Mugniyah. Joy in Kuwait
Photo: Reuters

Imad Mugniyah: A terrorist or a hero?

As Hizbullah marks 40 days since assassination of its top commander, some Arab countries fail to conceal their joy over his death

Imad Mugniyah, Hizbullah's top commander killed about 40 days ago in a car explosion in Damascus, remains a controversial figure in the Arab world even after his death.


In his camp – which includes Hizbullah, Iran and Syria – he is considered a glorious hero, one of a kind. However, among his opponents in the Arab world – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the anti-Syrian camp in Lebanon – the man is considered a contemptible terrorist.


Mugniyah's supporters in the Arab press rushed to glorify his name and speak of the man and his deeds.


"We saw the death in their eyes. We also saw the defeat. When we fired the first wave of missiles on Haifa, I told the person standing next to me that Israel had lost the war," Mugniyah was quoted as saying in an article in the al-Akhbar newspaper written by Ibrahim al-Amin, a Lebanese journalist and commentator affiliated with Hizbullah.


Such articles attempted to glorify and praise the mysterious image of the "Shiite fox", as he was called by his opponents.


"Mugniyah has become a legend," explained Diana Mukkaled in her weekly column in the London-based Arabic-language al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. "His name has not been connected to any picture or known voice. Even his features had disappeared, and it is not even clear whether the only picture related to him is reliable.


"His power was in his disappearance – and that's what his death revealed to us. The assassination proved that Hizbullah is more than just (Secretary-General) Hassan Nasrallah and that there is another person named Imad Mugniyah, who is responsible for the important military and political issues."


'The dog is dead'

Kuwait did not conceal its joy over Mugniyah's death. In 1986, a Kuwaiti aircraft was hijacked on its way from Bangkok to Kuwait. The hijackers directed the plane to Iran and from there to Cyprus. Two of the passengers were executed. The aircraft continued to Algeria, where the hijackers released the passengers and disappeared.


The main suspect behind this operation was none other than Mugniyah, who was believed to have carried out the attack as an act of revenge against Kuwait for supporting Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War.


Since then, Mugniyah has become an unforgettable figure in Kuwait, to say the least. Several of the country's newspapers declared "the death of the dog" – a particularly contemptible nickname in Arabic.


"Kuwait's residents received the news on the assassination of the criminal Imad Mughniya, who has spread destruction and terror, with great joy," one newspaper reported.


"This is the happiest day of my life," said the mother of one of the Kuwaiti victims, whose body was tossed by Mugniyah from the hijacked plane.


Column writer Abdullah al-Hadlak, known for his anti-Iranian and anti-Hizbullah approach, was firmer. "Mugniyah is a defeatist terrorist whose hands are stained with the blood of innocents.


"He was like the other terrorists – Carlos, Abu Nidal, Ismail Haniyeh and Franco. The terrorist Mugniyah was responsible for many crimes also against Kuwait, and was the person who connected between terrorist Hizbulllah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards," he wrote.


But the attacks on Mugniyah were not only malicious joy. Former Kuwaiti Information and Culture Minister Saad bin Teflah did not hesitate to raise "the logical questions following Mugniyah's assassination" in his al-Sharq al-Awsat column.


"The end of Imad Mugniyah was not a surprising end for many who followed this man's path. He executed violence and terror in different ways… Was Imad Mugniyah a hero and a freedom fighter or rather a terrorist who received his punishment?


"Does the termination of a person by Israel mean that he will immediately enter heaven without being punished? Is the fact that Israel killed you enough for people to forget the crimes you committed?"


'A criminal and a terrorist'

"The Israelis view Mugniyah as a terrorist. Is the fact that Israel views you as a terrorist enough to turn you into a hero in our eyes, just like there are those who view bin Laden as a hero because he is hostile to the United States?


"Does the hijacking of an American civilian plane and the killing of one of its passengers give you atonement for the crime you committed when you hijacked a Kuwaiti plane and killed several of its passengers?" Bin Teflah asked in a series of rhetorical questions.


So why do some see Mugniyah as a hero even though he also hurt Arabs? "The logic attempting to turn a terrorist into a legendary hero is the same logic which marketed Saddam Hussein as a hero, despite all the crimes he committed against his people and against humanity," explained one of the commentators.


"Saddam Hussein fired missiles at Israel and remained hostile to it, at least in his statements, until the last day of his life. According to the same logic, he is a national hero despite all the terrible things he did… The era of the exceptional ones is over. Mugniyah is a criminal and a terrorist who terrorized civilians, hijacked planes and killed innocent people, even if he did kill Israeli soldiers after that."


On the other hand, one of the commentators who views Mugniyah as a hero wrote that "this is a cowardly act committed by the Israeli Mossad against the freedom fighter, our hero Mugniyah."


One will not find a lot of love for Israel in this story, but one also won't find love and a consensus in regards to Mugniyah. Such a consensus is important for Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, particularly if he is planning an attack against Israel.


It appears that the hatred for Mugniyah was so strong that even a powerful assassination in an Arab capital, outside Lebanon, was not enough to create a consensus of revenge.


פרסום ראשון: 03.23.08, 12:46
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