Israelis dispute CIA was behind Hezbollah strongman’s killing

Imad MughniyahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Sources in Israel are disputing reports from January that the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency was behind the assassination of one of Hezbollah’s most senior officials. On January 31 of this year, two US-based publications, The Washington Post and Newsweek, claimed that it was the CIA, not Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency as previously thought, who led the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyah. Mughniyah, who was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon, was killed when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret.

According to the reports, the Mossad alerted the CIA after uncovering Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and suggested a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. The American covert-action agency proceeded to have a bomb designed by technicians from its Science & Technology Directorate, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in North Carolina. It was, according to the Post and Newsweek reports, the very bomb that killed Mughniyah on the evening of February 12 near his home in the Syrian capital.

But Dan Raviv, the Washington-based national correspondent for CBS News, said on Sunday that Israeli intelligence insiders are disputing claims that the CIA was the leading force in the operation. In a report published on Sunday, Raviv cited “Israelis close to their country’s services” as saying that the operation against Mughniyah was “almost all blue-and-white, and just a little bit red-white-and-blue” —a direct reference to the colors in the Israeli and American flags. The CBS correspondent said Israelis had been “miffed that the Americans were taking too much credit” for the strike against Mughniyah, and were actively “speaking with Western officials and diplomats to offer corrections”.

According to Raviv, it was the Mossad and Aman (Israel’s primary military-intelligence agency) that discovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and proceeded to design a bomb after the US declined Israel’s invitation to help organize a joint strike. Eventually, claims Raviv, Israel’s then-Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, convinced then-US President George W. Bush to approve a strike against Mughniyah, by showing him videos of the custom-made car bomb being tested in Israel. An impressed President Bush then authorized the CIA to participate in the operation. But by that time, says Raviv, the Israelis were firmly in command of the project and remained so until its final execution. Neither the CIA nor the Mossad have commented on the allegations regarding Mughniyah’s assassination.

CIA had central role in Hezbollah official’s killing, say sources

Imad MughniyahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States, not Israel, as previously thought, led an assassination operation that targeted a senior member of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in 2008, according to two separate reports that came out last week. Imad Mughniyah was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon. At the time of his assassination, Mughniyah headed the Hezbollah’s security apparatus and some claim he was the organization’s second-in-command. He was killed on the evening of February 12, 2008, when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret. The Shiite group blamed Israel for his killing. But two reports that aired this week, one in The Washington Post and the other in Newsweek, cited unnamed former government officials in the US in claiming that the operation was in fact led by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima said the CIA was assisted in the operation by its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, while Newsweek’s Jeff Stein wrote that the effort was personally approved by then-US President George Bush and was closely supervised by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden.

According to the reports, the Mossad uncovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007 and alerted the CIA, suggesting a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. Soon after President Bush approved the strike, officers in the CIA’s Near East Division planned the logistics of the operation, which involved building a complex bomb, smuggling it into Syria and placing it inside the spare tire of a locally-purchased vehicle. The bomb was allegedly designed by technicians from the CIA’s Directorate of Science & Technology, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in Harvey Point, North Carolina.

The operation was allegedly coordinated from a CIA safe house located near Mughniyah’s apartment in the Syrian capital. On the evening February 12, a team of Mossad and CIA operatives employed facial-recognition technology to identify their target as he was walking out of a local restaurant. When Mughniyah approached the explosives-laden SUV, the bomb was remotely detonated, decapitating him and blasting his torso through a nearby window (note: Goldman and Nakashima claim that the bomb was remotely detonated by Mossad officers located in Tel Aviv; Stein suggests the blast was triggered by a CIA officer who had been placed in charge of the remote-control mechanism).

The reports describe the operation as “one of the most high-risk covert actions” undertaken by the CIA in recent years, because it targeted a high-profile individual in a country with which the US was not officially at war. Additionally, the method used —a car bomb— is particularly controversial, as it is typically a method of operation preferred by organized criminals and terrorist organizations.

The US has not acknowledged participation in Mughniyah’s assassination, and the CIA declined to comment when contacted by The Washington Post on Friday. Mark Regev, spokesman for the office of the Israeli prime minister, said simply that Tel Aviv had “nothing to add at this time”.

