 tapped cell phone lines. Two other Middle Eastern men were also charged — a Jordanian named Ali Mohamad Abdul Rahim and a second Lebanese national named Zacaria Hussein Harb.
This new partnership will no doubt raise complications for President-elect Barack Obama in his proposed plans to open diplomatic talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Hezbollah in Lebanon is a proxy of Iran,” says former Middle East CIA operative Robert Baer in his new book, The Devil We Know. “It follows to the letter Iranian orders.”
This means that Iran is co-sponsoring Hezbollah along with the only global organization able to consistently smuggle tons of illegal goods into every single industrialized nation in the world including America — on a daily basis. Toss the Colombian cocaine cartels’ newest mode of transport into the mix — stealthy semi-submersible submarines, or “drug subs” — and the national security ramifications in the Iran-Hezbollah-Colombia cocaine cartel triumvirate grow exponentially.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden summed up one resulting nightmare scenario just last month. On the eve of the Senate passing legislation directed against the cartels’ “use of submarines to smuggle drugs,” the senator from Delaware, who spearheaded the bill (S.3351), said, “If smugglers can pack tons of illegal drugs into these stealthy vessels, terrorists could carry weapons of mass destruction or other threats into our country the same way.”
Which is exactly what the terrorists — ‘A’-Team and ‘B’-Team members alike — already know.
**Annie Jacobsen is a writer for WomensWallStreet.com.
Hezbollah: "A-Team Of Terrorists"
Ed Bradley Reports On Islamic Militant Group
April 18, 2003
(CBS) This is what deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage had in mind a few months ago when he pinned this label on Hezbollah.
"Hezbollah may be the 'A-Team of Terrorists' and maybe al-Qaeda is actually the 'B' team. And they're on the list and their time will come,” says Armitage. “There is no question about it - it's all in good time. And we're going to go after these problems just like a high school wrestler goes after a match. We're going to take them down one at a time."
What he's talking about started about two decades ago as a ragtag militia group fighting the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. But there's no longer anything ragtag about Hezbollah now, Correspondent Ed Bradley reports.
The Islamic government of Iran reportedly subsidizes Hezbollah to the tune of $100 million a year, providing its several thousand well-trained fighters with sophisticated weapons systems. Iran also sends advisors, and according to U.S. intelligence, issues its marching orders.
Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida democrat who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee in the last Congress, and is now running for president, says the Bush Administration should be more concerned with Hezbollah than they are with Saddam Hussein.
“Does Saddam Hussein or Hezbollah represent the greater threat to the United States,” asks Graham. “In my opinion, there's no question that Hezbollah is that greater threat, and yes, we should go after it first and go after it before we go to war with Iraq.”
Graham says Hezbollah has a global network of radical Islamic supporters, with enough operatives in the U.S. to pose a terrorist threat here.
“It has a significant presence of its trained operatives inside the United States waiting for the call to action,” says Graham.
But if we were to know that classified information, would we be more concerned? Would we be more afraid of Hezbollah than we are today?
“Well, I'm more concerned and more afraid than if I did not know what the scale of their presence was in the United States,” says Graham, without any hesitation.
“They are a violent terrorist group. And they have demonstrated throughout their now 25-year history a hatred of the United States and a willingness to kill our people.”
Senator Graham is referring to the 1983 truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, which resulted in the death of 241 U.S. Marines. Hezbollah's supporters say that attack was a response to shelling by U.S. warships of Islamic factions in the Lebanese civil war. The U.S. called it terrorism.
But Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah, who we met in Beirut, insists that his group no longer poses a threat to the U.S. Unlike the leadership of al-Qaeda, he isn't hiding from anyone. You may never have heard of Nasrallah before, but he is a hugely popular figure, not just in the region but also among Arabs living in the West
“ I believe the Americans are just saying what the Israelis want them to say. I consider this to be an Israeli accusation coming out of an American mouth and nothing more,” says Nasrallah.
When he became its leader ten years ago, Nasrallah turned Hezbollah into a formidable fighting force. Few people know more about him than journalist Nick Blanford, who has covered Lebanon for eight years and is now writing a book about Hezbollah and Sheikh Nasrallah.
