Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Daily Star's editorial about Imad Mughniyeh's life and death

Mughniyeh - like Hizbullah - was a product of outside aggression

By The Daily Star

In the wake of his death, Imad Mughniyeh has been described as both a dangerous villain and a courageous hero. The task of reconciling these diametrically opposed assessments will be left to a future generation of historians who no longer have to contend with the politicizing influences of the Arab-Israeli conflict. For now, all that we know is that Mughniyeh was undoubtedly involved in armed resistance for more than 20 years, and has been accused - but never convicted - of many operations that employed questionable and even condemnable tactics. But in the absence of a universally accepted history or formal judgement by a court of law, the exact extent and scope of his involvement in these activities remains a mystery.

Whether one chooses to condemn or praise Mughniyeh, it is worth recalling the context in which he arose to become one of the most wanted men in the world. Mughniyeh had not yet been born in 1948, when Israeli forces entered Lebanon and killed dozens of civilians in the village of Hula, and he was just a toddler when the Jewish state sent commandos to Beirut International Airport to blow up 13 passenger planes. During Mughniyeh's childhood and early adolescence, Israel systematically destroyed dozens of Muslim, Christian and Druze villages in Lebanon, making much of the South of the country uninhabitable and forcing scores of civilians to flee from their ancestral homes to the southern suburbs of Beirut. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Mughniyeh's response to the criminal brutality that he witnessed in his formative years, one cannot deny the role that these events played in making him the man that he eventually became: Mughniyeh, like Hizbullah itself, arose as a direct response to Israeli aggression.

Because of the legendary status that he had acquired within the ranks of the resistance, his killing was nothing short of an earthquake on the Lebanese scene. Already, several theories about the possible identity of his assassins have emerged, and each of the scenarios is equally sinister. If the assassination was in fact ordered by Israel, as both Hizbullah and Iran have alleged, then the act marks a major breach of Syria's security environment. A thorough investigation would need to be launched to determine how the assassins managed to carry out their plans, and nothing short of a complete shakeup of the Syrian security apparatus would ensure that such a penetration would not recur. It is also still too early to rule out other possible suspects, including Damascus, which may have sanctioned the killing to ward off international pressure over its role in providing safe haven to Islamist militants. The fact that pressure succeed in convincing the Syrians to expel Abdullah Ocalan in 1998 proves that this possibility is not without precedent.

No matter who the killers were, Lebanon is the country that stands to suffer the most in terms of destabilization. For that reason, Mughniyeh's assassination serves as a deadly reminder to the Lebanese of the inherent dangers that have plagued their country since Israel was imposed on the region.