Commentary Magazine


Topic: Imad Mughniyeh

Rouhani Spikes the Ball in Obama’s Face

President Obama and his allies are working overtime this week to lobby the Senate against passage of a new round of tough sanctions on Iran. The conceit of his campaign to persuade Congress not to give him more leverage over Tehran is that even the threat of further economic pressure on the regime would cause it to scuttle more nuclear talks. According to the administration, any further sanctions would “break faith” with a country that Obama wants to do business with on the nuclear question as well as on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

But while the president is bending over backward trying to avoid giving offense to his diplomatic dance partners, the Iranians have a very different mindset. Rather than displaying the skittish fear of blowing up the talks the president is displaying, the Iranians are spending the days after the finalization of the interim deal signed in November spiking the football in Obama’s face. That’s the only way to interpret the tweet put out this morning by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the so-called moderate whose victory in a faux election last summer was seen by the administration as a sign Iran was changing for the better, in which he said:

Our relationship with the world is based on Iranian nation’s interests. In #Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation’s will.

While such gloating is unseemly even for a functionary of a tyrannical regime, given the terms of the deal and the publicly stated fears of the president that Iran might flee the talks if the Senate did anything to offend them, it’s hard to argue with Rouhani’s assessment of the situation. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have represented the nuclear deal as a victory for the West since it supposedly hits the pause button on the Iranian program while maintaining almost all of the economic sanctions that brought Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place. But the Iranians, buoyed by a resurgent economy, have a very different perspective on the accord. The willingness of Iran’s leaders—both the so-called “moderates” and their “hard-line” opponents—to characterize the agreement as a triumph for Iran’s foreign-policy goals as well as its nuclear ambition makes the administration’s fear of offending them look ridiculous, not to mention downright craven.

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President Obama and his allies are working overtime this week to lobby the Senate against passage of a new round of tough sanctions on Iran. The conceit of his campaign to persuade Congress not to give him more leverage over Tehran is that even the threat of further economic pressure on the regime would cause it to scuttle more nuclear talks. According to the administration, any further sanctions would “break faith” with a country that Obama wants to do business with on the nuclear question as well as on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

But while the president is bending over backward trying to avoid giving offense to his diplomatic dance partners, the Iranians have a very different mindset. Rather than displaying the skittish fear of blowing up the talks the president is displaying, the Iranians are spending the days after the finalization of the interim deal signed in November spiking the football in Obama’s face. That’s the only way to interpret the tweet put out this morning by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the so-called moderate whose victory in a faux election last summer was seen by the administration as a sign Iran was changing for the better, in which he said:

Our relationship with the world is based on Iranian nation’s interests. In #Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation’s will.

While such gloating is unseemly even for a functionary of a tyrannical regime, given the terms of the deal and the publicly stated fears of the president that Iran might flee the talks if the Senate did anything to offend them, it’s hard to argue with Rouhani’s assessment of the situation. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have represented the nuclear deal as a victory for the West since it supposedly hits the pause button on the Iranian program while maintaining almost all of the economic sanctions that brought Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place. But the Iranians, buoyed by a resurgent economy, have a very different perspective on the accord. The willingness of Iran’s leaders—both the so-called “moderates” and their “hard-line” opponents—to characterize the agreement as a triumph for Iran’s foreign-policy goals as well as its nuclear ambition makes the administration’s fear of offending them look ridiculous, not to mention downright craven.

 As the New York Times reports, the “hardliners” who are reportedly working to undermine Rouhani are actually quite pleased with what their country’s negotiators achieved in Geneva. Conservative clerics in Iran’s parliament are acknowledging that the deal sanctioned Iran’s continuing enrichment of uranium, thereby upending years of United Nations resolutions attempting to stop the practice. They also know that, despite the downplaying of these gifts by Kerry, their country received significant relief from sanctions that will make it far easier for the regime to continuing selling oil. That will keep their government afloat as well as finance Iran’s nuclear project, its interventions in Syria and Iraq, and its support of international terrorism.

What’s more, far from displaying any worry about the U.S. withdrawing these benefits, Iran’s leaders also seem to think now is a good time to rub the Americans’ faces in their disgrace. Rouhani’s foreign minister, Mohamad Javid Zarif, who was shaking hands with Kerry in Geneva in November, yesterday took time out to lay a wreath at the grave of the man who planned the terrorist attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 as well as other crimes against Americans. As Tower.org reported, Zarif paid homage to Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh in Lebanon yesterday, making clear that the new moderate government maintains the same policy priorities as the hardliners.

Of course, the revelation that the secret diplomatic back-channel talks that led to the November deal began before Rouhani’s election last summer gave the lie to the notion that the renewed talks were the result of changes on Iran’s part rather than Obama’s decision to give Tehran what it wanted. But as Elliott Abrams noted today at Pressure Points, the juxtaposition between the administration’s weakness and Iran’s chutzpah bodes ill for the next round of nuclear talks.

The Iranians have always acted as if they thought Obama was a weakling, but their brazen behavior this week demonstrates again that they think there is nothing they can do or say that could possibly provoke a reaction from Washington. While the president pulls out all the stops to prevent even the threat of future sanctions—the proposal being considered by the Senate would not go into effect until after the next round of talks fails—the Iranians are showing they will agree to nothing that will thwart their nuclear ambitions and think Obama won’t lift a finger to stop them.

