The Death of Imad Mughniyeh: A Mideast Murder Mystery

More than a week has passed since the assassination of Hezbollah’s terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, and the question of who did it remains as much a subject of speculation as the question of potential repercussions. Unsurprisingly, Israel is the prime suspect, and while Israeli officials have protested innocence, nobody pretended to be sorry. After all, Mughniyeh was not only one of the founders of Hezbollah, but also one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, accused by the West of killing hundreds in suicide bombings and hijackings in Lebanon and around the world. And it was not just Mughniyeh’s bloody record, but also his ongoing activities which seemed to justify the assessment that he was “a ticking bomb that had to be neutralized.”

However, particularly among Israeli analysts, there was much debate about the potential “price tag”, and if Hezbollah’s General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah had his way, the price would of course be the “elimination” of Israel. The threats against Israel in Nasrallah’s eulogy for Mugniyeh were eagerly echoed by several Iranian officials, and the rhetoric got so out of hand that it was eventually even brought to the attention of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. But it is important to note that Nasrallah’s war mongering and Tehran’s enthusiastic support for it did not only result in a rebuke from Ban Ki-Moon — it also didn’t go down well in the region. Indeed, there was a heavy symbolism in the deep divisions that split Beirut into two different worlds when the funeral for Mugniyeh fell on the same day as the rally to commemorate the third anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. In a scathing commentary in Asharq Al-Awsat, the paper’s editor-in-chief Tariq Alhomayed argued that the funeral speech by Hezbollah’s leader “revealed that Lebanon of Nasrallah is not diverse and is not governed by democratic concepts but is rather a combat zone and a house of obedience where Sayyid’s [i.e. Nasrallah’s] orders are to be followed and those who fail to comply will be deemed traitors and collaborators.” As Alhomayed maintained, for Nasrallah, “Lebanon’s collapse is incidental, as long as [it] serves the agenda of Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah.”

Another, hardly less provocative commentary published in the same paper claimed: “The persistence in justifying the cost of innocent lives as a result of the actions of the ‘jihadist’ or ‘hero’ as permissible and inoffensive as long as the ultimate purpose is ‘noble, honest and blessed’ is no different to the military options put forward by the neoconservatives of the American administration since it views the killing of the innocent women, children and elderly as a result of air raids or military operations in general as collateral damage, which is a humiliating description.”

In the Lebanese Daily Star, Michael Young noted that “since Mughniyeh’s funeral, unidentified sources in Beirut and Damascus have been feverishly spinning media coverage of the killing”. The perhaps most colorful example is a report in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam, which quoted a source close to Hizbullah as claiming “that the Mughniyeh hit was ‘Palestinian-Israeli,’ using American technology and financed by an unidentified Gulf Arab official.” Putting little trust in the results of a supposedly ongoing Syrian investigation of Mughniyeh’s assassination, Young also noted that it was increasingly likely “that the findings, rather than explain what happened, will become a weapon in the regional struggle between Syria, Iran and their Lebanese allies on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan to a lesser extent, and the March 14 coalition on the other.”

So while the Mughniyeh murder mystery may well remain unresolved, it will hardly be regarded as a closed case any time soon.

More World Politics Review