Imad Mugniyah’s assassination
is not only a difficult moral blow for Hizbullah,
but also to Iran’s deterrent power in the international community. Among other things, Mugniyah managed the joint Hizbullah-Iran
apparatus responsible for international terror attacks. This apparatus was one of the most important tools used by Tehran in order to deter the United States and Israel
from taking military action against its nuclear project. Iran threatened that should it be attacked, it will hit Western interests worldwide.
Imad Mugniyah was among the chief operators supposed to translate this threat into action through networks of Shiite Lebanese immigrants that he established and managed in Africa and South America. One of these networks was behind the terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets in Buenos Aires. The Iranian embassies in Argentina and Paraguay provided logistical services to the masterminds of the car bombings.
Mugniyah’s international experience was also showcased in the operation meant to dispatch arms ship Karin A to the Palestinians during the second Intifada. This was a joint operation by Arafat, Iran, and Hizbullah. The assassination of his two brothers in the 1990s also failed to deter the arch-terrorist Mugniyah.
It is reasonable to assume that Iran’s and Hizbullah’s top priority at this time, in the wake of the assassination, would be the desire to restore their deterrent power through international terror attacks. It is also reasonable to assume that they will attempt to do this through large-scale grandiose attacks against Israeli, Jewish, and American institutions and interests. It won’t happen immediately, as Iranian-Hizbullah terror networks have been dormant in recent years. It will take some time to bring them back into action and lull possible targets.
However, we can assume with near certainty that Hizbullah will settle the score – even if only to boost the confidence of its activists in Lebanon,
and elsewhere in the world. This confidence will likely be undermined in the wake of the assassination of such a senior, compartmentalized, and heavily secured figure.
As we don’t know when the act of revenge will take place, the Israeli government and US Administration must boost security arrangements at all official and economic missions identified with them in the next few days. The intelligence coverage should also be enhanced. Israelis abroad, and particularly backpackers and businesspeople in South America and Africa, must be aware of the possibility that they may become a target for attack or abduction.
Without going into the question of the party behind the assassination, it would be good to examine what, if at all, it contributes to Israel’s security interests. The answer to this question is not unequivocal. There is no doubt that the assassination will deter senior Hizbullah activists and force them to adopt greater caution and hide, a fact that will erode their operational capabilities. In addition, the assassination undermines Hizbullah’s prestige and will make it harder for it to recruit new members.
The assassination will also require the organization and the Iranians to embark on a lengthy and painful process of inquiry in order to find out how the Shiite terror group’s veil of secrecy and compartmentalization was breached. This process will also undermine, at least in the short run, Hizbullah’s ability to act and will make its senior figures more suspicious.
On the other hand, as a result of the greater caution, the assassination may also make it harder for Western intelligence agencies to monitor and gather intelligence information on Iran and Hizbullah terror activity. As to Hizbullah’s ability to act and organize, it is doubtful whether it will be gravely undermined in the long run, despite Mugniyah’s status as chief of operations.
There is no person who has no replacement, and Mugniyah has enough aides and deputies that learned his methods and will be able to replace him. Therefore, the major contribution of the assassination to Israel’s security is in restoring the sense of deterrence eroded in the Second Lebanon War. The fact that Hizbullah attributes the assassination to Israel shows that the organization fears its long arm – a fact that would make Hizbullah leaders weigh carefully any move that may lead to a direct confrontation with the Jewish State.