Rather than bolstering the president’s effort to stop the sanctions bill, Rouhani’s tweet, Zarif’s photo op, and the general applause for the deal being sounded by Iran’s theocrats should convince the Senate to pass the sanctions bill. While Iran is unlikely to halt its  nuclear program under any circumstances, any slim hope of diplomatic success rests on a credible threat of U.S. pressure on the regime. Far from sparking conflict, the sanctions bill may be the only hope Washington has of influencing the Iranians to turn back before it’s too late.

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Nasrallah “Wipes” Juan Cole

In a fiery speech marking forty days since the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah declared that “The Zionist entity can be wiped out of existence!” Of course, by evoking the image of “wiping,” Nasrallah is adopting the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at the 2005 “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran.

Or did he? Just as Ahmadinejad’s “wipe” statement was drawing widespread international condemnation, Juan Cole insisted that Ahmadinejad had been mistranslated. According to Cole, Ahmadinejad’s quotation had come from a Khomeini speech, which stated that, “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” Cole viewed this distinction as significant, writing that the media’s translation gave the false “impression that [Ahmadinejad] wants to play Hitler to Israel’s Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.” Cole repeated his revisionist claim in a recent Washington Post article, saying that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the “Nazi-style extermination of a people,” but rather expressing his wish that the Israeli government would disappear.

Nasrallah’s speech demonstrates the complete irrelevance of Cole’s argument. Indeed, the Arabic phrase that Nasrallah employs is unambiguous in supporting the utter destruction of Israel, both as a state and a people. Nasrallah begins this section of his speech by declaring that the 2006 Lebanon war exposed Israelis’ weakness: whereas the Lebanese and Palestinians have endured 60 years of displacement, “the Israelis could not endure displacement or living in shelters for 33 days.” Israel’s “loss,” Nasrallah continues, has created “the possibility of a new answer” to the question “can Israel be wiped from existence?” Na’am, wa’alf na’am yumkin an tazul Isra’il min al-wujud (“Yes, and one thousand yeses, it is possible to wipe Israel from existence!”) says Nasrallah.

If Cole objects to my translation of “tazul . . min al-wujud” as “wipe . . . from existence”–”tazul” generally means “cease”–he will first have to correct Hezbollah’s al-Manar English website. The satellite news channel similarly embraced the terminology of “wiping” in its own translation of Nasrallah’s speech.

When Cole first disputed the translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech back in 2005, he accused “powerful political forces in Washington” of cooking up the “wipe” quotation as a pretext for war on Iran. Nasrallah’s speech should force him to rethink this conspiracy theory. After all, whether or not Ahmadinejad’s speech can be translated as having called for “wiping” Israel off the map, Hezbollah–which has already called for an “open war” on Israel and serves as Iran’s Lebanese appendage–has taken liberties to interpret it as such.

In a fiery speech marking forty days since the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah declared that “The Zionist entity can be wiped out of existence!” Of course, by evoking the image of “wiping,” Nasrallah is adopting the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at the 2005 “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran.

Or did he? Just as Ahmadinejad’s “wipe” statement was drawing widespread international condemnation, Juan Cole insisted that Ahmadinejad had been mistranslated. According to Cole, Ahmadinejad’s quotation had come from a Khomeini speech, which stated that, “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” Cole viewed this distinction as significant, writing that the media’s translation gave the false “impression that [Ahmadinejad] wants to play Hitler to Israel’s Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.” Cole repeated his revisionist claim in a recent Washington Post article, saying that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the “Nazi-style extermination of a people,” but rather expressing his wish that the Israeli government would disappear.

Nasrallah’s speech demonstrates the complete irrelevance of Cole’s argument. Indeed, the Arabic phrase that Nasrallah employs is unambiguous in supporting the utter destruction of Israel, both as a state and a people. Nasrallah begins this section of his speech by declaring that the 2006 Lebanon war exposed Israelis’ weakness: whereas the Lebanese and Palestinians have endured 60 years of displacement, “the Israelis could not endure displacement or living in shelters for 33 days.” Israel’s “loss,” Nasrallah continues, has created “the possibility of a new answer” to the question “can Israel be wiped from existence?” Na’am, wa’alf na’am yumkin an tazul Isra’il min al-wujud (“Yes, and one thousand yeses, it is possible to wipe Israel from existence!”) says Nasrallah.

If Cole objects to my translation of “tazul . . min al-wujud” as “wipe . . . from existence”–”tazul” generally means “cease”–he will first have to correct Hezbollah’s al-Manar English website. The satellite news channel similarly embraced the terminology of “wiping” in its own translation of Nasrallah’s speech.

When Cole first disputed the translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech back in 2005, he accused “powerful political forces in Washington” of cooking up the “wipe” quotation as a pretext for war on Iran. Nasrallah’s speech should force him to rethink this conspiracy theory. After all, whether or not Ahmadinejad’s speech can be translated as having called for “wiping” Israel off the map, Hezbollah–which has already called for an “open war” on Israel and serves as Iran’s Lebanese appendage–has taken liberties to interpret it as such.

