* Saudi media: Iran had given Mughniyeh a diplomatic passport
* The New York Times still in a tizzy
* Ayatollah Khamenei to Iranians: Support nuclear program or God will punish you
* Iranian Parliamentary Speaker: “The countdown to Israel’s destruction has begun”
1. “All the news that’s fit to print”
2. Hold the front page: “BBC apologizes” shock
3. Saudi media: Iran had given Mughniyeh a diplomatic passport
4. Fisk compares Imad Mughniyeh with President Bush
5. Ahmadinejad: Israel is a filthy bacteria
6. Israel officially complains to the UN
7. UN Chief: Ahmadinejad’s statements on Israel are intolerable
8. Iranian Parliamentary Speaker: “The countdown to Israel’s destruction has begun”
9. Ayatollah Khamenei to Iranians: Support nuclear program or God will punish you
10. Gazprom signs oil and gas deal with Iran
11. In first move of its kind, a French court freezes $85M in Iranian assets
12. Saudi journalist attacks Nasrallah
13. Iran hangs 10 convicted murderers and robbers
14. Journalist sentenced to death in Iran
15. “Israel kills terror chief with headrest bomb” (London Sunday Times, 17 Feb. 2008)
FASCISM IN IRAN
[Note by Tom Gross]
This dispatch is a follow-up to previous dispatches on Iran, and also to the dispatch about the death of the Iranian-sponsored master terrorist Imad Mughniyeh: He’s not quite Osama Bin Laden... But he almost is (Feb. 14, 2008).
“ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT”
[This is a follow-up to the item “The New York Times in a tizzy.”]
The Feb. 14 edition of the NY Times stated:
“Mr. Mugniyah had not been accused of planning new attacks in more than a decade.”
But the Feb. 15 edition of the NY Times stated:
“Mr. Mugniyah was in charge of Hezbollah’s special operations and its military wing... he oversaw the capture of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, in a cross-border raid in July 2006 that set off that summer’s month long war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
(For background, see previous items on this site about the mysterious ways of The New York Times's Middle East coverage.)
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE: “BBC APOLOGIZES” SHOCK
Many informed people noticed long ago that the BBC, the world’s largest broadcasting organization, is possibly also the most partisan, at least in the western world. BBC news reports, whether about Cuba, Iraq, Iran or America, consistently undermine western and pro-democratic interests. However, as condition for continuing its lavish public funding, the BBC is under a legal obligation to be balanced, so it is extremely rare for it to admit its bias.
However, this week, the BBC issued a semi-apology for equating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Hizbullah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh, calling them both “great national leaders” in the same sentence.
As everyone except BBC news staff is probably aware, Hariri was a moderate, peaceful politician while Mughniyeh was number two on the U.S.’s most wanted terrorist list and one of the world’s most dangerous men. He murdered more westerners than anyone else in the modern age until 9/11. In addition to masterminding attacks that killed hundreds of Americans, French, Germans, Israelis, Lebanese and Argentinians, Mughniyeh personally tortured at least one American to death and he was also one of the hijackers that took over TWA Flight 847 in 1985.
The BBC took the unusual step of apologizing after Don Mell, the Associated Press’s former photographer in Beirut, publicly released a letter to the BBC calling their correspondent’s report “an outrage” and “beyond belief.”
Mell had been held up at gunpoint by Mughniyeh’s men as his colleague Terry Anderson, the AP’s chief Middle East correspondent, was kidnapped in Beirut in March 1985.
In his letter to the British state broadcaster, Mell wrote: “For you to refer to former prime minister Rafik Hariri and Imad Mughniyeh as ‘great national leaders’ in the same sentence is beyond belief. One was an elected leader who spent years and millions of his own money rebuilding his country. The other was probably the world’s second most notorious terrorist, who was responsible for, in addition to running a major criminal enterprise, destroying the US Embassy, the French and US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983; the hijacking of TWA 847; the bombing of the Israeli cultural center in Buenos Aires, [and] the kidnapping and murder of many Westerners in Lebanon, including Terry Anderson, Terry Waite, John McCarthy.”
