Home Muslim World News Mughniyah”s assassination will complicate Lebanese situation — TCF analyst

Mughniyah”s assassination will complicate Lebanese situation — TCF analyst

By Saloua Jandoubi, KUNA

New York : Michael Wahid Hanna, from The Century Foundation, late Thursday said the timing of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyah’s assassination is “worrisome,” coming on the eve of the third anniversary of Rafik Hariri’s assassination, and predicted that it will complicate even further the situation in Lebanon and speculated that Israel was behind it.

Hanna told KUNA in reaction to Mughniyah’s assassination in a car bomb in Damascus yesterday, “Obviously, tensions in Beirut will be high and will only be compounded by the dueling mass demonstrations that are currently taking place.” He added that the continued stalemate in reaching a political compromise on the selection of a president and a cabinet will serve as a “backdrop for today’s activities, and it would not be difficult to imagine the situation deteriorating into open sectarian violence.” In answer to who killed Mughniyah, Hanna said that in the Arab world blame has generally been cast upon the Israelis, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s comments today indicate that he is using the assassination to “ratchet up the rhetorical conflict with Israel.” He recalled that there is a precedent for this type of action occurring in Damascus in the 2004 assassination of Hamas leader Izzeddin Subhi Sheikh Khalil, which was widely believed to have been undertaken by the Mossad.

“They obviously had motivation, yet from the profusion of alternate theories circulating in many quarters, many other actors did as well,” Hanna said.

He was quick to add that the blanket denials on the part of the Israelis are “somewhat incongruous with past history.” “While they have not publicly taken on responsibility for previous assassinations, they have been much less categorical in their denials and have left open the impression that they were involved,” he noted.

On the other hand, he argued, if the Israelis were able to carry out this operation in the heart of Damascus, it “would restore the reputation of their foreign intelligence capabilities, which suffered a serious blow” following the 2006 Lebanon War.

Not only that, he added, it would have a chilling effect on other prominent figures sheltered by the Syrians, such as Khaled Meshal and Iranian operatives and representatives, and will send the message that the Syrians cannot provide adequate protection for them, even in the heart of their own capitol.

“This would no doubt shake the faith of Syria’s guests,” he said.

At the same time, he added, the tight grip of the Syrian security services has fuelled the alternate explanation that such an operation could only have been carried out with the collusion or active cooperation of the Syrians.

In some quarters, he explained, this has been interpreted as an “olive branch” to the US and an indication that the Syrians are serious in their desire to improve relations with the US.

He said that while some have pointed to the announcement on Wednesday of expanded US sanctions against Syrian government officials and their associates as indicating that the US does not believe that Syria was responsible or was sending a message to the US, such US government actions require extensive preparation and it is unlikely that US officials could have accurately assessed responsibility for Mughniyah’s killing in a timely manner that could have pre-empted imposition of the expanded sanctions.

The presence of Mughniyah in Damascus, Hanna argued, will also become a huge issue in the US, if the Syrians were not involved in his death, as this will buttress those in the foreign policy establishment who have long argued that Syria is a blatant supporter of terrorism, and will undermine growing calls for dealing directly with the Syrians.

“This could also cripple the restart of any serious Syrian-Israeli talks, which will largely hinge on a green light from Washington,” he added.

As to US involvement or authorship, he said “it is certainly possible,” but US intelligence agencies have not been known to carry out such operations in Syria and it is much more likely that Israel was involved.

The final possibility, he noted, is that this was related to an internal schism within Hezbollah and concern over Mughniyah’s “more forceful and confrontational approach.” “I think this theory has little merit. All indications are that Nasrallah and Mughniyah have had a longstanding and cooperative relationship,” he said.

There have been some rumblings that this could have been the work of a Lebanese faction, he said, “but I do not believe that these groups have the operational capacity or sophistication to carry out this type of operation. And if other Lebanese actors were involved then they could only have acted in coordination with the Syrians.” The ramifications of the assassination will help shed light on responsibility, he noted.

“If we see an immediate and major retaliatory response from Hezbollah against Israeli or other Jewish interests, then this will indicate that the Syrians were not involved as Hezbollah would not risk a massive Israeli retaliation if they did not have some assurances from Syria,” he said.

Hanna predicted that even if the Israelis are not involved, a more measured retaliation would likely be forthcoming from Hezbollah because it will also need to protect its reputation after having publicly accused the Israelis of the assassination.

The assassination will also have major implications internally for Hezbollah as Nasrallah and Mughniyah have been at the center of shaping the party’s strategy and tactics for over a decade, he said.

“In all likelihood this was an Israeli operation. The only other plausible scenario, although I think it less likely, is that this was carried out by Syria,” he concluded.

The Century Foundation, founded in 1919 by the progressive businessman Edward A. Filene, is a nonprofit public policy research institution committed to the belief that a mix of effective government, open democracy, and free markets is the most effective solution to the major challenges facing the United States.