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Olmert’s Contradictory Strategy

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

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Hezbollah’s Media Relations

Michael Young has a terrific article in Reason magazine about the collateral damage (as he put it) in think tanks, academia, and the media after the assassination of Hezbollah Commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus. He zeroes in on leftist icons Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein for their full-throated support for the Syrian- and Iranian-backed terrorist militia. (Be sure to watch Finkelstein’s performance on Lebanon’s Future TV here, and note how exasperated his interviewer Najat Sharafeddine is with his views.) The absurd alliance of violent Islamists and leftists has been covered elsewhere at length. At least Finkelstein and Chomsky are honest with their audience about what they believe and where they’re coming from.

Young also points out what may be a more serious problem, one much harder for most observers to see. Certain things are expected of those who want to maintain access to groups like Hezbollah. As Young points out,

Hezbollah is adept at turning contacts with the party into valuable favors . . . Writers and scholars, particularly Westerners, who lay claim to Hezbollah sources, are regarded as special for penetrating so closed a society. That’s why their writing is often edited with minimal rigor. Hezbollah always denied everything that was said about Mughniyeh, and few authors (or editors) showed the curiosity to push further than that. The mere fact of getting such a denial was considered an achievement in itself, a sign of rare access, and no one was about to jeopardize that access by calling Hezbollah liars.

Young is correct. And I’ll add that is there is nothing “special” or difficult about getting a quote from Hezbollah. I’ve done it. All I had to do was call their press office and take a taxi down to their headquarters. Every journalist in Lebanon has the phone number. What’s difficult is preserving access to Hezbollah. Doing so is not necessarily impressive, however. It took me five minutes and a press pass to gain access, but it lasted less than a week. I was threatened for writing this blog post, and I was blacklisted for publishing this article in the LA Weekly.

My experience isn’t unusual.

A journalist friend–whom I’ll keep anonymous because his comment to me was not on the record–was severely upbraided by Hezbollah’s “media relations” liaison for a neutral and entirely innocuous article he wrote for a left-wing American magazine I’m sure you’ve heard of or read. It wasn’t enough for them that his article wasn’t anti-Hezbollah. It also was not pro-Hezbollah. The party line was not toed.

During the July 2006 war in Northern Israel and South Lebanon, Beirut-based Time magazine reporter Chris Allbritton wrote the following on his blog: “To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loath to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.”

Reporter Charles Levinson wasn’t particularly impressed with them last August. “My experience with Hezbollah this week has left an unpleasant taste in my mouth,” he wrote on his blog Conflict Blotter. “I had heard this from other journalist friends who have recently returned from Lebanon, but discovered it for myself this week: their interaction with the press borders on fascist.”

You’ll notice that Allbritton and Levinson are speaking both for themselves and other journalists. Hezbollah didn’t single me out. Nor did Hezbollah single out Allbritton and Levinson. Despite their reputation for being media-savvy, the obstruction, harassment, and bullying of journalists is Hezbollah policy. Access is a meager carrot next to all that.

Some of us resist. Many do not. Some, like Chomsky and Finkelstein, don’t even have to. Michael Young is right to draw attention to those with access who will not call Hezbollah liars when they clearly are lying. It doesn’t matter if they do it to get a bite at the carrot or in fear of the stick.

Michael Young has a terrific article in Reason magazine about the collateral damage (as he put it) in think tanks, academia, and the media after the assassination of Hezbollah Commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus. He zeroes in on leftist icons Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein for their full-throated support for the Syrian- and Iranian-backed terrorist militia. (Be sure to watch Finkelstein’s performance on Lebanon’s Future TV here, and note how exasperated his interviewer Najat Sharafeddine is with his views.) The absurd alliance of violent Islamists and leftists has been covered elsewhere at length. At least Finkelstein and Chomsky are honest with their audience about what they believe and where they’re coming from.

Young also points out what may be a more serious problem, one much harder for most observers to see. Certain things are expected of those who want to maintain access to groups like Hezbollah. As Young points out,

Hezbollah is adept at turning contacts with the party into valuable favors . . . Writers and scholars, particularly Westerners, who lay claim to Hezbollah sources, are regarded as special for penetrating so closed a society. That’s why their writing is often edited with minimal rigor. Hezbollah always denied everything that was said about Mughniyeh, and few authors (or editors) showed the curiosity to push further than that. The mere fact of getting such a denial was considered an achievement in itself, a sign of rare access, and no one was about to jeopardize that access by calling Hezbollah liars.

Young is correct. And I’ll add that is there is nothing “special” or difficult about getting a quote from Hezbollah. I’ve done it. All I had to do was call their press office and take a taxi down to their headquarters. Every journalist in Lebanon has the phone number. What’s difficult is preserving access to Hezbollah. Doing so is not necessarily impressive, however. It took me five minutes and a press pass to gain access, but it lasted less than a week. I was threatened for writing this blog post, and I was blacklisted for publishing this article in the LA Weekly.

My experience isn’t unusual.

A journalist friend–whom I’ll keep anonymous because his comment to me was not on the record–was severely upbraided by Hezbollah’s “media relations” liaison for a neutral and entirely innocuous article he wrote for a left-wing American magazine I’m sure you’ve heard of or read. It wasn’t enough for them that his article wasn’t anti-Hezbollah. It also was not pro-Hezbollah. The party line was not toed.

