Hizballah’s most notorious arch-terrorist and kidnap artist Imad Mughniyeh is named by Tehran military chief of the organization and supreme commander of its newly-expanded area of operations, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports exclusively from counter-terror and Iranian sources.
Hizballah secretary’s general Hassan Nasrallah has been pushed aside by the veteran who has been high up on Washington’s wanted list for more than a quarter of a century for his spectacular hostage-taking and terrorist operations against American targets in Lebanon in the 1980s. During those years, he became Revolutionary Iran’s faithful servant. The verbose Nasrallah has been stripped of his military titles. He stays on as Hizballah’s propagandist and functionary in Lebanese domestic political and religious relations.
He was in fact superseded by Mughniyeh at Tehran’s behest in Hizballah’s war against Israel in the summer of 2006. Hints of the reshuffle in the Hizballah leadership were detected in the omissions from Nasrallah’s last televised speech of Sunday, April 8. He said his group “is ready to stay its course for the next 50 years to confront attempts by the [pro-Syrian] parliamentary majority” to change Lebanon’s identity.
“They are stuck with us for 50 years or more,” said Nasrallah. But there was none of the usual fire-eating rhetoric against the Americans or Israel and nothing about Hizballah’s military plans.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 293 of March 16 (Power Struggle within Hizballah) uncovered a purge of Hizballah’s top officer ranks for unknown reasons. Our intelligence sources have discovered that it was Mughniyeh who axed most of the veteran officers loyal to Nasrallah and replaced them with his own loyalists trusted also by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
This followed Tehran’s criticism of Nasrallah’s performance in the 33-day war and its timing. In the last week of July, 2006, roughly mid-point in the war, they told Mughniyeh to take over and build tactics for repelling Israel’s counter-assault. As a fugitive in the Iranian embassy in Beirut, Nasrallah had to swallow the loss of command.
Iran‘s Muslim Foreign Legion
After the war ended in mid-August, he tried and failed to regain his command, soon discovering that his loyal officers were gone and the new men were under the orders of the Revolutionary Guards command in Damascus.
This was a trick: Mughniyeh arranged for his orders to be bounced to and from the Iranian command to avoid an open clash with the man he displaced.
The new Hizballah commander’s remit goes far beyond the boundaries of a Hizballah-Israeli conflict.
Iran with Syrian help has established a Muslim Foreign Legion of terrorists trained by the Revolutionary Guards as commandos and marines – for deployment across the Middle East against the contingency of an American offensive. These paramilitary fighters, spearheaded by the roughly 40,000 Hizballah and Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami under Mughniyeh’s command, will be called on to compensate for the shortcomings of Iran’s regular military.
Hisballah is already in belligerent mode. While the real military chief works strictly under cover (his face has never been seen since the 1970s), the organization’s political and religious leaders are typically candid about their intentions.
Tuesday, April 10, Dep. Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qasim, interviewed by the UK Guardian in a Beirut safe house, did not rule out another confrontation with Israel this summer and confirmed that the group was re-arming: “We are prepared for the possibility of another adventure or the demand of American policy that might push the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] in that direction.”
debkafile‘s military sources report that that Mughniyeh and Iran are weaving the war preparations of Tehran’s terrorist surrogates into overall Iranian military strategy in four main spheres. The estimated 20,000-strong battled-seasoned, Iran-trained Hizballah is the nucleus of the new Islamic legion.
1. Regeneration of combat units and weapons stocks
All Hizballah’s combat units including missile and artillery are back on their feet, retrained and re-equipped with the latest missiles, including long-range Zelzal 1, Zelzal 2 and Fajr-5 (75-100 km range), as well as large quantities of anti-tank and anti-air weapons
(A German intelligence report on Iranian and Syrian arms smuggling to Lebanon appears for the first time in a separate article)
According to Western and Israeli intelligence estimates, all Hizballah’s fighting units will be ready for war by the end of May. To avoid offering Israel a pretext for attack – or tangling with United Nations peace troops stationed in South Lebanon to enforce the ceasefire, all Hizballah’s combat strength is concentrated north of the Litani River up to the Beqaa region of N. Lebanon.
2. Military domination of central Beirut
At the outset of the conflict with Israel in the summer of 2006, Hizballah’s control of Beirut was confined to the southern Dahya suburb. Nine months later, Hizballah has extended its domination from Dahya up to Riyadh al Solh Square, taking over the heart of the northern commercial center.
