June 20, 2013
The Mughniyeh Enigma
Posted on Feb 26, 2008
By Scott Ritter
Mughniyeh came into prominence during this time, serving as a senior leader of a group known as Islamic Jihad. Under his direction, some 35 suicide attacks were launched against the forces of those nations seen as occupiers of Lebanon, including Israel and, later, the United States and France. By 1985, differences in the direction of resistance to the ongoing Israeli occupation had created a split within the Shiites of southern Lebanon, with the mainstream Amal militia taking a more moderate approach and a more radical wing of Amal, backed by the Revolutionary Guard, advocating a more aggressive stance. The radicals split from Amal in 1985 and created their own organization, known as the Party of God, or Hezbollah. Although Lebanese, Hezbollah, as a Shiite-based religious organization, recognized the supreme leader of Iran as its highest political authority and looked to Tehran for final approval of most major decisions. With the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, Hezbollah increasingly assumed a more independent posture, although it remained strongly influenced by Iran. Hezbollah had an almost singular focus on achieving the liberation of Lebanon from Israeli occupation, a goal it was surprisingly able to achieve in 2000 through tenacity and the force of arms.
But Hamas continues to maintain that it will limit its actions to the immediate theater of action in Israel and the occupied territories, and Hezbollah maintains that its military operations will be limited to protecting Lebanon from outside aggression and Israeli occupation. In 2004, the same year he promised support for Hamas, Nasrullah declared that any solution to the Palestinian problem that was acceptable to the Palestinians would be acceptable to Hezbollah. Far from embracing Osama bin Laden’s parasitic cry for global jihad in defense of Palestine, both Hamas and Hezbollah recognized the reality of Israel as a nation-state and were willing to deal with Israel within the context of the pre-1967 borders and respect for the rights of Palestinians. This posture seemed to be embraced by Hezbollah’s Iranian sponsors as well, insofar as a 2003 diplomatic outreach from Iran to the United States indicated both a willingness to respect Israel’s legitimate right to exist as a nation-state and a promise to help rein in the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas.
The rejection by the Bush administration of the 2003 Iranian initiative, Israel’s disastrous 34-day war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 and Israel’s virtual declaration of war against Hamas have combined to negatively influenced the situation vis-à-vis Israel, Palestine, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. The policies of the Bush administration—from opposing a cease-fire in Lebanon in 2006 while a thousand Lebanese civilians were being bombed to death by Israel and over a hundred Israelis, mostly soldiers, were being killed by Hezbollah, to promoting a confrontational policy centered on regime change with Iran—have only exacerbated an already difficult situation. The assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, which, despite denials, might have been a direct action undertaken by the Israeli Mossad, threatens to turn a volatile situation into an explosive one. If Hezbollah carries out its promise of retaliation against Israel, the northern border of Israel could again explode in violence that, this time, might extend all the way to Iran, drawing in the U.S. military as well. The end result would be further radicalization of forces like Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Iran, and the creation of a casus belli for radical Islamic fundamentalists worldwide, many of whom will be drawn in by the opportunistic calls for jihad issued by bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders; in short, a victory for radical Islamic fundamentalism.
This is a fight that didn’t need to happen, and should never have been allowed to develop in this manner. Whatever Mughniyeh had done in the past, the fact is that for more than a decade this “world’s most dangerous man” had been contained by the passage of time. The events that created a Mughniyeh in Lebanon were no longer in play, and his role in the greater scheme of things had been significantly reduced. Simply put, Mughniyeh was no longer a key player for Hezbollah or any other group, and was fully subject to being contained by those elements that favored moderation and diplomacy over extremism and violence. Now he is dead, and there is the great possibility of even more violence being done in the name of a man who was, for the most part, a vestige of times gone by, and no longer relevant.
This is the Mughniyeh Enigma. Do we hold on to the events of the past, seeking to avenge all wrongs regardless of the consequences? Did Mughniyeh deserve to be brought to justice? Yes. Was justice served by assassinating him? No. The only thing accomplished was a simple act of revenge that no court of law would recognize as justice. If the issue of greater good, especially within the context of the “global war on terror,” is considered, it becomes clear that by far the greater good would have been served by letting Mughniyeh be and allowing his enemies to focus on the issue that exacerbates all efforts to quash radical Islamic extremism, whether it is derived from a parasitic organization like al-Qaida or from regional resistance-oriented groups like Hamas and Hezbollah: Palestine. Resolving the Palestinian issue would not cure all that ails the Middle East. But it would go a long way in restoring a sense of stability, a foundation of peace upon which any lasting agreement between Israel and its neighbors, or for that matter the United States and the Middle East, might be built.
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