During the July 2006 war in Northern Israel and South Lebanon, Beirut-based Time magazine reporter Chris Allbritton wrote the following on his blog: “To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loath to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.”

Reporter Charles Levinson wasn’t particularly impressed with them last August. “My experience with Hezbollah this week has left an unpleasant taste in my mouth,” he wrote on his blog Conflict Blotter. “I had heard this from other journalist friends who have recently returned from Lebanon, but discovered it for myself this week: their interaction with the press borders on fascist.”

You’ll notice that Allbritton and Levinson are speaking both for themselves and other journalists. Hezbollah didn’t single me out. Nor did Hezbollah single out Allbritton and Levinson. Despite their reputation for being media-savvy, the obstruction, harassment, and bullying of journalists is Hezbollah policy. Access is a meager carrot next to all that.

Some of us resist. Many do not. Some, like Chomsky and Finkelstein, don’t even have to. Michael Young is right to draw attention to those with access who will not call Hezbollah liars when they clearly are lying. It doesn’t matter if they do it to get a bite at the carrot or in fear of the stick.

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Rice’s Misplaced Priorities

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

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Al-Manar Correspondent Arrested

In a series of counterterrorism raids undertaken earlier this week, Moroccan authorities arrested 32 individuals suspected of planning attacks against domestic targets. Among those arrested was Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent for Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite television station.

In light of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat of an “open war” on Israel in response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh last week, Sriti’s arrest appears significant. Nasrallah’s eulogy at Mughniyeh’s funeral has been interpreted as foreshadowing attacks on Jewish and Israeli interests abroad—Hezbollah doesn’t distinguish between the two—and the Jewish community of Morocco has been the previous target of Islamist terrorists. On May 16, 2003, a Jewish cemetery, Jewish community center, and Jewish-owned Italian restaurant, among other Casablanca targets, were hit in the deadliest series of terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Indeed, it is possible that Hezbollah has already begun planning its response to the Mughniyeh assassination, deploying its “media wing” in the immediate service of terror against one of the Muslim world’s most freely accessible—and therefore vulnerable—Jewish communities.

More concretely, however, the apparent involvement of an al-Manar correspondent in a Moroccan terrorist ring should serve as a stark reminder of the international dimension of Hezbollah’s operations. Far from “Lebanonizing”—i.e., increasingly participating in domestic Lebanese politics and thereby moderating, as many “experts” have claimed—Hezbollah has continually developed its relationship with Islamist organizations worldwide for the enhancement of its terrorist capabilities. In this vein, the Moroccan Islamist Badil al-Hadari party has been implicated in planning the attacks, while the Moroccan government has arrested Abdelkader Belliraj—a Moroccan national who lived in Belgium—as the network’s leader. In short, Hezbollah has found good company with militant Islamists well beyond Lebanon’s borders.

Finally, Sriti’s arrest should reinforce the extent to which al-Manar plays a critical role in Hezbollah’s terrorist activities—not only in the satellite transmission of radical Islamist ideology, but in the operational aspects of planning attacks. For this reason, policymakers should closely monitor Morocco’s investigation of Sriti, as this might provide key details regarding al-Manar’s non-media activities.

UPDATE: The AP is now confirming that the arrested Moroccan terrorist ring was targeting local Jews, though bizarrely omits the fact that an al-Manar correspondent was among those arrested.

In a series of counterterrorism raids undertaken earlier this week, Moroccan authorities arrested 32 individuals suspected of planning attacks against domestic targets. Among those arrested was Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent for Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite television station.

In light of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat of an “open war” on Israel in response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh last week, Sriti’s arrest appears significant. Nasrallah’s eulogy at Mughniyeh’s funeral has been interpreted as foreshadowing attacks on Jewish and Israeli interests abroad—Hezbollah doesn’t distinguish between the two—and the Jewish community of Morocco has been the previous target of Islamist terrorists. On May 16, 2003, a Jewish cemetery, Jewish community center, and Jewish-owned Italian restaurant, among other Casablanca targets, were hit in the deadliest series of terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Indeed, it is possible that Hezbollah has already begun planning its response to the Mughniyeh assassination, deploying its “media wing” in the immediate service of terror against one of the Muslim world’s most freely accessible—and therefore vulnerable—Jewish communities.

More concretely, however, the apparent involvement of an al-Manar correspondent in a Moroccan terrorist ring should serve as a stark reminder of the international dimension of Hezbollah’s operations. Far from “Lebanonizing”—i.e., increasingly participating in domestic Lebanese politics and thereby moderating, as many “experts” have claimed—Hezbollah has continually developed its relationship with Islamist organizations worldwide for the enhancement of its terrorist capabilities. In this vein, the Moroccan Islamist Badil al-Hadari party has been implicated in planning the attacks, while the Moroccan government has arrested Abdelkader Belliraj—a Moroccan national who lived in Belgium—as the network’s leader. In short, Hezbollah has found good company with militant Islamists well beyond Lebanon’s borders.

