The assassination of Hezbollah’s external security chief Imad Mughniyeh, nicknamed the “ghost,” in Damascus on Feb 12 drove a wedge into the hitherto solid alliance between Damascus, Tehran and the Shi’ite movement. Each camp is conducting its own inquiry into the attack, refusing to divulge its findings to its allies who are suspected, at best, of negligence in the attack or, worse, of actual complicity. The identity of the killers will be particularly hard to establish because no less than three intelligence agencies participated alongside Mossad in the operation.
How He Vanished for Good. Contrary to reports carefully distilled by Hezbollah’s security service, Mughniyeh resided neither in Damascus nor in Iran but indeed in Lebanon. He travelled frequently to the Syrian capital for very brief visits during which he met with Iranian or Palestinian envoys. His lone Syrian contact in Damascus was Assef Shawkat, chief of Syria’s Military Intelligence agency. On Feb. 12, without informing Syria’s security service in advance, Mughniyeh crossed the border between Lebanon and Syria by car, presenting a passport in the name of Sheikh Redwane.
hours later he took part in a reception at the Iranian legation in honor of
the new Iranian ambassador to Damascus, Ahmed Moussavi, who finally
succeeded the long-standing Mohamed Hassan Akhtari in the post (IO 559).
Mughniyeh remained only a few minutes at a cocktail party organized in a
room next to a Farsi-language school in the ultra-secure neighborhood of
Kfar Soussa, and limited himself to telling Moussavi that he would soon be
visiting him. Just as he was climbing into his black Mercedes on the street,
a Mitsubishi Pajero parked just beside it exploded, killing him instantly.
The head of Hezbollah’s domestic security department, Wafik Safa, who was
dispatched urgently from Beirut by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah,
formally identified his body.
Parallel Investigations. The very next day, Syrian president Bashar al Assad
set up a board of inquiry to investigate the attack which occurred in a
neighborhood housing the headquarters of several Syrian security services.
The chief of the General Intelligence department, general Ali Malouk, was
put in charge of the board, which also counted Mohamed Mansoura, alias Abu
Jassem, and gen. Amin Charabeh among its members. Mansoura is boss of the
country’s Political Security service while Charabeh heads the military
intelligence service’s counter-espionage department (known as the Palestine
Section after the name of the building it occupies in Damascus). Hezbollah’s
counter-espionage service run by Ali Youssef Chami, nephew of Nasrallah,
asked that one of his service’s officials sit on the board, as did the
Iranian intelligence service Vavak and the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdarans).
All were turned down by Damascus which said the killing was a matter of
national security. Furious about being shut out, Hezbollah set up a five
member panel to conduct its own investigation and to study possible flaws in
the movement’s security system following last year’s arrest of Mughniyeh’s
personal representative in Iraq, Ali Mussa Daqduq, by American forces (IOL
555). Daqduq is reported to have provided numerous details about Mughniyeh’s
movements and his personal security detail.
An Iraqi Connection? According to a consensus that appears to be emerging
among Arab and Western intelligence agencies, the attack against Mughniyeh
could well have been fomented in Iraq. It may have been the handiwork of an
Iraqi Shji’ite commando unit with keen knowledge of Syria that was trained
at Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan by Mossad’s Caesarea unit which was
already responsible for the elimination of Ezzedine Khalil, a Hamas leader,
in Damascus on Sept. 25, 2004. The Israeli agents are said to have benefited
from the protection and support of Peshmergas from the clan of Iraqi
president Jalal Talabani, as well as of the CIA station in Baghdad. Mossad
put down roots in Iraqi Kurdistan at the end of the Iraqi Freedom operation
in 2003 and uses the population and contiguous territory between the Kurdish
regions of Iraq, Iran and Syria to mount operations and infiltrate agents
into the latter two countries.