Iran and Israel Poised for Possible Military Clash over Mughniyeh’s Death
Tehran is bent on avenging the death of its top terror tactician Imad Mughniyeh who was struck down by a bomb planted in his car in Damascus Tuesday, Feb. 13. Even before the high-ranking Iranian military investigation team, headed by Gen. Ghassem Soleimani, chief of the IRGC’s al Qods Brigades, began a rush job the next day, Israel was singled out as the target for punishment by Iran, Hizballah and Syria.
Syria also launched a probe to identify the long arm which hit the shadowy master terrorist under the noses of its security services.
Some of the theories and rumors swirling around these probes were planted to muddy the waters by Iran, Syria, Hizballah, Israel and some Lebanese quarters.
Arab newspapers, for instance, claimed Saturday that new leads link Arab intelligence services to the crime; ex-Israeli undercover agents pointed the finger at Lebanese Christian Maronites.
An intriguing conspiracy theory emanating unexpectedly from Western sources was suggested by the veteran CNN correspondent Jim Clancy. In his view, Mughniyeh, the consummate master of deception, may still be alive. Others took the theory further and suggested his death may have been fabricated to provide Iran, Syria and Hizballah with a strong casus belli to attack Israel without further delay, and so repeat the Arabs’ Yom Kippur success 35 years ago in catching Israel unawares.
According to this line of thinking, because Iran is forging ahead with the development of a nuclear weapon which Israel has said is unacceptable, rather than wait for Israel to strike, the clerical rulers of Tehran resolved on preemptive action.
Mughniyeh’s death, real or phony, provided the motive.
debkafile‘s intelligence sources have gleaned some facts from the early stages of the highly secretive inquiries and separated them from the theories.
1. Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah are determined to inflict military-terror punishment on Israel whom they accuse of liquidating their key agent, Imad Mughniyeh.
Most Israeli government spokesmen see this attack coming in the form of a terrorist strike against an Israeli or Jewish target overseas, on the lines of the 1992 bombing attacks on the Israeli embassy and Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires which cost more than 100 lives. Nonetheless, the army, navy, air force and homeland defense forces are on a high state of preparedness on Israel’s northern borders.
Hizballah announced Saturday, Feb. 16, that it had placed 50,000 of its members on the ready for any eventuality (i.e. directives from Tehran). Personnel at the US embassy and other institutions in Beirut were ordered to be on their guard for attacks, keep a low profile and refrain from using their cell phones.
2. Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave the order for Tehran to take charge of the inquiry to identify the hand which killed Mughniyeh, according to our Iranian sources.
No time was lost in obeying him. Wednesday, Feb. 14, hours after the assassination, a military mission was in Damascus, led by Gen. Soleimani, whose al Qods Brigades are responsible on behalf of the IRGC for Iran-sponsored terrorist operations in Iraq, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Its other members are Adm. Mohammad Fadavi, Dep. Commander of the IRGC Navy, who set up the near-clash between Iranian speedboats and US warships in the Strait of Hormuz in January; and Gen. Morteza Rezai, former chief of the IRGC intelligence branch.
3. debkafile‘s Iranian sources add that the appointment of Soleimani, a close crony of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to lead this sensitive mission, confirms the president’s dominance in national operational decisions, in concert with the Revolutionary Guards. Their decisions are submitted to Khamenei for final endorsement.
Two people, therefore, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, will determine the nature and scale of Iran’s retaliation for the loss of its high-value master terrorist and strategist.
4. Soleimani’s preliminary report reveals that the damage was worse than first thought. Not only was Mughniyeh killed by the bomb planted in his car but also some of his bodyguards and senior Hizballah operatives. Syria’s secret services have fallen down completely in guarding Iranian officials and officers resident or visiting their capital.
5. The national team directing Israel’s emergency actions was set up without publicity. Our sources disclose it is headed by the Mossad chief Meir Dagan and composed of prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak, chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi, and Shin Beit director Yuval Diskin. The only hint of Dagan’s key role came with the announcement Friday, Feb. 16, that his term of office as head of the Mossad had been extended for another year until the end of 2009.
Many will take this announcement as an indirect admission of the Mossad’s responsibility for killing the Hizballah commander and a reward for its director.
The Iranian and Israeli teams, keeping their cards close to their chests, are tensely watching events, poised to seize control of any unforeseen situation before it gets out of hand. Four days after Mughniyeh’s death, a military clash appears unavoidable.