Finally, Sriti’s arrest should reinforce the extent to which al-Manar plays a critical role in Hezbollah’s terrorist activities—not only in the satellite transmission of radical Islamist ideology, but in the operational aspects of planning attacks. For this reason, policymakers should closely monitor Morocco’s investigation of Sriti, as this might provide key details regarding al-Manar’s non-media activities.

UPDATE: The AP is now confirming that the arrested Moroccan terrorist ring was targeting local Jews, though bizarrely omits the fact that an al-Manar correspondent was among those arrested.

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The “Hands off Syria” Crowd

Steve Clemons, stalwart of the liberal foreign-policy establishment, picked the wrong day to defend the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad — as it was the same day that Hezbollah fighters buried Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in Damascus. Clemons applauded Syria for cracking down on terrorism and attacked the Bush administration for introducing a new round of financial sanctions against Syrian government figures. Syria, he says, should instead be thanked for its sheltering 1.2 million Iraqi refugees (many of whom are returning to Iraq, by the way), and rewarded for being such a good international citizen.

Let’s parse this short excerpt:

Syria must be a party to any arrangement with the broader Arab world — and thus far, Syria has been on the whole reasonably behaved with regard to Israel. When Israel attacked some warehouses that Seymour Hersh argues were not nuclear weapons related, Syria restrained itself from attacking back and did not unleash agents into Israel to create domestic strife.

“Reasonably behaved with regard to Israel?” You’ve got to love how Clemons uses the construction “Seymour Hersh argues” as if it were de facto proof of the charge’s veracity. He then goes onto applaud Syria for its “restrained” response to Israel’s attack last year on suspected nuclear facilities, as the Baathists in Damascus held back from causing “domestic strife” in Israel, a terrific euphemism for terrorism  I’ll remember the next time my younger brother and I get into a fight about playing X-Box or something. When Hezbollah inevitably retaliates for the murder of Mughniyeh at an El-Al airport counter or Jewish Community Center, perhaps Clemons will wag his finger at Syria for its “bad behavior.”

In the comments to Clemons’s piece, Eli Lake of the New York Sun takes issue with Clemons’s use of the word “strangle” to describe U.S. sanctions, since, as he says,  Syrian “top regime apparats…themselves ‘strangle,’ I don’t know, Kurdish opposition figures, liberal newspaper editors, and anyone suspected of disloyalty in their police state.”

Steve Clemons, stalwart of the liberal foreign-policy establishment, picked the wrong day to defend the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad — as it was the same day that Hezbollah fighters buried Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in Damascus. Clemons applauded Syria for cracking down on terrorism and attacked the Bush administration for introducing a new round of financial sanctions against Syrian government figures. Syria, he says, should instead be thanked for its sheltering 1.2 million Iraqi refugees (many of whom are returning to Iraq, by the way), and rewarded for being such a good international citizen.

Let’s parse this short excerpt:

Syria must be a party to any arrangement with the broader Arab world — and thus far, Syria has been on the whole reasonably behaved with regard to Israel. When Israel attacked some warehouses that Seymour Hersh argues were not nuclear weapons related, Syria restrained itself from attacking back and did not unleash agents into Israel to create domestic strife.

“Reasonably behaved with regard to Israel?” You’ve got to love how Clemons uses the construction “Seymour Hersh argues” as if it were de facto proof of the charge’s veracity. He then goes onto applaud Syria for its “restrained” response to Israel’s attack last year on suspected nuclear facilities, as the Baathists in Damascus held back from causing “domestic strife” in Israel, a terrific euphemism for terrorism  I’ll remember the next time my younger brother and I get into a fight about playing X-Box or something. When Hezbollah inevitably retaliates for the murder of Mughniyeh at an El-Al airport counter or Jewish Community Center, perhaps Clemons will wag his finger at Syria for its “bad behavior.”

In the comments to Clemons’s piece, Eli Lake of the New York Sun takes issue with Clemons’s use of the word “strangle” to describe U.S. sanctions, since, as he says,  Syrian “top regime apparats…themselves ‘strangle,’ I don’t know, Kurdish opposition figures, liberal newspaper editors, and anyone suspected of disloyalty in their police state.”

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Hezbollah and Mughniyeh

Hezbollah’s very public display of affection for assassinated terrorist Imad Mughniyeh represents a stunning about-face. As Martin Kramer notes on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, Hezbollah has broken from previous denials regarding its connections to Mughniyeh, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizing him and a Hezbollah flag draping his coffin—clear symbols that Mughniyeh ranked highly in the Hezbollah chain. Indeed, its ties to Mughniyeh were so profound that Hezbollah appears prepared to fight Israel in response to his killing, hinting that it will attack Israeli interests abroad.

But Hezbollah isn’t the only Levantine player willing to engage Israel over Mughniyeh’s death. Yesterday, at a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “Whoever assassinated Imad Mughniyeh has assassinated any peace efforts”—a statement clearly aimed at Israel. Critically, al-Moallem seemingly echoed Mottaki, who had proclaimed at Mughniyeh’s funeral earlier in the day, “The freedom-seeking nations … have millions of such fighters, who are ready to join the fight against the terrorists who perpetrate such the unmanly crimes.” Following the funeral, Mottaki had arrived in Damascus for “brotherly talks,” meeting with al-Moallem and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to discuss the developing situation in Lebanon.