The BBC issued a statement Friday acknowledging that “the scripting of this phrase was imprecise.”
That’s one way of putting it.
(For a moving piece about the kidnapping written by Mell in 1989 for The New York Times, please see here.)
SAUDI MEDIA: IRAN HAD GIVEN MUGHNIYEH A DIPLOMATIC PASSPORT
Iran’s embassy in Riyadh has denied reports in the Saudi press that Mughniyeh had been traveling around the world on an Iranian diplomatic passport, the state-run Iranian IRNA news agency reported.
But in a sign of Iran’s respect for Mughniyeh, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attended his funeral in Beirut last week and gave a speech praising Mughniyeh for carrying out the “work of Allah.”
There has also been a lack of questions asked in the western media of all those senior American politicians, both Democrat and Republican, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and senior advisers to Barack Obama, who have visited Damascus in the last year. They have not been asked why they continue to defend the Assad regime, even when it has now emerged that Mughniyeh was living in Damascus in highly comfortable circumstances protected by the Syrian government.
FISK COMPARES IMAD MUGHNIYEH WITH PRESIDENT BUSH
Leading British-Irish journalist Robert Fisk is true to form when writing about the assassination. He compares master terrorist Imad Mughniyeh to President Bush in The Independent, a paper popular among British high school and university teachers:
“It wasn’t the staring eyes, nor the way he picked up an apple in front of me and cut it open with such careful deliberation. It was the vice-like handshake, the steely grip that made my fingers hurt. “Imad Mougnieh,” he said, as if to show he wasn’t on the run, wasn’t afraid to use his real name.
“... I had gone to see Mougnieh [in Beirut] to plead for the release of my close friend and colleague Terry Anderson, the Beirut bureau chief of the Associated Press, kidnapped in 1985 and subsequently held for almost seven years in sealed rooms and underground dungeons.
“Mougnieh tried to reassure me. ‘Believe me, Mr Robert, we treat him better even than you treat yourself.’ I shuddered. I didn’t believe that. I had heard this language before.
“... Mougnieh, Lebanese by birth, was a man of frightening self-confidence, of absolute self-belief, something he shared with Osama bin Laden and – let us speak frankly about this – with President George W Bush.”
Fisk – a journalist with intimate knowledge of Middle East terrorists, many of whom he has met – also reveals that Mughniyeh was one of the gunmen on board the hijacking of TWA flight 847 from Athens to Rome in June 1985. (Mughniyeh was demanding the release of 17 Islamic Jihad members imprisoned in Kuwait.)
AHMADINEJAD: ISRAEL IS A FILTHY BACTERIA
In language reminiscent of the Nazis, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called the Jewish state “this filthy bacteria, this dirty germ.” It is the latest in a long line of verbal assaults on Israel by Ahmadinejad, an Islamist madman who is rushing, seemingly unimpeded, to acquire nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad made the remarks to large crowds at a rally in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas. The rally was broadcast live on state television. He also again made comments belittling the Holocaust.
The remarks came a few days after General Muhammad Ali Jafari, who heads Iran’s all-powerful Revolutionary Guards, said that “this cancerous growth called Israel” would “disappear soon”. (Jafari, incidentally, already appears on the United States’ most-wanted list.)
ISRAEL OFFICIALLY COMPLAINS TO THE UN
Israel has lodged a formal complaint about both sets of remarks to the UN Security Council. In a letter, the Israeli UN mission called on the international community to condemn “these outrageous anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and racist threats, which undoubtedly constitute direct and public incitement to commit genocide.”
Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman called the Iranian threats a “blatant violation” of the UN Charter. He said that the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is explicit in its demand for states to punish and prosecute those that carry out “direct and public incitement to commit genocide.”
UN CHIEF: AHMADINEJAD’S STATEMENTS ON ISRAEL ARE INTOLERABLE
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon yesterday promised to respond “firmly” to Ahmadinejad’s attacks on Israel, which he called “intolerable.”
Ban Ki-Moon made the promise during a meeting with Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman, who had requested to see the secretary-general following Ahmadinejad’s latest incitement.
