A report published on Tuesday in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar purports to present a detailed account of the 2008 assassination of senior Hizbullah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus.
As expected, the report pointed the finger at the Israeli Mossad as being behind the operation.
According to Al-Akhbar, as soon as the 2006 Second Lebanon War ended, Hizbullah began the largest operation to restore its military organization and raise the level of its readiness and weaponry. Mughniyeh was put in charge of developing and enhancing the military abilities of the group in Lebanon.
This was in addition to his responsibility for implementing a decision made at the highest levels in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon to supply the terror group with all the lessons and experiences of war, as well as oversee the creation of a bridge for logistical support, especially with Gaza.
Mughniyeh, said the report, treated Syria as one of the safest places. There was a presumption, based on several facts, that Israel would not target Syria through direct operations.
Movement around Damascus was more flexible and less complicated. Ultimately, the lax security in Syria became an opening that allowed Israeli to assassinate Mughniyeh, claims Al-Akhbar.
On the evening of February 12, 2008, Mughniyeh had just finished a meeting with senior Palestinian Authority Arab leaders in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Al-Akhbar investigation found. At around 10:15 p.m., he left his apartment building in the Kfar Sousa neighborhood of Damascus. He came down alone and started to walk toward his car, which was parked in an area that was used as a parking lot outside a cluster of buildings.
The explosion which killed Mughniyeh was heard at around 10:20 p.m., said the Lebanese daily. Some people rushed to the location, including those Mughniyeh was seeing in the apartment. It turned out that when he had stepped out of the building’s main gate, a 2006 silver Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4 parked nine meters away exploded, killing him alone, on the spot.
The report goes on to claim that a special Hizbullah unit travelled directly to the location of the explosion and began an investigation, parallel to ones conducted by Syrian authorities. However, Hizbullah was absolutely certain that Israel was behind the explosion.
Extensive investigations, claims Al-Akhbar, revealed that the Mossad, which was under the leadership of Meir Dagan at the time, was responsible for the operation from A to Z. Direct planning inside and outside Syria took almost one month after a much longer period of indirect preparations, sources knowledgeable of the case told the newspaper.
The investigations also revealed that the Mossad had charged some of its local operatives with capturing extensive images of Kfar Sousa, detailing every street and focusing on the block where the assassination took place.
They also found that local Mossad agents reported the existence of a building under construction with some completed but unfurnished apartments. The operation was carried out from the structure since it looked onto the block and the targeted building, claimed the report.
Al-Akhbar also claims that the Mossad recruited a Syrian expat who visited his country often, and asked him to move to Damascus to provide logistics for the operation. The agent reportedly provided a villa to hide the vehicle and affix it with explosives, in addition to accommodations for the group that carried out the operation.
The agent allegedly rented the villa in an upscale suburb of Damascus, located to the northwest of Kfar Sousa, and asked an ironsmith to separate the car entrance from the pedestrian entrance with an iron net on three sides, making it look like a cage and blocking the entry to the villa from that location.
A while later, the agent went back to Syria and bought a Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4, after knowing that several similar makes visited the targeted location often. In addition, Mughniyeh sometimes drove the same make. The execution team used a different model, Mitsubishi Lancer, due to its popularity in Syria in general.
Al-Akhbar claimed that the whole operation took around six weeks to implement. Some data, which the investigating team would not reveal, indicate that it began in early January of 2008 and ended a few days following the assassination in mid-February 2008.
In the aftermath Mughniyeh’s death, both Hizbullah and Syria blamed Israel for killing Mughniyeh, and Hizbullah has promised to avenge his death. Last year around the fourth anniversary of the killing, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to hurt senior Israeli officials in revenge for Mughniyeh’s death.