“People adore him. I mean, I talked to some Hezbollah fighters that speak of him almost as they would a wife or a mother,” says Blanford. “They think of him before they go to sleep at night, that he's always in their thoughts, so he has this tremendous power over the rank and file.”
The militant Islamic group has enough power and trained skilled commandos who are specialized in attacking Israeli forces that have occupied southern Lebanon for 22 years. Their most effective weapon: remote-controlled roadside bombs that were detonated when Israeli patrols passed by -- as in the 1983 attack in southern Lebanon.
All told, Israel lost more than 900 soldiers in Lebanon. In May 2000, the Israeli Army withdrew.
What did Israel's withdrawal do for Hezbollah in the eyes of the Arab world?
“Well, there's enormous boost for Hezbollah,” says Blanford. “I mean, this was a small Arab organization that had defeated the mightiest military force the Middle East has ever seen.”
With the Israelis out of Lebanon, Nasrallah encouraged, and assisted, the Palestinian uprising against Israel. He has acknowledged sending secret agents carrying weapons to the West Bank, where he is considered a hero. Some kids in the Gaza Strip even dress like him, down to the beard and the glasses. At one event, a boy playing Nasrallah was flanked by one child who played a security guard, and another child dressed as a suicide bomber.
In Lebanon, where Hezbollah runs a network of schools and hospitals and participates in local elections, Nasrallah, a Muslim, is a hero even to the country's Christian President, Emile Lahoud.
“For us Lebanese, and I can tell you a majority of Lebanese, Hezbollah is a national resistance movement,” says Lahoud. “If it wasn't for them, we couldn't have liberated our land. And because of that, we have big esteem for the Hezbollah movement.”
President Lahoud has such high esteem for Hezbollah, he's ceded control of the border with Israel to them -- a border where Hezbollah and Israeli soldiers now confront each other just a few yards apart.
This side is controlled by Hezbollah. The other side is controlled by Israel. Hezbollah has already fired rockets across the border, and U.S. officials believe that in the past two years they've been stockpiling rockets in this area hidden in caves and underground bunkers -- higher quality Iranian rockets that could reach Haifa about fifty miles away.
Openly calling for terrorism against Israel, Nasrallah is also urging on suicide operations.
"In Palestine, these operations are the only way to root out the Zionists," says Nasrallah during a speech.
That's the kind of material Hezbollah broadcasts daily on its own television station, Al Manar, which reaches a worldwide audience by satellite. Because of Washington's support for Israel, Hezbollah is conducting a ferocious propaganda offensive against the United States.
This propaganda message broadcast on Al Manar portrays U.S. foreign policy as Satanic and shows an image of the Statue of Liberty, a skull for her face, wearing a gown dripping with the blood of other nations.
But even though he's one of the most powerful anti-American voices in the Middle East, Nasrallah says he has no use for Saddam Hussein. In fact, he blames the U.S. for Saddam's rise.
“The U.S. provided political and military support to the Iraqi regime for decades. They created this mess. I don't believe Saddam alone should be held accountable. We should also go after those who supported him -- like the American government.”
Nasrallah has described the war on Saddam as a Satanic American-Zionist plan to dominate the Arab world. But what is Satanic about removing Saddam from power?
“The United States isn't seeking democracy in Iraq. It's after the oil in Iraq,” says Nasrallah. “And that isn't exactly a humanitarian pursuit. The U.S. wants to impose its political will on Iraq and wants to impose Israel's domination in the region. Certainly these objectives are not moral objectives in my opinion. In fact, we say they are satanic objectives.”
And yet, Nasrallah has spoken out against terrorist attacks on the U.S., including the 9/11attack.
“We reject those methods, and believe they contradict Islam and the teachings of the Quran, which do not permit this barbarity,” says Nasrallah.
But Senator Graham doesn't buy it.
“There are a number of lessons we should learn from Sept. 11th. One of those lessons is that these terrorist groups tend to do what they say they're going to do,” says Graham. “If they define the United States as being Satanic - and that therefore they want to kill us - they will find ways to carry out that objective.”