Unlike previous UN chiefs, who came from the western hemisphere – and perhaps because he hasn’t grown up in a society where any significant anti-Semitism exists – since taking office Ban Ki-Moon has taken a much firmer line than his predecessors in denouncing racist attacks on the Jewish state.
“THE COUNTDOWN TO ISRAEL’S DESTRUCTION HAS BEGUN”
Yet hours after Ban Ki-Moon’s condemnation of Iranian threats to destroy Israel, Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Gholam Hadad yesterday told an Iranian newspaper that the “countdown to Israel’s destruction has begun.”
AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI TO IRANIANS: SUPPORT NUCLEAR PROGRAM OR GOD WILL PUNISH YOU
Iranian state radio reports that Iran’s supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered Iranians to support the Islamic country’s nuclear program or face “punishment from God.” In making the remarks, Khamenei again claimed that Iran’s nuclear program is for “peaceful purposes.” Almost no-one believes him.
GAZPROM SIGNS OIL AND GAS DEAL WITH IRAN
The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported yesterday that the Russian state gas monopoly Gazprom has reached an agreement to drill and produce oil and gas in Iran.
Gazprom said in a statement that the deal was signed on Tuesday after meetings between its executive director, Alexei Miller, and Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari.
Many Russia analysts believe Gazprom is now under the de facto personal control of Vladimir Putin, whose government has also recently been supplying Iran with uranium that could be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. Because of Putin’s control of Gazprom, it was recently announced that he had become one of the world’s wealthiest men.
See, for example: $40bn Putin ‘is now Europe’s richest man’, (London) Daily Telegraph, Dec. 26, 2007.
IN FIRST MOVE OF ITS KIND, A FRENCH COURT FREEZES $85M IN IRANIAN ASSETS
Acting on judgments handed down by American courts designed to compensate victims of terrorism, a French court has taken the unprecedented step of freezing $85 million belonging to the Central Bank of Iran.
The ruling is the first time that American victims of terrorism have been able to persuade a foreign court to freeze Iranian assets. This is the initial stage in a long legal process that the American victims hope will result in them gaining control of the money.
Next Monday, an appeals court in Paris is scheduled to review whether the funds, held at the French bank Natexis, should remain frozen or be released.
Victims of terrorism have had difficulty collecting on American court judgments against Iran because there are few Iranian assets in America available for them to pursue.
The plaintiffs in the case are Seth Ben Haim, who was wounded in a 1995 bus bombing by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Jenny Rubin, who was wounded in a Hamas suicide bombing in central Jerusalem in 1997. Federal judges in America found Iran had provided funds to both terrorist organizations to carry out those attacks.
SAUDI JOURNALIST ATTACKS NASRALLAH
Using surprisingly strong words in public, a Saudi journalist on Wednesday criticized the Arab world for not taking a stronger position against Hizbullah, and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.
Writing in the influential London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat, columnist Mussad al-Hamis asked whether Nasrallah “wishes to be the Al Capone of Lebanon and the Arabs, to sit in his lair and receive orders from the Great Satan – Iran – and carry them out in exchange for a fistful of dollars.”
Attacking Nasrallah’s declaration of an “open war” with Israel, al-Hamis wrote: “What war does he mean? Does it make sense to put the decision on whether to declare war or establish peace in Lebanon and the region in the hands of a man like Hassan Nasrallah? If such a war were to break out no one but Allah knows when and how it will end.”
IRAN HANGS 10 CONVICTED MURDERERS AND ROBBERS
The Iranian government yesterday executed 10 more people. The men were hanged in the morning at prisons in Tehran and Zanjan. Iran is one of the world’s leading executioners, but most western media barely bother to ever report this.
Here is a rare report from Ireland.
The day before (on Tuesday), two other people were hanged in the central province of Isfahan, several Iranian newspapers reported.
JOURNALIST SENTENCED TO DEATH IN IRAN
Iran has sentenced a journalist to death, accusing him of being a member of a “terrorist group” in the country’s southeast. A judiciary spokesman, Alireza Jamshidi, told reporters on Tuesday that the journalist, Yaghoob Mirnehad, had been sentenced to death on charges of “membership in the terrorist Jundallah group as well as crimes against national security.”
