The CIA-Mossad joint assassination leak, why now?

The Washington Post reported today that in 2008, the CIA worked with Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, to kill Imad Mughniyah, an important Hezbollah operative. According to the Post, Mossad did the deed, but the CIA built the bomb that Mossad used, testing it repeatedly to make sure the blast wouldn’t damage a large area thereby causing collateral damage.

The story isn’t without inherent interest. However, the big question is: why is it coming out now, when American-Israeli relations are so strained and Israel and Hezbollah may be on the verge of war?

If one believes that the Obama administration is behind the leak, then the leak is probably intended to send a message to Israelis and/or their Prime Minister. What message? Perhaps the message that Israel and the United States can accomplish worthwhile things when they cooperate. The subtext would be that Israelis need a Prime Minister with whom the American president will cooperate.

Alternatively, the message might be that the U.S. knows Israel’s secrets and that if Prime Minister Netanyahu embarrasses President Obama, the administration’s next leaks will be highly damaging to Israel.

The leak about Mughniyah, while perhaps not highly damaging to Israel, probably isn’t welcome. As noted, tensions between Israel and Hezbollah are running high in the aftermath of deadly attacks by both sides against the other.

Does the Obama administration want to exacerbate the tensions by inflaming Hezbollah? You wouldn’t think so.

Thus, the leak may not have been blessed by Team Obama. It may simply have been the work of someone within the bureaucracy who, for whatever reason, wants to see Israel end up in a shooting war.

Note, by the way, that the killing of Mughniyah occurred during the Bush administration. Thus, the leaked information does not implicate the Obama administration. Has the Obama CIA cooperated with Israel in these sorts of operations? Maybe that will be the next leak.

In any case, the Bush team deserves credit for its role in the assassination of Mughniyah. According to the Post, Mughniyah had been implicated in the killing of hundreds of Americans, dating back to the embassy bombing in Beirut in 1982 that killed 63 people, including eight CIA officers. He was also believed to have been involved in the 1984 kidnapping and torture of the CIA’s station chief in Lebanon, William Francis Buckley. If anything, death by bombing was too good of an end for Mughniyah.

Can you imagine President Obama or a successor from his Party apologizing one day to Hezbollah for American involvement in the killing of Mughniyah? I can.

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