Imad Mugniyah likely behind the capture of Israeli soldiers


Imad Fayez Mugniyah

Hezbollah has conducted a highly successful raid into Israeli territory, attacking a Israeli Defense Force outpost along the Israel-Lebanese border, killing three soldiers and capturing two after they were wounded. Four Israeli soldiers were killed when their tank ran over a land mine in Lebanon during follow-up operations to free the captured soldiers. An additional soldier was killed when attempting to recover the bodies of the four tankers.

Hezbollah carefully planned and selected the personnel for this operation, and executed with precision. The attack began with an artillery barrage along the Israeli frontier. An IDF outpost, with well trained Israeli troops, was overrun, and Hezbollah had the time to take the two wounded Israeli soldiers hostage. The land mine used to destroy the tank during the Israeli follow-up raid into Lebanon was deliberately set to catch the IDF while pressing forward, and large enough to destroy a well armored main battle tank. The Israeli search and rescue combat team took heavy fire once they crossed the border. Hezbollah laid a trap for the IDF.

The sophistication of this attack indicates Imad Fayez Mugniyah, Hezbollah’s chief of military operations was directly involved. Mugniyah has a long history of successful military and terrorist operations across the globe. Mugniyah has a history of conducting similar snatch and grab operations against the Israelis. He was responsible for capturing three Israeli soldiers in Lebanon, and the abduction of an Israeli colonel in Kuwait in 2000.

Mugniyah began his career in terrorism in the 1970s with Force 17, the personal bodyguard detachment for Yassar Arafat, and later joined Hezbollah. His more infamous terror attacks include the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 63; the October 1983 simultaneous truck bombings on the U.S. Marine and French paratrooper barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines and 58 French soldiers; the hijacking of TWA 847; the kidnappings and murders of U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic personnel in Beirut; the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1992, killing 29 people; the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in 1994, killing 86 people. He is suspected of direct involvement in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. servicemen.

Mugniyah has extensive links with the Iranian intelligence services, and has been directly linked to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and recently deceased al Qaeda in Iraq commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Mugniyah is on FBI’s list of 22 most wanted terrorists, with a $5 million dollar reward for information leading to his capture. U.S. Special Forces aborted a raid to capture Mugniyah in the Persian Gulf in 1996. He was believed to have visited Syria in January of 2006, attending a meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Assad.

ap_lebanon_featuredimage.jpgThe Hezbollah raid and subsequent capture of two Israeli soldiers has placed Israel in a difficult situation. After Hamas’ operation in Gaza, which also included the capture of an Israeli soldier, and the subsequent Israeli incursion into Gaza in attempt to free him, Israel now has fight on a second front. An Israeli reserve division is being mobilized to deploy to the Lebanese frontier. After today’s attack, Israel conducted multiple strikes by air and sea, bombarding Hezbollah positions and bridges leading away from the attack site to prevent easy movement of the Hezbollah strike team. The IDF also struck at Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command positions just ten miles south of Beirut.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert referred to Hezbollah’s strike was an “act of war” by Lebanon. “The Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a part, is trying to shake regional stability. We are already responding with great strength,” said Olmert. The U.S. has directly implicated Iran and Syria (and by default, Mugniyah, their proxy). There are several motivations for Hezbollah’s attack: Iran wishes to shift focus from their nuclear program to Israel; Syria Syria seeks an excuse to re-occupy Lebanon; Lebanon has been under pressure to disarm Hezbollah; Hezbollah wishes to gain prestige but striking at their hated enemy while providing assistance to Hamas; the destabilization of the nascent Lebanese democracy would be a blow to the U.S. democracy promotion program.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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