The violent death of of Hizballah's iconic military and intelligence chief Imad Mughniyeh February 12, 2008 in a luxury suburb of Damascus, for which it holds Israel responsible, is still shrouded in mystery.
How did the killers penetrate the secretive ace terror-strategist's inner defenses?
How were they able to operate deep inside the Syrian capital?
Mughniyeh, high on US and Israel lists since 1982 for a string of devastating massacres and abductions, was the quintessential invisible man who moved about his covert business for the Shiite organization and his masters in Tehran unrecognized.
More specific questions have been heard of late, such as: Was the bomb car which killed him palmed off by an Israeli hand?
How did Hizballah's innermost secrets, such as its plans to avenge Mughniyeh on the first anniversary of his death, leak to Israeli intelligence?
The Iran-backed Lebanese Shiites had cast a wide net for punishing Israel by attacking its representative institutions and Jewish targets across the world and wreaking its vengeance inside Israel as well. Israeli security knew enough about Hizballah's plans to place hundreds of these locations on high alert and warn Israeli travelers which danger spots to avoid.
Hizballah smoked out some answers by sheer luck.
The garage owner spied for Israel for 19 years
Feb. 19, Lebanese security sources told local media that dozens of Hizballah's military vehicles had been found rigged with bugs linked to Israel spy satellites.
They reported that Marwan Faqih, owner of a garage and gas station in the South Lebanese town of Nabatea, had confessed to attaching the gadgets and owned up to acting as an undercover Mossad agent for 19 years. He said he was recruited in 1990 in Paris.
He was described as buying his way into the good graces of the Hizballah by generous donations to the cause. The spy was made Hizballah's purchasing agent and given responsibility for the maintenance of its fleet of cars.
It was only by chance that he was rumbled.
One of his garage mechanics found an unfamiliar gadget in the electrical wiring of one of those cars and asked its owner, a Hizballah officer, what it was. The officer had no idea and told his commanders about the discovery. They declared an emergency there and then and grounded all vehicles. A sweep turned up bugs linked to satellites in dozens of cars.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence source report the episode came to light in January.
Faqih's interrogation produced the following sequence of events:
1. Hizballah's special forces rounded up more suspected members of the Israeli spy ring across Lebanon.
2. Thursday, Feb. 12, three unidentified assailants kidnapped Joseph Sader, 50, an official of the Middle East Airliners International Travel Department and sped off with him in a SUV.
The abduction raised a furor in Lebanon. The union of MEA employees threatened “escalatory steps” if Sader was not freed. They called it an “unjustified attack on the airline which had served the nation in dark times.”
An airline official suspected of expediting rigged car deliveries
Monday, Feb. 16, the Lebanese army issued a communique denying that the kidnapped MEA employee had been handed over to intelligence, after “high-ranking sources” were quoted as saying that “a certain influential party” had done so Sunday evening.
That source said the army would eventually return Sader to his family after obtaining from him a full account of his abduction.
However, as we publish this issue, there is still no word about Josef Sader's fate.
Thursday, Feb. 19, the Lebanese army issued a statement arguing unconvincingly that Hizballah could not have kidnapped the missing man. Our sources stress however that the Shiite terrorists did indeed snatch Sader and are holding him captive because they suspect him of liaising between Marwan Faqih and his Israeli controllers in certain European capitals.
They believe that his job was to relay to Mossad agents the names of Hizballah officers needing new vehicles. The merchandize was swiftly delivered, along with secret tracking, recording and photography devices. Hizballah believes Sader used his Middle East Airline job to expedite the shipment to Beirut of the vehicles on order. He was so efficient that his contact Faqih boasted that owing to his excellent connections and credit with car manufacturers, he could fill an order in 48-72 hours.
A Hizballah commander could obtain a new car within hours by putting in a single phone call.
Mughniyeh died because he changed too many cars
Faqih became Hizballah's purchasing agent in 2006 shortly before the Lebanon war erupted in July. Its aftermath in September found a mountain of wrecked Hizballah vehicles which needed to be replaced urgently. New units were formed swelling the orders for vehicles.
In the past three years, therefore, Hizballah's entire command, including its intelligence and security officers, were exposed to Mossad eavesdroppers.
Mughniyeh was among them.
Hizballah's military chief never trusted the organization's bodyguards and preferred to drive himself without an escort. Through an aide, he used Faqih's services to change vehicles all the time in the same way as he switched disguises. After 15 changes in 10 months, Faqih may have begun to suspect that his reclusive client was none other than Mughniyeh and would have passed the word to his Israeli controllers.
Finally, Mossad had the key for taking out a vicious and elusive enemy Israel had sought for nearly three decades.
The lone wolf Hizballah leader made his last trip to Damascus on Feb. 8 2008 at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Pejaro. Explosives were hidden in the driver's headrest. They were detonated by satellite.
He was not killed as Hizballah believed by an Israeli hit-team which managed to reach Damascus.
Hizballah continues to grill suspects to unravel the baffling questions still outstanding and get to the bottom of this affair.