Mirnehad is an ethnic Baluchi, one of many persecuted minority groups in Iran whom the international media and international human rights groups seemingly couldn’t care less about.
I attach an article below, from the (London) Sunday Times, alleging that Israel not only killed Mughniyeh, but did so in a very daring and ingenious way.
Israel has denied any involvement in his death although it has welcomed it since Mughniyeh was known to be plotting more acts of terrorism before he died. The head of U.S. intelligence, Mike McConnell, has suggested that elements within Hizbullah and Syria could have been responsible.
-- Tom Gross
ISRAEL KILLS TERROR CHIEF WITH HEADREST BOMB
Israel kills terror chief with headrest bomb
By Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv, Hala Jaber in Beirut and Jon Swain
The Sunday Times (London)
February 17, 2008
NOTHING seemed very remarkable about the short, bearded man who mingled with other guests on Tuesday evening at a reception in Damascus, the Syrian capital, to mark the 29th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iranian revolution.
Yet before the night was over he was dead in the twisted wreckage of his car and the inevitable assumption was that Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, had killed him with an ingeniously planted bomb.
The news spread rapidly that the dead man was Imad Mughniyeh, an elusive figure known as “the Fox” who had been one of the world’s most feared terrorist masterminds.
Robert Baer, a former CIA agent who spent years on his trail, said Mughniyeh was “probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we’ve ever run across”.
As the Israelis rejoiced, Iran and Hizbullah, the militant Shi’ite group, which together had harnessed Mugniyeh’s expertise, mourned his death at a huge funeral in Beirut, where he established his terrorist network.
Mughniyeh’s mother, Um Imad, sat amid a sea of black chadors, a lonely, sombre figure as mourners held their hero’s picture aloft.
“If only I had more boys to carry on in his footsteps,” she sighed, confessing that she did not have any pictures of him, even from his childhood, as he had taken them away. He was the third of her sons to die in a car bombing.
With a price of $25m (£12.7m) on his head, he was always vigilant. Some say he had had plastic surgery to alter his face in an effort to elude the Americans and Israelis who blamed him for plane hijackings and other bloody attacks which killed hundreds of their citizens in the Middle East and as far away as South America.
He had grown accustomed to living dangerously and there was no reason he should have feared for his safety last Tuesday as he sipped fruit juice at the party at the Iranian cultural centre. Mughniyeh was on fairly good terms with everybody present – almost all the leaders of the Damascus-based militant groups were represented.
At 10.35pm he decided to go home. Having exchanged customary kisses with his host, Hojatoleslam Ahmad Musavi, the newly appointed Iranian ambassador, Mughniyeh stepped into the night.
Minutes later he was seated in his silver Mitsubishi Pajero in a nearby street when a deafening blast ripped the car apart and killed him instantly.
According to Israeli intelligence sources, someone had replaced the headrest of the driver’s seat with another containing a small high-explosive charge. Israel welcomed his death but the prime minister’s office denied responsibility. Hizbullah accused the “Zionist Israelis” of killing its “brother commander” but believed the explosive had been detonated in another car by satellite.
One witness said: “I held his head in my hands, kissed him farewell. His face was burnt but intact and he had received serious injuries to his abdomen.”
Whatever the truth about the bomb, Mughniyeh, 45, died as he had lived – violently. He was a product of the Lebanese civil war that transfixed western governments 25 years ago.
Born in a south Lebanon village, the son of a vegetable seller, Mughniyeh joined Force 17, Yasser Arafat’s personal bodyguard, when scarcely out of his teens. After the Palestine Liberation Organisation was forced to leave Lebanon in 1982, he stayed behind and joined Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shi’ite Islamic group that emerged in 1985 as a militant force resisting Israeli occupation.
He came to the attention of Sheikh Mohammed Fadlallah, Hizbullah’s spiritual leader, and rose quickly up the ranks. He was shaped into a remarkably effective terrorist as, under the auspices of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the organisation grew into one of the deadliest forces fighting Israel and America.
