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Mughniyah's killing offers lessons for the U.S.

Francona: Patience, perseverence can be emulated in hunt for bin Laden

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  Hezbollah 'most-wanted' killed
Feb. 13: Imad Mughniyeh, the suspected mastermind behind U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks attacks in the 1980s, has been killed. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
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  Crowds pour into Beirut for terrorist's funeral
Feb. 14: Crowds of Hezbollah supporters are pouring into the streets of Lebanon to march in militant Imad Mughniyeh's funeral. NBC's Jim Maceda reports.

Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

It took over 15 years for the Israelis to finally bring justice to the infamous Hezbollah terrorist, Imad Mughniyah, who was killed Wednesday. In the early 1990s, Mughniyah was linked to two operations against Israeli and Jewish facilities in Buenos Aires that killed well over 100 people. Mughniyah, as chief of operations for Hezbollah, was also believed to be involved in the kidnapping operation that kicked off the Israeli-Hezbollah war in 2006.

It's commonly believed that the organization responsible for the killing of Mughniyah in Damascus was the Israeli intelligence service. Naturally, the Israeli intelligence service denies this. It has taken the Israelis decades of patiently collecting information on Mughniyah’s operations, locations, associates, communications and movements to the point that an opportunity to eliminate him arose. When that opportunity presented itself, the Israelis apparently took it. 

Imad Mughniyah was not a stranger to American intelligence. In fact, you could easily make the case that we had more reason than the Israelis to hunt him down and kill him.  Mughniyah had more American than Israeli blood on his hands. The list of attacks attributed to Mughniyah’s leadership is long and well-known.

In April 1983, 17 Americans were killed of 63 total fatalities in a suicide attack on the American Embassy in Beirut. Later that year, over 241 U.S. Marines were killed in an attack on the barracks at Beirut airport as well as 58 French soldiers. Mughniyah is also believed to be involved in a rash of kidnappings of American citizens in Lebanon, including two American officials: CIA station chief Bill Buckley and Marine Colonel Rich Higgins were both murdered. 

Mughniyah was formally indicted for his role in the 1965 hijacking of TWA 847 and the subsequent murder of a U.S. Navy diver, and he was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list with a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture. There is no shortage of reasons for the United States to have pursued Mughniyah with as much motivation as the Israelis did.

Lessons for the U.S.
The U.S. should use the same level of effort to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden as the Israelis did with Mughniyah. With the blood of almost 3,000 Americans on his hands, bin Laden is easily as important a target for us as Mughniyah was to the Israelis.  While many Americans are frustrated that bin Laden has escaped capture or death for over six years, we should consider and emulate the 15 years of patient, but persistent, Israeli intelligence operations resulting in the death of Mughniyah.

Americans should also take into consideration the fact that Mughniyah was in hiding in Lebanon and was killed in Syria, two countries contiguous to Israel. Even with Israel’s excellent intelligence capabilities in these neighboring states, they were not able to mount a successful operation against him.

Bin Laden has sought refuge halfway around the world from the U.S., most likely in the fiercely independent tribal areas of Pakistan.  It is difficult to track one man in this area and difficult to develop reliable intelligence sources — it will take time.  Patience in this instance is truly a virtue.

I hope the successful Israeli operation against Mughniyah is not lost on bin Laden.  However long it takes, he should believe that at some point in the future, an American soldier will bring justice to him. If we don’t persevere toward that goal, shame on us.

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