As Hezbollah’s official funeral of Imad Mughniyah unfolded yesterday—Hezbollah’s leader eulogizied him over a coffin decked in Hezbollah’s flag—it was useful to recall the party’s denial of his very existence over all these many years. Mention of his name to Hezbollah officials would draw a blank stare or blanket denial. “Hezbollah professes no knowledge of the man,” the New York Times reported in 2002. A journalist who interviewed a top Hezbollah official and parliamentary deputy, Abdullah Kassir, once asked him if he knew Mughniyah. “Kassir flashed a blistering look and responded curtly, ‘I have no answer.’”
Hezbollah’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, followed a double tack: he would defend “freedom fighter” Mughniyah, but not acknowledge him. “The American accusations against Mughnieh are mere accusations,” he was quoted as saying. “Can they provide evidence to condemn Imad Mughnieh? They launch accusations as if they are given facts.” But when pressed, Nasrallah “refused to reveal whether Mughnieh has a role in Hizbullah.” Of course.
Another American academic wrote this precious paragraph in her book on Hezbollah:
For its part, Hezbollah has consistently denied the existence of any relationship with Mughniyeh, direct or indirect. As a matter of record, from the time of the party’s inception, all Hezbollah officials have emphatically denied ever knowing a person by the name of Imad Mughniyeh. The apparent avoidance of this issue is clear in an answer to a recent question about the party’s relationship with Mughniyeh. The response of a Hezbollah senior official was that Mughniyeh had never held a position in their organization, and was, in Deputy Secretary General Naim al-Qassim’s words, ‘only a name’.
The same author then spends a few embarrassing pages agonizing over this question: “Was Mughniyeh a member of Hezbollah?”
Now that Nasrallah’s eulogy has placed Mughniyah officially in the pantheon of Hezbollah’s greatest martyrs (with Abbas al-Musawi and Raghib Harb), this question looks absurd. That it ever arose is a testament to the discipline of Hezbollah in sticking to lies that serve its interests. One of its paramount interests is concealing from scrutiny that apparatus of terror that Mughniyah spent his life building. Hiding the clandestine branch protects it from Hezbollah’s enemies, and makes it easier to sell the movement to useful idiots in the West, who insist that the movement hasn’t done any terror in years, and maybe never did any at all. They produce statements of such mind-boggling gullibility that one can easily imagine Mughniyah chuckling to himself on reading them. The “literature” is rife with claims that Mughniyah didn’t really belong to Hezbollah, or he answered to Iran, or he had his own agenda—anything to dissociate his terrorist acts from the party.
The truth is (and always has been) a simple one. Hezbollah is many things, but it has always included within it a clandestine terrorist branch, and it probably always will. Indeed, Nasrallah’s threat in his eulogy—to commence an “open war” with Israel outside the Israel-Lebanon theater—alludes to the “global reach” that Mughniyah helped to build.
If Hezbollah were absolutely determined to distance itself from the terror tag, it wouldn’t have accorded an official send-off to a most-wanted terrorist. Nor would its leader have stood over his coffin and threatened “open war.” Assassinations of terrorists can boomerang, and so might this one. But it’s already had the one merit of exposing the core of Hezbollah that lies deep beneath the schools, the hospitals, and all the other gimmicks the party uses to get support and pass in polite company. On page one of the International Herald Tribune yesterday, there were photographs of the aftermath of the Beirut bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks (1983), the hijacked TWA Flight 847 (1985), and the ruins of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia (1996). That’s Hezbollah too, and that was Imad Mughniyah—and they were one.