Is he convinced that they possess weapons of mass destruction?
“I'm not certain whether they possess them,” adds Graham. “But I am confident that they could possess them through their close affiliation with Iran, which has a larger warehouse of chemical and biological weapons, and is closer to gaining nuclear weapons capability than Iraq.”
So if Iran wants them to have weapons of mass destruction, will they have it? Graham believes they will, and in large quantities, too.
Iran isn't the only country that supports Hezbollah. Syria allows Hezbollah to train fighters in remote camps in Syria and territory under its control in Lebanon.
“In recent years they have been infiltrating into this core in the United States people who have gone through their training camps and have the skills of terrorist activity,” says Graham.
According to the FBI, Hezbollah has never conducted a terrorist attack in the United States. The FBI says that its members here are raising money for activities overseas and nothing more than that.
But there has to be a first for every organization. The first for al-Qaeda was Sept.11, 2001. When will the first attack against an American in America by Hezbollah take place?
We asked Lebanon's President Lahoud, a political ally of Hezbollah, if Americans have anything to fear from them.
“Americans? For sure not,” says Lahoud.
The United States is the strongest backer of Israel. But it's the same kind of thing you see with al-Qaeda, attacking the United States to get at Israel.
“Well, believe me, they don't have anything to attack the U.S. or any U.S. citizen for sure,” assures Nasrallah. “But Israel is our enemy. That's something else. It has nothing else to do with the U.S.”
But that's not what he said last month just days before the war began.
"We are confident," says Nasrallah. "The Iraqi people cannot accept the humiliation of a U.S. occupation government," which he added, "would be a Zionist occupation government." Then he warned the Americans they'd be met with rifles, blood and suicide operations.
“American policies in the region encourage this kind of retaliation, whether we agree with it or not. I am expressing the reality,” says Nasrallah.
“I believe the continuation of American policy will make enemies of all Arabs and Muslims - meaning hundreds of millions of Arabs and one billion four hundred million Muslims around the world. Lots of groups will surface, not necessarily al-Qaeda, and they'll be impossible to bring to justice.”
Latin American Narco-Dollars Financing Hezbollah’s Growing Establishment
By Bernd Kaussler
Volume 6, Issue 21 (November 7, 2008)
On October 23, U.S. and Colombian law enforcement agencies announced the break-up of a drug-trafficking ring that channelled part of its profits to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The gang was reportedly involved in distributing cocaine from cartels in Colombia to markets in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, with some of the proceeds going to finance the Lebanese militia (Daily Star [Beirut], October 23). U.S. authorities claimed that the group – a total of 130 suspects have been arrested by Colombian police – was headed by Shukri Mahmud Harb, a Lebanese national who lived in Colombia and allegedly directed laundered money to Hezbollah. A statement issued by the public prosecutor's bureau said that three defendants - Shukri Mahmud Harb, Ali Muhammad Abd-al-Rahim and Zakariyah Husayn Harb - used false fronts to transfer the drug revenues to Hezbollah. The Colombian prosecutor added, "They used routes through Venezuela, Panama, Guatemala, the Middle East and Europe, bringing in cash from the sale of these substances." According to Gladys Sanchez, the lead investigator for the special prosecutor's office in Bogota, "The profits from the sale of drugs went to finance Hezbollah" (Al-Jazeera TV, October 23).
The arrests followed years of concerted efforts by the U.S. Treasury Department and cooperating drug enforcement agencies in Latin America to target Lebanese nationals or Venezuelan and Colombian citizens of Lebanese descent suspected of providing funds to Hezbollah through criminal activities. In July, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Syria, Ghazi Nasr al Din, and Venezuelan-Arab businessman Fawzi Kanan were identified by the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as “facilitators and fundraisers for Hezbollah,” while enjoying safe haven provided by the Venezuelan government.  While Caracas dismissed the accusations, the last two years have seen high-level meetings between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, leading to large-scale joint ventures and mutual investments in energy, infrastructure and social projects. Part of the stepped up bilateral cooperation included the launch of weekly flights between the two countries by state-owned carrier Iran-Air in 2007 (IRNA, March 2, 2007; Jam-e Jam, September 8; AFP, July 24, 2007). Iran’s growing clout in Latin America, together with the fact that U.S.-Latin American relations are increasingly strained by left-wing governments challenging Washington’s influence, continues to alarm U.S. officials concerned about Tehran’s aims and capabilities, particularly in Venezuela.
