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The Political Stupidity of Targeted Assassination: the Death of Imad Moughniyah

February 14, 2008

The death of Hezbollah military leader Imad Fayez Moughniyah by a car bomb in Damascus had triggered nothing short of gleeful cheers both in the United States and Israel. Through its spokesperson, Sean McCormick, the State Department issued a statement rationalizing the killing: `The world is a better place without this man in it. He was a cold blooded killer, a mass murderer and a terrorist responsible for countless innocent lives lost’. The Wall Street Journal chimed in `Moughniyah died in a car bombing, probably orchestrated by the Mossad, though Israel denies it. It’d be nice to think the CIA was up to this, but we have our doubts.’ What’s worse, the Israeli policy of targeted assassination or the unflagging US support for this policy? You decide.

Hezbollah on the other hand will give him a hero’s funeral in Beirut and has already promised revenge. There is no reason to doubt this claim. So another round of tit-for-tat bloodshed has opened atop an already existing mountain of death and suffering. While denying responsibility – which is Israeli policy in any event – much of the world – as the Wall Street Journal piece suggests, credits Israel with the murder. Isn’t that right word? Murder? – the pre-meditated killing of a human being? A revenge killing if you will – quite a primitive response in a world supposed to be governed by `the rule of law’?

Although the American press has already found Moughniyah guilty of many high crimes, the Financial Times (2-14-08) is more careful pointing out how he was never indicted for many of the incidents he was given credit for masterminding, including the 1984 bombings of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon. It’s hard to tell what Moughniyah did or didn’t do. The US government certainly hasn’t presented a strong case beyond accusations.

But magnifying Moughniyah’s importance is essential to justify his killing just as magnifying Saddam Hussein’s `weapons of mass destruction was necessary to justify the invasion of Iraq before the public. If Moughniyah is just a bit player, or, someone who has, as I suspect, essentially retired from military activities to Damascus, the murder doesn’t play as well to audiences in Israel or elsewhere.

Israel’s record of targeted assassination, that includes several hundred Palestinians and Lebanese over the years, includes Abbas Mussawi, Hezbollah’s leader, killed by an Israeli helicopter attack in 1992. Rather than destabilize Hezbollah, it lead to the emergence of Hassan Nasrallah as that organization’s leader and a considerable strengthening of both its political and military wings. In 2004, death by helicopter rocket was also the fate of Sheik Ahmad Yassin, paraplegic Hamas spiritual leader who was leaving a mosque in a wheel chair. It was an especially obscene and inhumane act, broadly supported in both the United States and Israel. Interestingly, Yassin was among those in Hamas that supported, under certain circumstances, negotiating with Israel. And now , continuing in this great tradition, members of the Israeli cabinet are openly calling for the assassination of Nasrallah.

Furthermore now both in Israel and the United States it is claimed that Moughniyah’s assassination will greatly destabilize and undermine Hezbollah’s military capacity in S. Lebanon. This is ludicrous as both the Israelis and the Bush Administration are well aware. Before his assassination Moughniyah seemed to be in semi-retirement in Syria. This is what is made him such an easy – and actually not very strategic target in Damascus. His death will have no impact whatsoever on Hezbollah’s military or political activities.

Like virtually all actions of this gendre, although by now an accepted modus vivendi for the Israeli military, this was an exceedingly politically stupid act, but a typical Israeli response to a frustrating situation that will only strengthen Hezbollah’s appeal throughout the region and once again ratchet up the tensions will lead to yet another war.


It is more than likely that this assassination is a response to the damning indictment the Israeli military suffered in the recently published Winogar Report which made the world’s fourth largest military and its leadership look pretty pathetic in the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.


It is more than likely that this assassination is a response to the damning indictment the Israeli military suffered in the recently published Winogar Report which made the world’s fourth largest military and its leadership look pretty pathetic in the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Thus humiliated, in an effort to show the world that they still possessed a fair share of military Viagra – and to re-enforce the notion that Israel can strike anywhere in the region at will – they knocked off a man who was little more than a spent guerilla.

Plays well at home perhaps. A bit like, in 1975, after losing the war in Vietnam, President Gerald Ford, hoping in vain to turn defeat into victory, attacked the Mayaguez off the coast of Cambodia. It changed nothing. Regardless how many movies since 1975 suggest the opposite, the US lost the war in Vietnam and Israel, despite killing Moughniyah, still lost 2006 war in Lebanon.


A Gush Shalom (Israeli Peace Group) poem puts it nice and succinctly (again)

Experience shows
That nothing good
Comes out of

An assassination
Is followed by
Dozens of innocents
Are killed in the
Vicious circle of
Revenge and bloodshed.

Experience shows
That the place
Of the assassinated,
Is almost always
Taken by a
More talented

Oh yes, Happy Valentine’s Day.

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