Western terrorism experts say he was the dynamo behind some of Hizbullah’s most lethal operations. These included the bombing of the American embassy in Beirut that killed 63 people and the attacks on the US marine and French paratrooper barracks that left more than 200 dead. It was Mughniyeh’s decision to kidnap Terry Waite, the Church of England envoy, as he tried to broker the release of other captives.
Another notorious act attributed to him was the hijacking of a TWA flight when an American passenger, a US navy diver, was shot and his body thrown onto the runway.
In the 1990s Israel made him a priority target for his involvement in two attacks in Buenos Aires – the 1992 Israeli embassy bombing, which killed 29, and a 1994 suicide bomb attack on a Jewish community centre, in which 85 died. Then he went to ground. The FBI placed him on its most-wanted list but had to use a 20-year-old photograph for its reward posters.
Despite these difficulties, the CIA came close to capturing him. The Israelis were also hot on his trail. “We tried to knock him down several times in the late 1980s,” revealed David Barkay, a former major in unit 504 of Israeli military intelligence who was in charge of Mughniyeh’s file.
“We accumulated intelligence on him, but the closer we got, the less information we gleaned – no weak points, no women, money, drugs – nothing.”
Mughniyeh lost two brothers, Jihad and Fuad, in car bomb explosions in Beirut. In 2000 he was targeted by an Israeli sniper in southern Lebanon. But in Meir Dagan, who became head of Mossad in 2002, he faced a committed opponent under whose leadership the organisation built a strong record in assassinating Israel’s enemies.
Israel fought a bitter 34-day war against Hizbullah in 2006 to eradicate it in southern Lebanon. It believes that Mughniyeh was instrumental in rebuilding the group after the war, rearming it with Iranian-made Fateh 110 rockets which are capable of hitting Tel Aviv and which it fears could be equipped with chemical weapons.
Informed Israeli sources said that at the time of his death Mughniyeh was working for the Syrians on a terrorist attack against Israeli targets. This was to avenge Israel’s airstrike on what was believed to be a secret nuclear site in Syria last year.
Since Mughniyeh’s death, Israeli embassies and Jewish institutions around the world have been on high alert. “I’ve no doubt the Syrians and Iranians will retaliate,” said Barkay.
Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s general secretary, warned in a fiery oration at Mughniyeh’s funeral that Israel had committed a “major stupid mistake”. It was now “open war”, he said.
In Lebanon, a close friend of Mughniyeh was certain that he would be avenged by Hizbullah in an attack that, ironically, he had prepared himself before his death. “Most likely the retaliation when it comes will be one that had been planned and masterminded by Imad himself,” said Anis Al-Nackash, a Lebanese expert on Hizbullah.
He said Mughniyeh had prepared a variety of “spectacular” attacks to be executed by Hizbullah if one of its top leaders was assassinated. These were now being dusted off and updated.
On the day Mughniyeh was buried, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, summoned Dagan from his cottage in Galilee to Jerusalem.
“It was a one-on-one meeting,” said a source. But it is believed that Dagan was complimented by his boss and told that he would stay as head of Mossad until the end of 2009.
Time will tell whether, as Israel fervently hopes, Mughniyeh’s death has gravely weakened his organisation or if the effect has merely been to harden Hizbullah’s resolve.
The Israeli security service, Mossad, is thought to have killed six other militants abroad since Meir Dagan became director in August 2002:
December 2002 Ramzi Nahara, Israeli agent who defected to Hizbullah and planned attacks against Israel. Dagan knew him personally. Killed in Lebanon by car bomb
March 2003 Abu Mohammed Al-Masri, Al-Qaeda member building cell to target Israeli border with Lebanon. Killed by car bomb in Lebanon
August 2003 Ali Hussein Saleh, Hizbullah explosives expert. Killed by car bomb in Beirut
July 2004 Ghaleb Awali, Hizbullah official with links to activists in Gaza Strip. Killed by car bomb in Beirut
September 2004 Izz el-Deen al-Sheikh Khalil, Hamas official liaising between headquarters in Syria and members in Gaza and West Bank. Killed by car bomb in Damascus
May 2006 Mahmoud Majzoub, Islamic Jihad official liaising with Hizbullah. Killed by car bomb blast in Lebanon