In the days and weeks ahead, it will be important to monitor whether Hezbollah-Syrian cooperation is strengthened as a result of their unified defiance in the wake of Mughniyeh’s assassination. Of course, sustained Iranian involvement makes this quite likely.

Still, domestic Lebanese politics could intervene and force Hezbollah to downplay its Damascus contacts. At a massive rally held to commemorate the third anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination yesterday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri castigated the Syrian regime as an “Israeli product.” Yet even as he lashed out against Syria—the regime that murdered his father—Hariri showed rare respect for Hezbollah, ending his rally at 2 PM so as to not interfere with Mughniyeh’s 2:30 funeral. Hariri further appealed to Hezbollah to negotiate a peaceful solution to the ongoing presidential crisis—a sharp break from his comments last week, when he accused the Hezbollah-led opposition of “destroying Lebanon.”

The big question is thus whether Hezbollah might see itself as having enough popular Lebanese support in the aftermath of Mughniyeh’s assassination to avoid relying on Damascus, a regime that is still reviled by a substantial portion of the population. Or, alternatively, Hezbollah could quickly return to Levantine politics as usual, taking its cues from Iran with Syria’s active consent.

Hezbollah’s very public display of affection for assassinated terrorist Imad Mughniyeh represents a stunning about-face. As Martin Kramer notes on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, Hezbollah has broken from previous denials regarding its connections to Mughniyeh, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizing him and a Hezbollah flag draping his coffin—clear symbols that Mughniyeh ranked highly in the Hezbollah chain. Indeed, its ties to Mughniyeh were so profound that Hezbollah appears prepared to fight Israel in response to his killing, hinting that it will attack Israeli interests abroad.

But Hezbollah isn’t the only Levantine player willing to engage Israel over Mughniyeh’s death. Yesterday, at a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “Whoever assassinated Imad Mughniyeh has assassinated any peace efforts”—a statement clearly aimed at Israel. Critically, al-Moallem seemingly echoed Mottaki, who had proclaimed at Mughniyeh’s funeral earlier in the day, “The freedom-seeking nations … have millions of such fighters, who are ready to join the fight against the terrorists who perpetrate such the unmanly crimes.” Following the funeral, Mottaki had arrived in Damascus for “brotherly talks,” meeting with al-Moallem and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to discuss the developing situation in Lebanon.

In the days and weeks ahead, it will be important to monitor whether Hezbollah-Syrian cooperation is strengthened as a result of their unified defiance in the wake of Mughniyeh’s assassination. Of course, sustained Iranian involvement makes this quite likely.

Still, domestic Lebanese politics could intervene and force Hezbollah to downplay its Damascus contacts. At a massive rally held to commemorate the third anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination yesterday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri castigated the Syrian regime as an “Israeli product.” Yet even as he lashed out against Syria—the regime that murdered his father—Hariri showed rare respect for Hezbollah, ending his rally at 2 PM so as to not interfere with Mughniyeh’s 2:30 funeral. Hariri further appealed to Hezbollah to negotiate a peaceful solution to the ongoing presidential crisis—a sharp break from his comments last week, when he accused the Hezbollah-led opposition of “destroying Lebanon.”

The big question is thus whether Hezbollah might see itself as having enough popular Lebanese support in the aftermath of Mughniyeh’s assassination to avoid relying on Damascus, a regime that is still reviled by a substantial portion of the population. Or, alternatively, Hezbollah could quickly return to Levantine politics as usual, taking its cues from Iran with Syria’s active consent.

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Two Great Quotes on Mughniyah

The first from David Schenker:

The fact that Mughniyah was killed in Damascus highlights the Asad regime’s increasing difficulties in protecting the terrorists they provide with “safe haven.” In 2004, another guest of the regime, Hamas leader Izzeddin Subhi Sheikh Khalil, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. The Israelis bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp in 2003, buzzed Asad’s Latakia palace in 2006, and destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in 2007. As Mughniyah’s aunt told AFP earlier today, “We were shocked to learn that he was killed in Syria. We thought he was safe there.”

And the second, from Tony Badran, rounding out Schenker:

Zbig Brzezinski was in Damascus today. And, according to SANA, Zbig told journalists that the US and Syria have a shared interest in stability in the region. Now, we all knew that Zbig was a buffoon, but to say this on the day that Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus is really a proud moment for the man on whose watch Mughniyeh’s bosses took over Iran.

A shared interest in stability in the region, by giving safe haven to an all-star team of global terrorists? Buffoon might be too weak a word to describe Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser.

The first from David Schenker:

The fact that Mughniyah was killed in Damascus highlights the Asad regime’s increasing difficulties in protecting the terrorists they provide with “safe haven.” In 2004, another guest of the regime, Hamas leader Izzeddin Subhi Sheikh Khalil, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. The Israelis bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp in 2003, buzzed Asad’s Latakia palace in 2006, and destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in 2007. As Mughniyah’s aunt told AFP earlier today, “We were shocked to learn that he was killed in Syria. We thought he was safe there.”

And the second, from Tony Badran, rounding out Schenker:

Zbig Brzezinski was in Damascus today. And, according to SANA, Zbig told journalists that the US and Syria have a shared interest in stability in the region. Now, we all knew that Zbig was a buffoon, but to say this on the day that Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus is really a proud moment for the man on whose watch Mughniyeh’s bosses took over Iran.