New information emerges on Hezbollah commander’s assassination

Imad MughniyahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Lebanese newspaper has published the most detailed account to date of the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah. The car explosion that killed Mughniyah in Syrian capital Damascus on February 12, 2008, is widely believed to have been the work of the Mossad, Israel’s foremost covert-action agency. Mughniyah was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that controls large parts of southern Lebanon. At the time of his assassination, Mughniyah headed the Hezbollah’s security apparatus and was among the organization’s most senior intelligence officials. On Tuesday, Arabic-language newspaper al-Akhbar , which is based in Lebanese capital Beirut and is informally affiliated with Hezbollah, published a detailed article that reads like an unclassified version of the militant group’s internal investigation into Mughniyah’s killing. The article claims that “Hezbollah is absolutely positive that Israel was behind […] the operation from A to Z”. It says that Mughniyah’s assassins “were not Syrian citizens”, but rather entered Syria from abroad and stayed there six weeks while planning and executing the assassination operation. The article also claims that the Mossad recruited a Syrian expatriate, who visited Damascus on a regular basis in order to provide logistical support for the operation. This included renting a villa in the outskirts of Damascus and purchasing at least three vehicles to be used in the operation. Read more of this post

Analysis: The limits of Israeli espionage

Ronen Bergman

Ronen Bergman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman (The Secret War with Iran) has written an editorial in Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he argues that Israel’s espionage successes in recent years have failed to bring about significant changes on the strategic level. Bergman briefly recounts the significant post-9/11 reforms in Israeli intelligence, most notably the appointment of Meir Dagan as the director of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. Dagan has “created a new Mossad”, argues Bergman, one that is more narrowly focused in its operations, and more collaborative with foreign intelligence agencies –notably American, Jordanian, Turkish and Indian. This shift in focus and tactics has undeniably helped Israel score some significant espionage victories, including the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah in Beirut, Lebanon; the seizure of several ships carrying Iranian and Syrian weapons to Hezbollah; as well as the more recent assassination of Hamas military official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Read more of this post

Mossad has long history of assassination operations

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh

Al-Mabhouh

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The recent assassination of Hamas military official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh has sparked a public debate about the history of the Kidon (formerly known as Caesarea), Mossad’s elite assassination unit. Several participants in this debate frequently mention the infamous Black September killings of the 1970s (operation BAYONET), which exterminated almost every original member of the Palestinian group that perpetrated the massacre of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich. In reality, however, these operations were not conducted by the Kidon, but by a separate unit outside Mossad’s operational structure, created specifically for this purpose. The same applies to other extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, which are usually perpetrated by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency. Read more of this post

Analysis: Early Thoughts on Medhat’s Assassination

Kamal Medhat

Kamal Medhat

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Kamal Medhat, 58, was a senior Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) official. He was assassinated on March 23 by a roadside bomb that struck a PLO convoy outside the entrance to the Mieh Mieh refugee camp, located near Sidon in southern Lebanon. Since Medhat’s assassination, intelNews has received several emails from readers pointing the finger at Israel’s intelligence services. There is no doubt that Medhat’s assassination is a significant setback for the broader secular Palestinian movement, and especially for Fatah, of which Medhat was a senior member. A former aide to the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Medhat had previously served as Fatah’s director of intelligence in Lebanon, and was a key supporter of Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. To my knowledge, Medhat was the most senior Palestinian official (of any faction) assassinated in Lebanon in nearly 30 years. Nevertheless, although an Israeli role in his assassination should not be ruled out, it would be premature to conclude at this stage that Israeli intelligence services were behind the operation. Read article →

Lebanese-Israeli spy war is intensifying

Mughniyah

Mughniyah

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
On February 19, intelNews reported on the arrest in Nabatiyeh of Kamal Faqih, a Lebanese citizen who was allegedly recruited by Israeli intelligence while living in France in the mid-1990s. Faqih, who was initially arrested by Hezbollah, the Shia Islamic political and paramilitary organization that controls large parts of Lebanon, was subsequently surrendered to the Lebanese authorities. However, late last week, Lebanese newspapers revealed that, several days before Faqih’s arrest, another Lebanese man suspected of espionage was detained in Beirut. That was Yussef Sader, a Middle East Airlines employee, who witnesses say was kidnapped in the morning of February 14, while on his way to Beirut’s Rafiq Hariri International Airport. Read more of this post