William Gladstone was wrong: justice delayed isn’t always justice denied, though victims of terror (and their familes) might argue otherwise.
Consider the case of Imad Mughniyeh. Over a “career” that lasted more than 25 years, Mughniyeh, a shadowy, but important Hizballah commander, was responsible for a series of high profile attacks that killed scores of Americans and other westerners. Yet, he somehow escaped retribution.
Remember the blasts that shattered our embassy in Beirut in 1983 and 1984? The bombing of compounds housing U.S. Marines and French troops near the Beirut airport in October 1983? The murder of a Navy diver during the hijacking of TWA flight 847 in 1985? Or attacks against Jewish targets in Argentina in 1992 and 1994? All were the handiwork of Imad Mughniyeh.
Before 9-11, he had (arguably) killed more Americans than any other terrorist, and he made the FBI’s first list of “most wanted” terror leaders. But Mughniyeh proved elusive; various reports put him in his native village in southern Lebanon, or in Iran, which reportedly granted a diplomatic passport. Efforts to find Mughniyeh and bring him to justice proved unsuccessful.
Until yesterday, that is. Hizballah has confirmed that Mughniyeh died Tuesday in a car bombing in Damascus. The blast has hallmarks of a Mossad operation, but the Israeli government has refused comment on the matter.
Mughniyeh’s death represents a major blow for Hizballah. Along with his skills in organizing terrorist operations, Mughniyeh was credited with organizing the group’s defenses during the 2006 war with Israel. He also served as a primary liaison between the group and its patrons in Iran. In fact, Mughniyeh also held a position in the Iranian Quods Force, which provides extensive training and support for Hizballah.
Tuesday’s car bombing is also an embarrassment for Damascus, at least officially. A number of terror groups maintain offices in the Syrian capital, and operate there with relative impunity. As the Washington Post observed, the successful effort to eliminate Mughniyeh represents a “major breach” in Syria’s police-state security apparatus.
Still, that doesn’t answer the question of who dispatched Imad Mughniyeh. Israeli operatives are the most logical suspects; as Bill Roggio notes, Mughniyeh’s assassination bears an uncanny resemblance to a 2004 Mossad operation against a top Hamas operative in Damascus. In both cases, the terrorists were killed by a well-placed car bombs that devastated the driver’s compartment, but did little damage to the rest of the vehicle, and surrounding buildings.
But car-bombing is also a favored assassination technique of Syrian security organizations, employed on numerous occasions against Lebanese politicians. Had Mughniyeh run afoul of his Syrian hosts, or were Bashir Assad’s security forces simply asleep at the switch?
Mughniyeh died in a Damascus neighborhood that’s home to an Iranian school and the headquarters of the Syrian intelligence service; in that location, as Meir Javedanfar writes at PJM, you’d think that security would be tighter. Mr. Javedanfar believes that the successful “hit” against Mughniyeh indicates that western intelligence has penetrated Iran’s security services, allowing them to successfully track--and target—a Hizballah official who was known for his attention to personal security.
Israel maintains that it played no role in the assassination of Mughniyeh, and (officially) we may never know who was responsible for the operation. But, thanks to that well-executed bombing in Damascus, justice has finally been served on Imad Muchniyeh, and a man who murdered hundreds of Americans has met the fate he deserved.