A shared interest in stability in the region, by giving safe haven to an all-star team of global terrorists? Buffoon might be too weak a word to describe Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser.

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Did Israel Do It?

By a simple process of elimination, it seems implausible that anyone other than Israel was behind the operation that killed Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus last night.

For starters, the Syrian regime can be eliminated. If the bombing had happened anywhere other than Damascus, there might be a slight chance that Syria, as so many people are speculating, knocked off one of its own heroes as part of a secret deal with America. But the bombing happened in the heart of Damascus–”the car bomb exploded . . . in Tantheem Kafer Souseh, an upscale neighborhood of Damascus, close to an Iranian school and a police station,” reports the NYT — and the embarrassment today to the Assad regime and its allies, Hizballah and Iran, could not be greater. Damascus is an extraordinarily well-surveilled city, and the Assad regime is fanatical about internal security. Even if somehow the Syrians did decide that they needed to kill Mughniyeh, doing so in Damascus, or even elsewhere in Syria, would be an unimaginably stupid way to carry it out.

So did a group of Lebanese Christians do it in retaliation for years of Syrian assassinations of March 14 leaders? There is motive — but there isn’t much in the way of means. As Tony Badran told the New York Sun, “To say that any faction in Lebanon is behind this is to greatly misstate reality. They don’t have the operational capacity. They don’t have the intelligence capacity. It is extremely unlikely that anyone in Lebanon has anything to do with this.” Moreover, had Lebanese Christians been able to do it, they would have bombed Damascus three years ago, when Syria started killing people in Beirut.

What about America? This is probably the likeliest scenario other than the Israelis, as Mugniyah’s fingerprints are on a litany of terror operations spanning well over two decades that have killed hundreds of Americans. But it’s also true that America appears to have largely given up the hunt for Mugniyah, and has also downgraded its confrontation with Syria and Iran. It is also not clear that the CIA today is enamored of the spirit of daring necessary to carry off such an operation, or that it even maintains the kind of resources in Syria that would enable it to assassinate someone if the interest arose.

And that leaves Israel, which has many obvious reasons for conducting such an operation combined with the intelligence capabilities necessary for carrying it out. We know from the 2006 war with Hizballah that Israel has reliable networks of operatives within southern Lebanon and Syria which enabled Israel to monitor the medium- and long-range missiles that were supplied to Hizballah, almost all of which Israel was able to destroy in the opening hours of the war.

Ultimately, it almost doesn’t matter who did it, because Israel will remain the presumed culprit. And that is a very good thing.

By a simple process of elimination, it seems implausible that anyone other than Israel was behind the operation that killed Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus last night.

For starters, the Syrian regime can be eliminated. If the bombing had happened anywhere other than Damascus, there might be a slight chance that Syria, as so many people are speculating, knocked off one of its own heroes as part of a secret deal with America. But the bombing happened in the heart of Damascus–”the car bomb exploded . . . in Tantheem Kafer Souseh, an upscale neighborhood of Damascus, close to an Iranian school and a police station,” reports the NYT — and the embarrassment today to the Assad regime and its allies, Hizballah and Iran, could not be greater. Damascus is an extraordinarily well-surveilled city, and the Assad regime is fanatical about internal security. Even if somehow the Syrians did decide that they needed to kill Mughniyeh, doing so in Damascus, or even elsewhere in Syria, would be an unimaginably stupid way to carry it out.

So did a group of Lebanese Christians do it in retaliation for years of Syrian assassinations of March 14 leaders? There is motive — but there isn’t much in the way of means. As Tony Badran told the New York Sun, “To say that any faction in Lebanon is behind this is to greatly misstate reality. They don’t have the operational capacity. They don’t have the intelligence capacity. It is extremely unlikely that anyone in Lebanon has anything to do with this.” Moreover, had Lebanese Christians been able to do it, they would have bombed Damascus three years ago, when Syria started killing people in Beirut.

What about America? This is probably the likeliest scenario other than the Israelis, as Mugniyah’s fingerprints are on a litany of terror operations spanning well over two decades that have killed hundreds of Americans. But it’s also true that America appears to have largely given up the hunt for Mugniyah, and has also downgraded its confrontation with Syria and Iran. It is also not clear that the CIA today is enamored of the spirit of daring necessary to carry off such an operation, or that it even maintains the kind of resources in Syria that would enable it to assassinate someone if the interest arose.

And that leaves Israel, which has many obvious reasons for conducting such an operation combined with the intelligence capabilities necessary for carrying it out. We know from the 2006 war with Hizballah that Israel has reliable networks of operatives within southern Lebanon and Syria which enabled Israel to monitor the medium- and long-range missiles that were supplied to Hizballah, almost all of which Israel was able to destroy in the opening hours of the war.

Ultimately, it almost doesn’t matter who did it, because Israel will remain the presumed culprit. And that is a very good thing.

