Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani, the chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, addressed last month a commemoration held in Iran for slain Lebanese Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh (AKA Hajj Radwan). State-affiliated media outlets published different versions of the same speech.
Mughniyeh was a founder of Hezbollah, serving as its international operations chief and liaison with Iran. He was the architect of a string of notorious bombings, kidnappings, hijackings and assassinations including the bombings of the US embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in the 1980’s. More Americans died in his orchestrated attacks than anyone else prior to 9/11. Mughniyeh died in a car bombing in Damascus in 2008. Initial suspects were the Syrians or the Israelis. Later revelation pointed to the latter, with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency.
“They [Israel] know, but must more seriously know that the qisas [retribution] of Imad and all the Imads who’ve been martyred in Palestine, Lebanon and Iran is not the firing of a missile and killing someone,” Soleimani warned, “the qisas of these bloods is the destruction of the child-killing Zionist regime, and this is a certain matter.”
Throughout the speech, Soleimani hailed Mughniyeh – often making exaggerate statements for propaganda. He understands a principle that Niccoló Machiavelli observed in The Discourses in the 16th century: “The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they are realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”
“Imad Mughniyeh established Hezbollah with his actions prior to the establishment of Hezbollah,” Soleimani said. Mughniyeh was indeed with the network that later became Hezbollah in 1985.
“To say that Imad Mughniyeh was the son of Imam [Khomeini] is very accurate,” Soleimani said, “He had high regards for the Imam and the Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei].”
Soleimani called Mughniyeh “a legend” and expert in guerrilla warfare and who would fight at the front lines. Leadership from the front is a principle that Soleimani has stressed in his speeches.
The general said Mughniyeh’s distinguishing characteristic was “his attachment to spirituality.” He described that as the key factor in not only withstanding hardship, but also distinguishing the faithful from “the Americans” who “specialize and provide military training…like in Blackwater.” “If skills are not placed in the service of high spirituality, they are destructive and like a bulldozer that destroys any building,” he said.
Soleimani also spoke that while Mughniyeh’s name was well known, “no one knew him.” He recounted a story: during a meeting, someone asked Mughniyeh, “who are you to come here, eat and go? You have to wash the dishes. Imad told him ‘you’re right,’ and then washed the dishes.” That indicates Mughniyeh’s operational security even within own organizations, which made him more elusive and difficult to track.
“I want to say something, but I’m unsure how much the Lebanese people would accept this considering the current political infighting,” Soleimani said elsewhere in his remarks, “but I believe that Imad Mughniyeh broke and slapped fear in Lebanon. He was able to transform Lebanese society from one that was successively defeated by the enemy into an independent place, and was able to cease the actions against Lebanon, to the extent that Lebanon reached its current excellent place. Imad Mughniyeh began this trend, and its completion was done by heads-held-high Hezbollah and its dear leader, Seyyed Hassan Nasrollah.”
Hezbollah, in fact, has been one of the key destabilizers of Lebanon. It triggered a devastating war with Israel in 2006. Hezbollah’s continued hostility toward Israel is raising the risk of yet another war.
“Many of the Hezbollah cadres that have been trained in various countries are trained by the school of Imad,” Soleimani said, “he trained his forces in such that they had the power to tolerate difficulties.” Lebanese operatives have certainly been instrumental in training Arab militiamen outside of Lebanon at the IRGC’s behest.
The Iranian commander praised Mughniyeh’s role in the 1997 Ansariah Operation, which was an ambush against Israeli commandos in Lebanon that led to the death of 12 soldiers. Hezbollah has touted that operation in its propaganda. Soleimani said Mughniyeh intercepted the Israeli reconnaissance drone that provided the intelligence to set up the ambush.
Soleimani also credited Mughniyeh with leading a successful insurgency against the Israeli-backed, Christian-led South Lebanon Army, assassinating senior commanders and eroding morale. Soleimani claimed that moral dropped so low that it eventually forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000.
Mughniyeh was indeed the architect of Hezbollah’s war of attrition against Israel, and the group did believe that a collapse of the SLA would leave Israel in a very difficult position in South Lebanon. Soleimani, however, exaggerated Mughniyeh’s role in the ultimate withdrawal of Israel. That ignores predominant factors including domestic Israeli pressure and other actors including Syrian intelligence that played roles in complicating Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon.
The Iranian general also highlighted Mughniyeh’s role in striking an Israeli frigate during the 2006 war – but again misrepresented facts. According to Soleimani, Mughniyeh destroyed the frigate and “completely took the Zionists’ Navy out of the picture.” In reality, however, while Hezbollah struck INS Hanit with an Iranian-supplied C-802 anti-ship missile, the ship was damaged and returned to service shortly afterwards. That one strike hardly overcame Israel’s naval superiority.
“Imad Mughniyeh was the first who brought Yasser Arafat to Iran,” Soleimani switched topics. Mughniyeh knew Arafat from his time in Fatah, in which he initially joined in the 1970’s.
Soleimani credited Mughniyeh with helping Fathi Shaqaqi establish the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Mughniyeh “made many efforts to strengthen Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP),” Soleimani said. “It was his thought that was able to transform Gaza into an unconquerable fortress, and today we see that Gaza in southern Palestine and Lebanon in north of Palestine have transformed to points that produce constant anxiety for the Zionists,” he claimed. That underscores the Guard Corps’ strategy toward Israel. But, again, Soleimani exaggerated Mughniyeh’s role, as well as the ability of Hamas to withstand a full Israeli clearing assault, the way Russia, the Syria and Iran have conducted their war against insurgents in civilian areas in Syria.
In transcripts of the speech published in IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News, Soleimani had said that “the basis of the destruction of the Zionist regime will be from these areas.”
“Imad believed that all of the world of Islam must be transformed into bases for jihad in order to cripple the enemies of Islam,” he proclaimed.
Soleimani also described what he claimed were Mughniyeh’s ability to “persuade” the “enemies of Hezbollah” through “discussion.” “When his words were not effective, he told them that ‘I’m not Radwan but am Imad Mughniyeh. He would appear like a sword in his own time and would disappear like electricity.”
“While I’m not in a place to call someone an Ayatollah [high-rank cleric meaning “sign of God”] from a jurisprudence persepctive, but [Hezbollah chief] Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah is an Ayatollah because he gave many signs of God against the enemies,” Soleimani said.
The Iranian commander claims that in order bolster the narrative that the creator of the universe is on their side. He is also broaching into public discussion Nasrallah’s status as an Ayatollah, which clerics attain following decades of dedicated studies in seminaries. While it was a play on words, Islamic Republic officials don’t just use that throw that phrase around for any mid-ranked cleric.
“Today, the breadth of the resistance front has expanded, and the path of Imam Mughniyeh, Jihad Mughniyeh and the other martyrs of the resistance will continue,” he proclaimed, “We beseech the perfect God to defend us in this path by saving Islam and Muslims.”
“Tens of children are born and raised in this school of Islam and fill the place of martyrs,” Soleimani said, “the destruction of enemies of the movement of falsehood is the divine promise and we trust in the divine promise.”
Matthew Levitt and David Schenker, “Who Was Imad Mughniyeh?,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Matthew Levitt, “Why the CIA Killed Imad Mughniyeh,” Politico
Thomas Joscelyn, “Death By Car Bomb in Damascus,” The Weekly Standard
Iver Gabrielsen, “The evolution of Hezbollah’s strategy and military performance, 1982–2006,” Small Wars and Insurgencies.
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