Yesterday's reported death of the terrorist mastermind Imad
Mugniyah, if true, is a major blow to the Hezbollah organization,
its backers in Iran and Syria, and other terrorist groups who have
cooperated with Hezbollah or Iran, often working through Mugniyah.
He was involved in many of the most lethal and high-profile
terrorist attacks in the Middle East and elsewhere over the past 25
years. His death, which may have been the outcome of an Israeli
counter-terrorist operation, is an important victory in the global
struggle against terrorism.
A Bloody History
Imad Mugniyah, who led the special operations section of the
radical Lebanese Shia Hezbollah terrorist group, had a long history
of planning and executing terrorist atrocities. He was involved in
a string of some of the deadliest terrorist attacks against
Americans in recent history, including: the 1983 bombing of the
U.S. Marine barracks at Beirut Airport that killed 241 Americans
participating in peacekeeping operations (and the bombing of French
peacekeeping troops that same day, which killed 58); the 1983
bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed 63 people,
including 17 Americans; the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in
Lebanon, which resulted in the murder of a passenger, a U.S. Navy
diver; the kidnapping of scores of Americans and other westerners
held hostage in Lebanon (which later triggered the Iran-Contra
affair); and numerous attacks on Western and Sunni Arab diplomats
and government facilities in Lebanon and the Persian Gulf.
Mugniyah, the son of a Lebanese Shia cleric, trained with Yasser
Arafat's Fatah terrorist group in Lebanon in the late 1970s and
became part of Force 17, Arafat's personal security force. After
Israel's 1982 intervention in Lebanon--triggered by cross-border
Palestinian terrorist attacks--prompted Arafat's expulsion from
Beirut, Mugniyah joined the newly formed Hezbollah ("Party of
God"), a radical movement inspired and strongly supported by Iran's
Shia revolutionaries. He initially served as a bodyguard for
Hezbollah's spiritual leader, Sheikh Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah,
but quickly rose to become a key leader of Hezbollah's terrorist
operations, earning the alias of "the Fox."
In addition to his shadowy role within Hezbollah, Mugniyah was a
favorite surrogate of Iran, reportedly working closely with Iran's
Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the Revolutionary
Guard's elite Quds Force unit, which maintained a long-term
presence in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold.
Mugniyah reportedly played an important role in arranging the
training of Palestinian terrorists by Hezbollah and Iranian
Revolutionary Guards. He helped arrange the aborted 2002 transfer
of 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation
Organization, using the freighter Karine A, which was
intercepted by Israeli naval forces before it could smuggle its
deadly cargo into Gaza.
Mugniyah also is widely believed to be responsible for arranging
the training of al-Qaeda personnel by Hezbollah and the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon and Sudan in the mid-1990s. This
assistance is believed to have significantly boosted al-Qaeda's
killing power, which dramatically increased by the end of the
decade. Al-Qaeda's 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded
more than 5,000 people in simultaneous operations that used huge
truck bombs similar those used in past Hezbollah operations.
Mugniyah also was an important ally of Syria's Assad
dictatorship, which used Hezbollah as a useful club to harass
Israel and facilitate Syrian domination of Lebanon. When he
reportedly was killed by a car bomb yesterday, it was in the
well-to-do Kafar Soussa district of Damascus, in close proximity to
Syrian intelligence offices. The demise of its Lebanese ally under
these circumstances is a major security lapse and an acute
embarrassment for Syria's police state.
Who Was Responsible?
It is not known who killed Mugniyah. He had many enemies in the
Arab world, particularly Sunni Arab governments who had been stung
by his pro-Iranian terrorist operations and many Lebanese who
loathed him because of his many murders on behalf of his Iranian
and Syrian sponsors. But Israel, one of the chief targets of
Hezbollah terrorism, also had strong reasons to retaliate against
In addition to numerous attacks against Israeli forces in
Lebanon, Mugniyah was one of the major suspects in the 1992 bombing
of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, which killed 29 people, and
the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center, which
killed 85 people. In recent years, he reportedly also was actively
involved in arranging training for Palestinian terrorists,
particularly members of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad
terrorist groups. He may even have played a role in planning
Hezbollah's July 2006 kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, which
provoked a 34-day war in southern Lebanon.
Israel has denied responsibility for Mugniyah's death. But
Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian backers are likely to hold
Israel responsible anyway. Hezbollah may well respond with
cross-border rocket attacks against Israel or another major
terrorist attack against Israeli targets elsewhere in the world,
particularly at the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period
for Shia martyrs. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad may also join
in, possibly with Iranian-provided rockets recently smuggled into
But regardless of the consequences, Mugniyah's demise is an
important achievement. It demonstrates that no terrorist is immune
from retaliation for his crimes, despite the lavish support and
protection extended by two of the world's most ruthless
dictatorships. The removal of "the Fox" from the F.B.I.'s "Most
Wanted" list is long overdue.
James Phillips is Research Fellow for
Middle Eastern Affairs in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for
Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.