What seems to concern Israeli as well as Western intelligence officials is the alleged growing physical presence of Iranian military and security operatives among the Lebanese communities of Latin America (Los Angeles Times, August 27). In 2003, several Hezbollah functionaries, together with Iranian diplomats and security officials, were convicted by a court in Argentina on charges of perpetrating the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and a Jewish community center two years later, killing a total of 114 people. In November 2007, Interpol approved an Argentinean arrest warrant calling for the arrest of Iran’s former Security Minister, Ali Fallahijan; the ex-commanders of the Al-Quds forces, Moshen Rezai and Ahmad Vahidi; the former cultural attaché of the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires, Moshen Rabbani; and the former third political secretary, Reza Ashgari. All are accused of having had fundamental roles in conceiving, planning, financing, and executing the attack (Telam News Agency, November 7, 2007). Hezbollah’s late security chief, Imad Mughniyeh, was believed to have been in charge of most of Hezbollah’s operation in Latin America’s tri-border region (see Terrorism Monitor, September 18, 2008). Known under the pseudonym, “The Boss,” Mughniyeh was suspected to have initiated and overseen the group’s drug trafficking and other operations in Latin America (Author’s interview with a Lebanese official, November 3).
The Iranian Foreign Ministry continues to deny these accusations, which essentially state that Iranian officials staged the attacks together with local Hezbollah operatives. Strongly condemning Interpol’s arrest warrant, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Ali Hoseyni pointed to the acquittal of former Iranian Ambassador to Argentina, Hadi Soleimanpou, by a British court in 2003 due to insufficient evidence. Hoseyni also reiterated the perceived failure of Argentina’s courts to cooperate with Iranian authorities in setting up a joint judicial committee to investigate the bombings (Fars News Agency, November 8, 2007).
Given Iran’s past activities in the region, as well as Tehran’s recent diplomatic initiative with Venezuela, allegations that Hezbollah is receiving funds from drug cartels in Latin America seem credible. While Hezbollah official Nawwaf al-Musawi rejected the allegations during a meeting with the Colombian ambassador to Lebanon as a “Zionist campaign to tarnish the image of Hezbollah,” the arrests in Bogota may well deprive the Lebanese militia of a substantial source of income (Al-Manar TV, October 23).
Hezbollah’s Financial Commitments in Lebanon
In financial terms, Hezbollah could be described as a self-sufficient organization that can draw upon an extensive political and economic network, receiving funds from like-minded countries and revenues earned through a variety of legitimate business ventures and criminal schemes, which in the past have included tax fraud, smuggling and drug trafficking (Jane’s Intelligence Review, March 1, 2003). By and large, Hezbollah is running a formidable socio-political and military infrastructure in Lebanon. Evidently, the emergence of this shadow state within Lebanon requires a steady stream of income in order to meet Hezbollah’s vast financial commitments, as well as supporting its charity and welfare infrastructure.
In addition to Hezbollah’s military structure, the movement also runs a sophisticated network of schools, clinics, and social services. The militia, which is represented in government as well as parliament, also runs news outlets, radio and TV stations, and a telephone communications network. In the group’s demographic strongholds, (which, besides southern Lebanon, include the Bekaa Valley and Dahivah, Beirut’s southern suburb) the vast majority of Hezbollah’s predominantly Shi’a constituents rely on social and charity organizations. Most notable of these organizations are “Imdad”, which provides medical and educational services; “Mu’asasat Al-Shahid”, which pays pensions to families of Hezbollah fighters who are killed in action; and “Jihad al-Bina,” which is still in the process of rebuilding homes destroyed by the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel (Arab News, August 12, 2006). The Paris donor conference of January 2007, in which European nations and the United States pledged $7.6 billion in aid to Lebanon, was seen by many Lebanese as a desperate attempt by the international community to shore up the embattled government and keep up with Hezbollah’s rebuilding schemes, which by then had already handed out millions in cash to people who had lost their homes during the 34-day war with Israel (Daily Star, January 29, 2007; AP, January 24, 2007).