Mughhniyeh used a ready-to-hand tool to achieve this. According to our Beirut sources, he transformed the Hizballah section of the protesters’ tent city, set up by pro-Syrian factions in the capital to oust the anti-Syrian Siniora government, into fortified military positions. Armed sentries guard those tents to conceal the anti-tank trenches and weapons depots within – very much on the lines of Hizballah’s camouflaged strongholds which Israeli forces encountered in South Lebanese vilages last summer.
3. Training in Iran and deployment of Hizballah paramilitary units in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea
For the past few weeks, Damascus international airport has been the main hub for the traffic of Hizballah, Hamas, Jihad Islami fighters heading to Iran for training in Revolutionary Guards installations and scattered on their return around key locations in the region. (See debkafile‘s Special Report in HOT POINTS.)
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources now reveal that the assignment of the men to their destinations is another personal Mughniyeh project.
Our intelligence and counter-terror sources reveal that several Hizballah fighters were among the Iranian RG marines, who captured the 15 British sailors and marines in the northern Persian Gulf on March 23.
US intelligence discovered they had undergone training in sowing mines at RG marine commando installations when spotting them in recent weeks taking part in Iranian naval drills for blockading the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz bottleneck. In these maneuvers, the Hizballah trainees were seen aboard commando boats carrying torpedo rockets for practice strikes against large vessels, sea landings on oil rigs and oil installations, including pipelines, in the Arabian peninsula and Gulf emirates and rehearsing the seizure of airfields.
Our intelligence sources report that these Hizballah commandos are especially trained as marines and stand ready for wartime orders from Tehran to deploy in two theaters.
A. The eastern Mediterranean. Their missions there will be to target American and Israel warships, military bases, airports, seaports and strategic installations, as well as the key locations of other countries aiding a potential US assault on Iran.
B. The Red Sea. Some of the terrorist units returning to Lebanon from courses in Iran have been lodged at the Red Sea hideouts of Revolutionary Guards smuggling rings along the coasts of Sudan, Egypt, Sinai and Suez.
(See also DEBKA-Net-Weekly 292 of March 9: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Move in on Suez Too)
Iran’s war planners regard these deployments as instruments for strangling navigation through the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba. Hizballah and other paramilitaries are on the spot should orders issue from Tehran to block passage to US naval vessels, including aircraft carriers, carrying reinforcements and supplies to American Gulf forces.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that, aware of this menace, the US Navy’s amphibious assault ship, the USS Carter, has been sent speeding to the two flashpoint waters, with 400 sailors and 600 marines on board.
In a laconic official US statement, the ship was said to “conduct maritime operations in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.” However CO Jim McGovern was more forthcoming: “Basically it is pressuring the maritime domain to deny international terrorist organizations the use of the high seas,” he said.
Our military sources define the three-sea assignments dealt out to Iran’s terrorist arms and proxies as an integral component of its national military strategy against the threat of war.
The entire operation rides heavily on Imad Mughniyeh’s capabilities as supreme wartime commander. His appointment betokens his high standing with the Islamic Republican regime’s leaders as well as baring the depth and breadth of their strategic preparations for war.
4. Hizballah to reinforce Revolutionary Guards in rebellious oil-rich Khuzistan
For the first time, Tehran is importing foreign Arab Shiite units to help fight ethnic Arab Shiite rebels in a domestic conflict.
There are three motives for this drastic step:
One: Fighting in an oil region where Iran’s biggest refineries are located will give Hizballah combatants the necessary experience for waging paramilitary warfare in similar environments in other countries.
Two: A taste of battle against Arab fighters in Khuzestan will prepare the Lebanese terrorists for taking on Arab military elements in other parts of the Middle East.
Three: After tackling fellow-Shiites in Iran, Hizballah will be less inhibited about bringing anti-Iranian coreligionists to heel in Iraq, if so instructed.
Mughniyeh is no stranger to the Iraqi scene.
In September 2003, our sources located him in Iraq at the head of a group of trusted Lebanese officers with whose help he established an intelligence-cum-terror network at Tehran’s behest. He was there until early 2004. His mission took him to Falluja, Samarra and Ramadi.
It is evident now that the Iranian intelligence and military structure operating with deadly effect in Iraq today was fashioned by the veteran master-terrorist four years ago. His masters in Iran have recalled Mughniyeh to again employ his broad strategic skills in creating another broad-based formation dedicated to violence, one that straddles three seas, the East Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.