in February 2008, Imad Mughniyeh, the organization’s military commander and Nasrallah’s close associate, was killed in a car bomb in Damascus. The assassination of the man who topped the FBI’s most-wanted list prior to Osama bin Laden was a severe blow to morale, as well as to Hezbollah’s strategic capabilities. Nasrallah was convinced that the Mossad was responsible, and vowed to take revenge “outside of the Israel-Lebanon arena.”
The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, which is also responsible for protecting the country’s legations abroad, has been on high alert ever since. But as of today, Hezbollah has not exacted its revenge. This fact was a topic of discussions at a high-level secret forum of Israel’s intelligence services that took place from late July to early September.
Israeli officials raised four possible reasons for Hezbollah’s failure to act, all of which reflect its current weakness.
First, no replacement has been found for Mughniyeh, whose strategic brilliance, originality and powers of execution are sorely missed by Hezbollah.
Second, Israel’s intelligence coverage of Iran and Hezbollah is far superior today to what it was in the past. Planned attacks, including one targeting the Israeli Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, have all been foiled. The Israeli security services have warned Israeli businessmen abroad of possible abduction attempts by Hezbollah. They also shared information with Egyptian authorities that led to the arrest of members of a Hezbollah network who intended to kill Israeli tourists in Sinai. The arrest of these operatives resulted in sharp public exchanges between Egypt, Hezbollah and its Iranian masters, when Nasrallah admitted that these, in fact, were his men.
Third, Nasrallah cannot afford to be viewed domestically as the cause of yet another retaliation against Lebanon. Any act of revenge that he contemplates needs to be carefully calibrated. On the one hand, it needs to hurt the enemy and be spectacular enough to stoke Hezbollah pride. On the other hand, it cannot be so murderous as to cause Israel to respond with force. To complicate matters further, Israel has made it clear that because Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, despite the fact that the party that it backed lost in the recent election, any Hezbollah action against Israel would be viewed as an action taken by the Lebanese government. Thus Israel would regard Lebanese infrastructure as a legitimate target for a military response.
Finally, there are the Iranians. Their primary focus is on proceeding with their nuclear program without unnecessary distractions. Tehran’s main concern is that a terror attack that can be linked to Iran would result in the arrest of its agents overseas, who are currently procuring equipment for its uranium-enrichment centrifuges.
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