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BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES!

IDF Chief Of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi: 'I Have Ordered IDF On Special Alert On Land , Sea & In The Air'

Hezbollah Commander Imad Mugniyah Was Israel's 'Osama Bin Laden'

Ease Of Assassination Raises Questions About Perpetrators

Imad Fayez Mugniyah

The Israeli public is paying little notice to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's denial that Israeli agents were not involved in the assassination of Hezbollah arch-terrorist Imad Mugniyah in the heart of Damascus. One newspaper article carried the sardonic headline: 'Mossad Chief Meir Dagan Is Sitting Shiva' - (seven day mourning period for the dead). The Hezbollah chief is known to have planned and executed the murder of scores of Israelis and the cross border raid that triggered the Second Lebanon War in July 2006. IsraCast is of the view Imad Mugniyah had become Israel's 'Osama Bin Laden' in the eyes of Israeli intelligence.

'The IDF has gone on special alert on land, sea and in the air' - that's the reaction of IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi after the assassination of Hezbollah's top commander Imad Mugniyah in Damascus. It is not a question of if, but when Hezbollah will launch a major terror attack against an Israeli or Jewish target somewhere in the world. Whether or not Israeli agents killed Hezbollah commander Imad Mugniyah is a moot point. Hezbollah, Iran and Syria are all pointing the finger at Israel. There is no question that after recovering from the initial shock, all of Hezbollah's resources will be mobilized to avenge the killing of their vaunted 'military' commander who succeeded in evading the security services of Israel, the U.S. and other western countries for nearly a quarter of a century. Iran declared that 'Mugniyah's death will shake the Zionist regime like an earthquake' and can be counted upon to again lend all its aid to the Hezbollah wave of revenge. Indeed back in the nineties, the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires was linked directly to the horrendous bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish Community center after Israeli helicopters killed former Hezbollah leader Abbas Musawi in February 1992.

Hezbollah members in action

Incidentally, after its investigation, Argentinian justice officials issued an international warrant for Mugniyah and seven Iranian diplomats. Yaacov Perri, a former chief of Israel's internal security service, warns that Hezbollah may again try and strike at Israel's soft underbelly abroad at embassies or at Jewish targets. He warns of countries that have big Muslim communities such as Britain and France where Iranian embassies can provide aid and shelter to Hezbollah cells. And he adds the Hezbollah retaliation may take some time in coming - Hezbollah is now in a state of shock and will need time to regroup. In Peri's view, Hezbollah will seek a 'convenient venue where it can make a big impact'.

Why has it taken so long for Imad Mugniyah to be eliminated? Peri described the terrorist chief as being a master of deception who never slept twice in the same bed, who had plastic surgery to change his appearance and was cloaked by a tight ring of bodyguards who might be unaware of his true identity and who were also responsible for observing anything suspicious in the surroundings. Moreover, Mugniyah was known to move frequently between Lebanon, Syria and Iran where he was granted cover and support. In addition, it is extremely difficult to penetrate a fanatic Islamic terror organization such as Hezbollah. Even if agents could be recruited from inside Hezbollah, they could not be trusted and were very problematic. Hezbollah also kept everything compartmentalized and was highly disciplined. There was no question that Mugniyah was brilliant at what he did and time and again evaded his pursuers who were trying to track him down for years. Interviewed on Israel Radio, Peri said he had no inside information about who had finally caught up with the Hezbollah commander in Damascus. In any case, he had nothing but admiration saying the planting of the bomb inside Mugniyah's jeep in the heart of the Syrian capital where he was protected required the most exact intelligence and 'the operational capability was breathtaking'.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah

But the skill and precision of the unknown agents penetrating the Syrian capital and Mugniyah's bodyguards and then to disappear raises another sinister possibility: Could it be that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah himself decided to eliminate his deputy and most serious rival? Nasrallah was severely criticized by the Iranians for precipitating the Second Lebanon War. Tehran was angry that Nasrallah prematurely exposed the Hezbollah military build-up in south-Lebanon. The theory is that Iran wanted to reveal this threat to Israel at a later date when it was further advanced in its nuclear weapons program. After the war, Nasrallah admitted that he would never have launched the cross border raid if he had known that Israel would destroy the Hezbollah infrastructure in Lebanon. So it could be that Nasrallah, fearing the Iranians were about to replace him with Mugniyah, decided to preempt by assassinating his rival. Nasrallah was one of the very few people who would have known about Mugniyah's movements which were a closely guarded secret. This could also explain the unbelievable ease with which the hit team planted the bomb and then disappeared without a trace.

So far, Israel officials have followed Prime minister Olmert's lead and refrained from taking any responsibility for the killing of Mugniyah. At the same time, there is a sense of satisfaction that Hezbollah has suffered a severe body blow. Some experts say Mugniyah played a more important role than the actual Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Mugniyah was responsible for executing the numerous terror atrocities that gained Hezbollah fame and popularity on the 'Arab Streets' of the Middle East. Although Nasrallah is a very polished politician, it was Mugniyah who 'delivered the goods'. In south Lebanon, he turned a rag-tag Hezbollah fighters into a disciplined and capable guerrilla force that fought the IDF to a standstill. In fact, Mugniyah was thought to have commanded the Hezbollah cross border raid into Israel on July 12, 2006 that killed eight IDF soldiers, abducted two others and rocketed Galilee triggering the Second Lebanon War - the Hezbollah commander had become Israel's Osama bin Laden.

Although Hezbollah can be counted on to retaliate in force, there is no question that Mugniyah deserved it. In such cases, the final decision would have been taken by Prime Minister Olmert himself, probably in consultation with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. If so, the Olmert- Barak will undoubtedly gain points with public opinion. It would be similar to that successful Israeli air strike on a suspected secret nuclear facility in Syria on September 6th. As for the Syrians, they were caught red-handed hosting one of the world's most notorious terrorists with an American reward of $5 million dollars on his head for murdering 241 U.S. marines and 58 French troops in Beirut and also blowing up the American embassy in the Lebanese capital. It's no wonder that the U.S. State Department spokesman reacted by saying: ' The world is a better place without this man in it - he was a cold- blooded killer '.

Hezbollah has reacted by naming a new commander but it may be hard to replace Mugniyah's capabilities. Moreover, after the initial shock, the the witch - hunt will likely start as to what went wrong. How did the enemy penetrate Mugniyah's ring of security? Hezbollah officials may suspect there are traitors in their midst something that cramp operations. Israel's former Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh also notes that the Mugniyah killing came just a day before the third anniversary of the car bombing of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri who was thought to have been murdered by Syria possibly using Hezbollah agents.
There could now be an impact on the already tense stand-off between Hezbollah on one side and the Lebanese Christian and Druze communities on the other.

The perception that Israel eliminated arch-terrorist Mugniyah also sends a message to Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip that they may also be in danger if they keep rocketing Israeli civilians in Sderot. There is rising rage in Israel and Israeli leaders have not ruled out the possibility of targeting Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. At the same time, Hezbollah could also contract its Palestinian allies of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to do the job. Israel obviously has to take this into consideration as well. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Israel will be easing roadblocks and security checks when it comes to the West Bank or Gaza Strip in the near future.

David Essing

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