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More on Mugniyeh

Just to follow up on Max Boot’s post about the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a major Hizballah figure. The Israeli news channels are talking about it as though it is clearly an Israeli operation, even though they are giving the formal nudge-nudge-wink-wink that it might not have been. Ehud Ya’ari, Israel Channel 2′s veteran analyst, calls the takeout “more important than taking out Hassan Nasrallah, on a par with Bin Laden.”

This might not be so off base. According to Ya’ari, Mughniyeh, as number 2 in the most sophisticated terror group on earth, is the one who personally invented the suicide bombing, used first in Lebanon before being adopted by the Palestinians; he turned Hizballah into a serious army; he was in charge of the organization’s ties with Iran and Syria; in charge of all its military operations; and masterminded almost every major attack on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in the last 25 years. He also was behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers which triggered the 2006 Lebanon war. Today Gideon Ezra, a government minister and former senior intelligence figure, called Mughniyeh the “Lebanese Carlos.”

This is what Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute on Counter-Terrorism, had to say (via the JPost):

It’s hard to imagine a figure more dangerous, more sophisticated or more experienced than arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. Until his assassination on Wednesday, Mughniyeh served as the mastermind behind Hizbullah’s operations, an elusive figure linked to almost every attack executed by the organization since its inception in the early 1980s. In fact, it is impossible to name even one large-scale attack executed by Hizbullah that Mughniyeh was not involved in – from airplane hijackings to embassy bombings to kidnappings and more.

The senior Hizbullah leader was responsible for suicide attacks on the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which lead to the strategic withdrawal of American and foreign forces out of Lebanon. He was also wanted in connection to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 attack on the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, attempted attacks in Asia and the Arab world and the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.

Mughniyeh’s importance lies not only in his ability to execute extraordinary attacks against targets around the world – or even in his control of Hizbullah’s operational branch in Lebanon – but more significantly in the close connections he established between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. Mughniyeh positioned himself as the operational link between these actors. It is in this framework that Mughniyeh also served as al-Qaida’s contact within Hizbullah throughout the 1990s…. Unlike bin Laden, however, Mughniyeh’s influence was not derived from the image he created of himself, but by his actual deeds and capabilities as an initiator, planner, supervisor and executor of attacks on an international scale. In effect, these attacks tremendously strengthened Hizbullah’s capabilities in a variety of spheres, creating the deterrence that the organization was seeking to achieve vis-à-vis foreign states and Israel.

Today, Hizbullah is a mini-state so strong that the Lebanese army is unable to do anything about it; it is a terror cancer giving Iran and Syria a major base on Israel’s northern border and in the heart of an otherwise potentially reasonable Lebanon. This has all happened in the last twenty years, and the man who did it is now dead.

Just to follow up on Max Boot’s post about the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a major Hizballah figure. The Israeli news channels are talking about it as though it is clearly an Israeli operation, even though they are giving the formal nudge-nudge-wink-wink that it might not have been. Ehud Ya’ari, Israel Channel 2′s veteran analyst, calls the takeout “more important than taking out Hassan Nasrallah, on a par with Bin Laden.”

This might not be so off base. According to Ya’ari, Mughniyeh, as number 2 in the most sophisticated terror group on earth, is the one who personally invented the suicide bombing, used first in Lebanon before being adopted by the Palestinians; he turned Hizballah into a serious army; he was in charge of the organization’s ties with Iran and Syria; in charge of all its military operations; and masterminded almost every major attack on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in the last 25 years. He also was behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers which triggered the 2006 Lebanon war. Today Gideon Ezra, a government minister and former senior intelligence figure, called Mughniyeh the “Lebanese Carlos.”

This is what Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute on Counter-Terrorism, had to say (via the JPost):

It’s hard to imagine a figure more dangerous, more sophisticated or more experienced than arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. Until his assassination on Wednesday, Mughniyeh served as the mastermind behind Hizbullah’s operations, an elusive figure linked to almost every attack executed by the organization since its inception in the early 1980s. In fact, it is impossible to name even one large-scale attack executed by Hizbullah that Mughniyeh was not involved in – from airplane hijackings to embassy bombings to kidnappings and more.

The senior Hizbullah leader was responsible for suicide attacks on the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which lead to the strategic withdrawal of American and foreign forces out of Lebanon. He was also wanted in connection to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 attack on the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, attempted attacks in Asia and the Arab world and the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.

Mughniyeh’s importance lies not only in his ability to execute extraordinary attacks against targets around the world – or even in his control of Hizbullah’s operational branch in Lebanon – but more significantly in the close connections he established between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. Mughniyeh positioned himself as the operational link between these actors. It is in this framework that Mughniyeh also served as al-Qaida’s contact within Hizbullah throughout the 1990s…. Unlike bin Laden, however, Mughniyeh’s influence was not derived from the image he created of himself, but by his actual deeds and capabilities as an initiator, planner, supervisor and executor of attacks on an international scale. In effect, these attacks tremendously strengthened Hizbullah’s capabilities in a variety of spheres, creating the deterrence that the organization was seeking to achieve vis-à-vis foreign states and Israel.

Today, Hizbullah is a mini-state so strong that the Lebanese army is unable to do anything about it; it is a terror cancer giving Iran and Syria a major base on Israel’s northern border and in the heart of an otherwise potentially reasonable Lebanon. This has all happened in the last twenty years, and the man who did it is now dead.

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