Sources close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claim that as much as $1 billion has been given to Hezbollah by Tehran since 2006 (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, December 13, 2007). Hezbollah is also strongly committed to supplying financial support to Palestinian resistance groups. Acting as a proxy for Iran, Hezbollah operatives effectively filled the vacuum when the international community froze all assets of the Palestinian Authority following the 2005 Hamas election victory in Gaza and continue to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to armed groups, as well as bankrolling various attacks by Palestinian groups (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 9).
In military terms, Hezbollah leader Shaykh Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly stressed that the group’s military wing has recovered from the conflict with Israel, restocked its weapons arsenal and fortified its vast bunker network in the south, which is composed of dozens or possibly hundreds of disguised underground complexes (Al-Manar TV, September 10; Jane’s Intelligence Review, May 1, 2007).
A far more cost-intensive initiative by Hezbollah seems to be recent efforts by its members and charities to acquire land and properties throughout the country, particularly in the areas north of the Litani River. Ever since Hezbollah’s victory over Israel in July 2006, the group, operating through front-businesses as well as Jihad al-Bina, started to purchase land in strategic locations across Lebanon. By and large, these efforts at gaining complete territorial contiguity will further Hezbollah’s political and military clout. If Hezbollah succeeds with this territorial expansion, other Lebanese factions fear it would give them essentially free access to the Mediterranean, the Syrian border, the Israeli border and the northern regions of Lebanon. Strategically, this would give the group immense freedom of mobility, cut off parts of the Druze, Christian and Sunni strongholds, and provide unchecked territorial political authority over its constituents as well as an improved offensive/defensive posture on the Israeli border.
Pointing to the four-lane road being built to connect the Hezbollah stronghold of Nabatieh in the south to the western Bekaa valley, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt fears that these land acquisitions, some of which are negotiated at gunpoint, are “part of Hezbollah’s plan to create a state within a state.” Jumblatt also claimed that 600,000 square meters of land owned by Elie Skaff, a member of the Lebanese parliament, were bought by the Iranian ambassador in Lebanon in an attempt by Tehran to further increase its presence in the country through its Hezbollah proxy (Lebanese Information Center, January 20).
Iran’s objective behind this financial and military support seems to be an attempt to establish a strategic military leverage in case of renewed regional conflicts or a possible military showdown between Iran and the U.S.-Israeli allies. In the last year Iran’s military leadership has stressed repeatedly its tactical capability of waging “guerilla warfare” after making fundamental changes to the organization of the Revolutionary Guards. This has certainly not gone unnoticed by the Lebanese factions opposing Hezbollah (Etemad Meli, July 7). In this regard, Marwan Hamade, Lebanon's telecommunications minister, noted: "If you have a major Iranian- American clash, one thing we fear is that the Iranian reaction could be from Lebanon (Lebanese Information Center, January 20). Overall, with parts of Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah, and an unchecked maneuverability of troops and goods through to Syria, the Islamic Republic may well gain a further foothold in Lebanon and exacerbate societal tensions there (Lebanese Information Center, January 20; BBC, May 3, 2007; Haaretz, August 12, 2007; Author's interview with a Lebanese Official, November 3).
Nonetheless, Hezbollah’s efficient parallel state comes with a large price tag. Hezbollah is thus highly dependent on outside financial aid, both through legitimate business ventures and seemingly criminal activities.
Domestically, Hezbollah’s increasing political and military clout is likely to exacerbate sectarian grievances amongst Sunnis, Christians, and Druze who have not forgotten the group’s coup when it virtually paralyzed Beirut last May. Hezbollah’s occupation of the airport and important public buildings led to the Doha Agreement between the pro-Western "March 14" parliamentary majority and the pro-Syrian "March 18" opposition bloc, the latter dominated by Hezbollah. The deal, seen by many as an attempt to appease the Shi’a bloc, gave Hezbollah an effective veto in the cabinet. The Doha Agreement, however, still fails to address many of the nation's deep internal divisions and falls short of addressing issues of concern, like the diminishing role of Christians, Hezbollah’s growing military prowess, and the future of the international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri (Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire, August 14).
