Across the Bay

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ranstorp on Hezbollah Experts

Magnus Ranstorp joins the discussion over at the MESH blog on the issue of how Hezbollah experts, as I showed here, kept on regurgitating the official line fed to them by Hezbollah, denying their relationship with Imad Mughniyeh and minimizing the organization's involvement in global terrorism.

Ranstorp's verdict is quite devastating:

Less understandable are the many academics who allowed themselves to be misled about Hezbollah’s clandestine wing and its use by Iran and, at times, Syria. Some of them were blinded by going “native,” or they never really got close enough to Hezbollah to grasp the centrality of the clandestine wing and the crucial role of Mughniyah, the Hamadi clan and others. They preferred to believe that Hezbollah could not possibly harbor a secret structure involved in terrorism, when its above-the-board operations—social, political and military—were so effective and (according to some) so noble and legitimate. And so Hezbollah was allowed to have its cake and eat it too.

Hezbollah’s present embrace of Mughniyah as a great commander and hero has vindicated experts such as myself, who were right to underscore Mughniyah’s significance. We were not surprised to see Nasrallah standing over Mughniyah’s coffin and vowing vengeance. The same cannot be said for Amal Saad-Ghorayeb and others, who downplayed or altogether ignored the most senior Hezbollah commander.

You'll note that I did not include Ranstorp in my survey of Hezbollah scholarship. There's a reason for that. Unlike the others, his book did not waffle on Mughniyeh's command status in Hezbollah. For instance, discussing Hezbollah's Special Security Apparatus, Ranstorp wrote:

The restructuring of the movement in 1989 with the addition of an [sic] new organ, The Executive Shura (Majlis al-Shura al-Karar) which ranks after the main Majlis al-Shura as the second highest leadership authority, and Politbureau (Maktab al-Siyassi), a supervisory organ which coordinates the work of the various committees under the Jihad al-Bina' (Holy Reconstruction Organ).
[Hizb'allah] has continued to maintain strict operational secrecy in the field of military and security affairs.

Special Security Apparatus

Within the military committee on Hizb'allah's main Majlis al-Shura and in the three regional areas, there exists a separate body, the so-called Special Security Apparatus (SSA), responsible for intelligence and security matters. In turn, the Hizb'allah's security apparatus is divided into three subgroups: the central security apparatus, the preventative security apparatus and an overseas security apparatus. The central security apparatus is further divided into two groups responsible for either East or West Beirut. While Sheikh al-Musawi was the overall head of Hizb'allah SSA until late 1985 and thereafter headed by Sheikh Wafic Safa, the central security apparatus is headed by Imad Mughniya and Abd al-Hadi Hamadi and was chiefly responsible for Hizb'allah's hostage-taking activity of foreigners. On the operational level, it was mainly family members from both the Mughniya and Hamadi clans that were involved in the hostage-takings which ensured loyalty to the senior commanders and secrecy surrounding the operations. Apart from Mugniya and Hamadi, other senior members of the national central security apparatus were Sheikh Hussein Ghabris, who acted as Mughniya's deputy, Sheikh Hussein Khalil, who was the main liaison between Hizb'allah's security and intelligence, Nabil Kaouk, head of the SSA in southern Lebanon, Hamze Zakaria, Muhammad Ali Mikdad, and Hassan Izzeldine, who was responsible for Hizb'allah's international relations and was most notably closely involved in the 1985 TWA-847 and 1988 KU422 hijacking as well as the negotiations concerning the Western hostages. This division of Hizb'allah's SSA has also been effective in the infiltration of its own members within rival movements and in the elimination of military and political opponents in Lebanon, most notably revealed by the Amal movement's dismissal of a number of leading members after discovering their dual allegiance to Hizb'allah in 1988. Hizb'allah's national preventative security apparatus was headed by Salah Nun and Muhammad Hammud and was in charge of the personal security of prominent Hizb'allah clergymen. The functions of Hizb'allah's central security apparatus and the overseas security apparatus, in charge of special operations abroad, overlapped as Hussein Khalil, Ibrahim Aqil, Imad Mughniya, Muhammad Haydar, Kharib Nasser and Abd al-Hamadi, were the senior commanders of the Hizb'allah operations in Europe. Waid Ramadan acted as the chief coordinator of Hizb'allah with Iran concerning these European operations. During the frequent absence of Mughniya from Lebanon, the influence of his de facto deputy, Ali Karekeh, increased within the SSA. (pp. 68-69)

During the summer 2006 war, I translated parts of a Le Figaro interview with Ranstorp about Hezbollah's decision-making and organizational structure. He had the following to say about Mughniyeh at the time:

Imad Mughniyeh, who was responsible for the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon during the 80s, plays an equally very important role. He shuttles between Tehran and Beirut, through the Damascus airport, before using the military routes of the Bekaa valley. Mughniyeh, who is always tracked by the Americans, never passes through the Beirut airport. He is tied directly to Nasrallah, who himself has old personal ties with the Iranian directors. Through Mughniyeh, Hezbollah and Iran have been involved in the Palestinian intifada since 2000. Mughniyeh is notably in charge of recruiting foreigners for reconnaissance operations in Israel or elsewhere. In Beirut, the representative of Hamas, Ussama Hamdan is also an essential pawn in the Iranian involvement in Palestine; he was previously the representative of Hamas in Tehran.

Most of the names Ranstorp listed in his book are still recognizable active senior Hezbollah commanders today (Khalil, Kaouk, Safa, and Hassan Khalil, whom he mentions in the Le Figaro interview as the "liaison with military intelligence [i.e. Asef Shawkat] in Damascus," etc.). Some have speculated that Mughniyeh's successor might be none other than the above-mentioned Ibrahim Aqil.

When asked by Le Figaro about Hezbollah's ultimate goal in Lebanon, Ranstorp explained that it was "to provide itself with a platform that would permit it to continue the armed struggle against Israel. Its agenda surpasses the Lebanese framework, and is dictated by Iran."

He also made sure to remind of the organization's terrorist "global reach": "Don't forget that it also maintains a terrorist capacity abroad."