Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Good News -- A Dead Terrorist

A terrorist was killed. Hooray. His death was followed by the usual muslim reflex -- Blame the Jews. Then speculation turned to back-channel dealings between the US and Syria. If this is true, it's unfortunate. The US would do far better to take a page from The Godfather and make offers to middle-east thugs that they cannot refuse. Offers like that would have them all in a line and quacking like good ducks in a matter of hours.

Hezbollah Commander, Wanted by U.S., Killed in Syria

Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Imad Mughniyeh, a commander of Lebanon's Hezbollah militia wanted by the U.S., was killed by a car bomb in Damascus, the Shiite Muslim group said.

``The martyr Mughniyeh was killed late yesterday evening'' in the Syrian capital, Ghalib Abu Zainab, a member of the Political Council of Hezbollah, said in a telephone interview from Beirut today.

Mughniyeh was indicted in the U.S. for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA Corp. airliner, during which an American Navy diver was killed. Israel has accused him of involvement in the 1990s bombings of the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish center in Argentina that killed more than 120 people.

The U.S. also wanted Mughniyeh for the April 18, 1983, bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut, al-Arabiya television said. Seventeen U.S. officials, including Robert Ames, the Central Intelligence Agency's top Middle East analyst, and other CIA staffers were among the 63 people who died in that attack.

In a statement, Hezbollah said Mughniyeh was killed ``by the Israeli Zionists.'' His funeral will be held tomorrow, it said. Mughniyeh was 45, according to al-Arabiya.

``There are so many countries and intelligence organizations that had an account to settle with this guy that it could be a great many people,'' Yossi Alpher, a former official with Israel's Mossad intelligence agency and one-time adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, said in an interview today. ``Anybody who has an interest in stopping global terrorism should be satisfied that he's removed from the scene.''

Israeli Denial

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said in a pager message, ``Israel rejects the attempts being made by terrorist groups that try to tie Israel to the incident.''

Mughniyeh, who also went by the name of El-Haj Radwan, was on the FBI most-wanted terrorists list, with a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture or conviction.

``It's a big blow and very significant blow no matter who did it,'' Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, said in a telephone interview from Beirut.

``This was done in Damascus,'' he said, adding that, if the Hezbollah commander was killed by Syria, ``then it's enormously significant and, if not, then who was able to penetrate Damascus so coolly and comfortably?''

Mughniyeh was a hard target and his killing could be part of a deal between the U.S. and Syria, Salem said. ``He was one of the figures that was always asked for by name by the U.S. If, and it's a big if, it's part of a Syrian agenda, it means that the U.S. and Syria must be making progress and there is some deal- making on Lebanon.''


Abdel Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president and once a right-hand man to late President Hafez al-Assad, said he doubted the likelihood of such a deal.

``Such a deal is unrealistic in this day and age,'' Khaddam said in an interview today from his home in Paris.

The site where Mughniyeh was killed is in a security area, in close proximity to an Iranian school and the offices of the Syrian intelligence services and military intelligence unit, Khaddam said.

Mughniyeh's death comes before a rally tomorrow that is expected to draw tens of thousands of Lebanese to central Beirut to mark the third anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

United Nations investigators said Lebanese and Syrian intelligence officials, including the brother and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, were implicated in the truck bombing that killed Hariri. Syria has denied any involvement.

Asserting Authority

``There seems to be a steady attempt to push Syria, and right now the United States and the West has very little leverage over Syria, and I think this is frustrating everybody in Washington as they see Syria asserting its authority in Lebanon,'' said Josh Landis, a specialist on Syria and director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma. ``They've run out of tools and the only thing Bush can say now is that he's going to get a fully funded investigation'' into Hariri's assassination.

The fact that Mughniyeh was killed just before Hariri's anniversary ``means that there could be demonstrations by Hezbollah supporters today and tomorrow,'' Ted Karasik, senior political scientist at the Rand Corp. consulting company, said in an interview today. ``He was killed in order to ignite confrontation on streets.''

Lebanon has been without a head of state since Nov. 23, when Syrian-backed Emile Lahoud left office at the end of his term. The dispute over the post has threatened to ignite civil strife in the country. The crisis is the worst since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. Lebanese lawmakers have failed to elect a president on 14 occasions.


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