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.