Hezbollah feels more powerful than ever in Lebanon’s volatile political landscape, aggressively purchasing land across Lebanon as well as displaying its abundance of electoral funds in the run-up to next spring’s elections. By and large, the movement seems to feel increasingly confident about its ability to call most of the shots in Lebanon’s highly divided political landscape (Al-Mustaqbal [Beirut], 25 October 25).
The fact that Iran’s growing presence in Latin America coincides with charges being brought against Hezbollah for drug trafficking seems to be no coincidence. More than ever Hezbollah is being used as Iran’s military and financial conduit in Latin America and elsewhere. Ali Muhtashimi, an Iranian diplomat seen by many as Hezbollah's “Godfather,” recently commented on the strong bond between Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, which he described of having been forged on the battlefield in the Iran–Iraq war before extending to resistance of Israel's occupation of Lebanon. Confirming the massive logistical support as well as military training Hezbollah has received from the Islamic Republic, Muhtashimi stated that more than 100,000 Hezbollah fighters have received combat training from the Revolutionary Guards since the group was founded (Sharq [Iran] August 3).
It is also evident that the myriad social, military, and political tasks Hezbollah is fulfilling require considerable capital. The arrest of Lebanese nationals in Colombia on charges of drug trafficking certainly seems to be a sign of Hezbollah’s ever expanding “financial portfolio.”
1. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Press Release hp-1036, June 18, 2008; Hispanic American Center for Economic Research, July 10, 2008; Office of Foreign Assets Control: Recent OFAC Actions, June 18, 2008.
Who Was Imad Mughniyeh?
By Matthew Levitt and David Schenker
February 14, 2008
Yesterday's assassination of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh was welcome news in Washington, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, and, albeit quietly, Beirut and Baghdad. For Hizballah and Damascus, however, the loss of Mughniyeh -- who was a brilliant military tactician, a key contact to Tehran, and a successful political leader -- is a severe blow to their ongoing activities and operations.
Imad Fayez Mughniyeh, also known as Hajj Radwan, was reportedly born in south Lebanon in 1962 and became a sniper in Yasser Arafat's forces in 1976. He has been implicated in some of the most spectacular terrorist attacks of the 1980s and 1990s, earning him a place on the FBI and EU's most wanted lists. He served as special operations chief for Hizballah's international operations and as the group's primary liaison to Iran's security and intelligence services.
The first high-profile terror act linked to Mughniyeh was the 1983 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed sixty-three people. In the fall of the same year, he reportedly masterminded the twin truck bombings in Beirut that hit a building housing French paratroopers, killing fifty-eight, and a U.S. army barracks, killing 241 marines. Mughniyeh also engineered a series of high-profile kidnappings, including the CIA's Beirut station chief William Buckley (who was later killed), and AP correspondent Terry Anderson, who was held for six years prior to his release. Mughniyeh was also implicated in -- and subsequently indicted for -- the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, which resulted in the execution of U.S. navy diver Robert Stetham.
As Hizballah's international operations chief, Mughniyeh oversaw the group's terror network and established operational cells around the world.
South America. Mughniyeh's first major operation outside Lebanon was the March 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed twenty-nine people. Two years later, he directed the bombing of the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in the same city, killing eight-five. Although Hizballah carried out the attack, Argentinean court documents allege that Mughniyeh's impetus came from a fatwa issued by Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
Arab-Israeli conflict. Mughniyeh was central in Hizballah's support for Palestinian terrorist groups and its operations against Israel. In fact, U.S. officials contend that Iran ordered Mughniyeh to help Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad shortly after the second intifada erupted in September 2000. Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and Mughniyeh reportedly worked together in planning terrorist attacks globally and across the UN-certified blue line separating Israel and Lebanon. Mughniyeh is also believed to have facilitated the training and transfer of Hizballah operatives into Israel through Europe for the purpose of carrying out attacks and conducting surveillance.
