BEIRUT: Hizbullah military commander Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated by Israeli Mossad agents supplied with information gathered by American CIA officials in Iraq, according to a report published in an Israeli newspaper. The Yediot Ahronot newspaper said it had received new details about Mughniyeh's death from an anonymous Lebanese official who had been charged with investigating the killing, and from Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer.
The report claimed that important details used to plan the assassination were gathered from Ali Moussa Daqduq, a Hizbullah operative who was arrested in Iraq in January 2007, where he was allgedly training members of the Shiite Mehdi Army. He was handed to US intelligence agents, who extracted a wealth of information about Mughniyeh from their prisoner, including his telephone numbers, his physical description, his behavioral traits and the names of his acquaintances.
The US then passed this information to the Israeli intelligence service, which began planning an operation to kill the Hizbullah military mastermind.
The newspaper says a single mistake by Mughniyeh led to his death. Israel received intelligence that he would be attending a reception hosted by Iran's new ambassador to Damascus to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Mughniyeh had apparently eschewed his usual security detail for the event, traveling without his bodyguards or chauffeur, and had arrived at the reception alone. He had no idea that a Mossad hit squad was lying in wait for him.
According to the newspaper, Israel had dispatched a team of agents tasked with killing Mughniyeh to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq before the reception. The team slipped across the border into Syria in three vehicles and began monitoring their target the day before he died.
While Mughniyeh was attending the reception, the assassins broke into his car, a silver Mitsubishi Pajero, removing the headrest on his seat and replacing it with an identical one loaded with explosives.
Rather than setting the explosives on a timer, the agents used a remote controlled charge that they could detonate at the right moment. They lay in wait for their quarry and when he was in the car, they detonated the explosives, killing him instantly.
His death sent shockwaves through Hizbullah, an organization known for being almost impenetrable to hostile intelligence agencies, and the group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah immediately pledged revenge.
Almost a year on, no response has come. But during a news conference held at the end of January, Nasrallah reiterated his promise to avenge the assassination. "The Israelis live in fear of our revenge," he said. "The decision to respond to the killing is still on. We decide the time and the place"
His comments have sparked fears in Israel that a Hizbullah revenge attack is imminent. Israeli troops stationed on the border with Lebanon have been placed on high alert, and the Jewish state's counter-terrorism bureau has issued a warning to Israeli nationals that they may be targeted abroad.
Israeli politicians, currently locked in a bitter election race, have pledged a devastating response to any Hizbullah attack. On a visit to northern Israel last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that Lebanon would be held responsible for Hizbullah's actions.
"Hizbullah is not just a terrorist organization running around the hills but also sits at the cabinet table in Beirut," Barak said. "Therefore, the Lebanese government bears overall responsibility and any attempt to attack Israel will be met with a response."