For years, Hezbollah terrorists have believed the Israel was behind the murder of its Number 2 leader, Imad Mughniyeh — but a front page article Friday in The Washington Post has revealed the United States was equally involved in his demise on a Damascus street. The CIA collaborated with Israel’s international Mossad intelligence agency to assassinate the next-in-line to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
Former U.S. officials told The Washington Post the assassination carried out in the Syrian capital on February 12, 2008, was a complex joint operation. CIA spotters were tracking Hezbollah’s international operations chief that night. But as he approached the parked SUV, it was agents from the Mossad in Tel Aviv who detonated the American-made car bomb that exploded.
According to an intelligence source quoted by The Washington Post, “The way it was set up, the U.S. could object and call it off, but it could not execute.” The source added that the bomb was tested repeatedly, “maybe 25 times” to ensure there would be no collateral damage, that the blast would be contained.
Five former U.S. intelligence officials confirmed American involvement in the assassination, according to the paper.
It is interesting that this highly classified information is being leaked now, seven years later, on the eve of Israel’s national elections and during one of the lowest point ever in U.S.-Israeli diplomatic relations.
Mughniyeh was on the FBI’s “Most Wanted List” with a reward of $5 million for his capture. On behalf of Hezbollah and Iran he had plotted attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, a U.S. Marine barracks, CIA Lebanon station chief William F. Buckley, USAF Colonel William Higgins, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the Israeli Embassy in Argentina and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia where 19 U.S. service personnel died. In absentia he was indicted in U.S. federal court in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 shortly after it departed from Athens, and the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, one of the passengers on the plane.
With Hezbollah he also was arming and training fighters in Iraq that were carrying out suicide bombings and using IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to attack U.S. troops.
But CIA officials still had to prove the killing would be in “self-defense” of the American people – that Mughniyeh was a “continuing threat to Americans” – in order to obtain permission to carry out the assassination. Signatures for the operation required from President George W. Bush, the attorney general, the director of national intelligence, the national security adviser and the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, the source said.
The Bush administration understood, however, what kind of threat it was dealing with: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a reporter in 2008 that Hezbollah was a threat to national security. “To be honest, they make Al Qaeda look like a minor league team,” he was quoted as saying.