Mughniyeh was also deeply involved in the Karine-A affair -- an Iranian attempt to ship arms to the Palestinian Authority. Hajj Bassem, Mughniyeh's senior deputy, personally commanded the ship that met Karine-A at the Iranian island of Kish, and oversaw the ship-to-ship transfer of the Iranian weapons.
Southeast Asia. Through the 1990s, Hizballah operations in Southeast Asia were carried out under the command Mughniyeh's deputies. In 1994, two of his deputies, Yousef al-Jouni and Abu Foul, were nearly successful in bombing the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. Hizballah collected intelligence on synagogues in Manila and Singapore, the El Al office in Bangkok, ships arriving in Singapore, as well as U.S. Navy and Israeli merchant ships in the Malacca Straits. Hizballah members also reportedly procured and cached weapons in Thailand and the Philippines, and recruited local Sunni Muslims. With Mughniyeh's oversight, Hizballah procured false and stolen passports, especially in the Philippines, and conducted significant fundraising throughout the region.
Iraq. Mughniyeh's special operations group has also been active in Iraq. According to a U.S. intelligence official, Iran "helped facilitate Hizballah training inside Iraq." In June 2006, then-deputy assistant secretary of state David Satterfield told the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat that Hizballah cadres were involved in attacking U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. In March 2007, coalition forces in Iraq captured Ali Musa Daqduq, a Hizballah veteran who was working with Iran's al-Quds Force to train Iraqis in high-grade weapons, intelligence, sniping, and kidnapping operations. According to the U.S. military in 2005, Daqduq "was directed by senior Lebanese Hizballah leadership to go to Iran and work with the al-Quds Force to train Iraqi extremists." In May 2006, Daqduq "traveled to Tehran with Yussef Hashim, a fellow Hizballah member and head of the organization's operations in Iraq."
Implications for Syria-Hizballah Ties
By providing Mughniyeh safe haven, Syria has confirmed its intimate and ongoing relationship with Hizballah. Syria under Bashar al-Asad has clearly improved relations with the Shiite terrorist organization as evidenced during the 2006 summer war when Damascus provided the organization with its own top-shelf Russian made anti-tank weapons as well as its indigenously produced anti-personnel rockets. But by harboring Mughniyeh -- a top-ranked terrorist on America's most wanted list -- Damascus took an extreme risk, especially since it claims to seek improved relations with Washington.
At the same time, Mughniyeh's assassination on Syrian territory also highlights a critical weakness of the Asad regime: it can no longer provide real security for the terrorists it harbors. Indeed, yesterday's car bomb was only the latest in a series of ongoing foreign incursions: in 2003, Israel bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp outside the capital; a Damascus car bomb killed a top Hamas leader in 2004; in 2006, Israeli planes buzzed Asad's palace in Latakia; and last year, Israel destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in Syria. None of these provocations elicited Syrian retaliation.
A Setback for Hizballah
For Hizballah, Mughniyeh's departure could prove more problematic politically than militarily. Under his leadership, the group's operational capabilities had dramatically improved via its extensive training in Iran, and its deployments against coalition forces in Iraq and against Israel in Lebanon. Mughniyeh will be missed as a tactician, as an effective liaison with Iranian intelligence, and as the engineer of the group's international cell network. But Hizballah's military cadres are well trained, and no longer depend solely on him for operational guidance.
Politically, however, Mughniyeh was a constant within a rapidly changing organization. Some reports in the Arab press suggest that there is growing dissention within the ranks of Hizballah, stemming from the 2006 summer war, slow progress in rebuilding the south, and Nasrallah's ongoing leadership of the organization -- something that violates Hizballah's own bylaws. One report last month even suggested that Nasrallah's military authority had been stripped and awarded to the deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem. But since Hizballah is an opaque organization, these reports cannot be taken at face value. Still, Mughniyeh's departure removes Hizballah's key conduit to Iranian intelligence and could serve to exacerbate organizational fissures within the organization.
Matthew Levitt is a senior fellow and director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute. David Schenker is a senior fellow and director of the Institute's Arab politics program.