Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Syria: Outside Patronage and a New Offensive for the Regime

 Syria: Outside Patronage and a New Offensive for the Regime
Syrian troops May 13 in Western Dumayna, which is 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) north of Qusayr. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)


The battle for the Syrian city of Al-Qusayr, which came under regime artillery fire May 19, is actually part of a larger battle for the highly coveted Homs governorate. As we noted in 2012, the battle has wide-reaching ramifications for the Syrian rebels since Al-Qusayr sits along a major transit point for rebel supplies and reinforcements coming in from Lebanon. But it is equally important to loyalist forces. If the Syrian regime loses control of the Orontes River Valley and its major road junctions, Damascus will be largely cut off from Aleppo and the Alawite-dominated coast, which would limit the regime's access to supply lines from port cities.
The regime's renewed offensive against Al-Qusayr was made possible by support from Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. However, geography will determine which side holds the advantage. In northern and eastern Syria, the regime remains on the defensive; in the core, the advantage clearly belongs to the loyalists. With the country squarely divided, the Syrian civil war will continue to be a protracted conflict -- even as the regime prevails in Al-Qusayr.


Supported by Hezbollah fighters, loyalist forces began their offensive against Al-Qusayr with a barrage of artillery fire. Given that the rebels are entrenched in static positions throughout the city, massed artillery fire can have a particularly devastating effect. Regime forces are largely deployed to the north and east of the city, while fighters affiliated with Hezbollah are reportedly advancing on the city from the south and west.
Hezbollah has long been involved in the fight over Homs, but the May 19 offensive marks a clear escalation in Hezbollah's involvement. Tensions in Lebanon have grown alongside this increased involvement. For example, rebels struck the Lebanese town of Hermel with rocket artillery on May 19. And the anger Lebanese Sunnis feel toward Hezbollah threatens to spill over into a full-blown armed conflict.

External Support

Al-Qusayr is not the only theater in which al Assad has received considerable external support. Iran and Russia continue to deliver much-needed material and equipment, including spare parts needed to maintain the regime's critical advantage over the rebels: the air force. Tehran and Moscow also have reportedly played a major role in giving economic support, which is used to fund the war effort and pay hefty salaries to security forces.
External help also enabled Syria to create a new militia, known as the National Defense Force, to offset the losses incurred by the army. With the help of Iranian and Hezbollah advisers, the regime was able to rapidly train and deploy members of this militia. The National Defense Force has brought reliable manpower to the loyalist cause, but equally important, it has helped free up the conventional army to execute difficult offensive operations.
In Syria, the Regime Reverses Some Rebel Gains
For larger map, click here.

Bolstered by this external aid, the loyalist forces have been increasingly able to crack down on rebel positions within the Syrian core, which extends from Damascus to the Alawite coast and passes through the Homs governorate. This division creates problems for both sides. Al Assad's forces are currently incapable of launching comprehensive offensives to relieve their positions in the north and the east. For their part, the rebels are also finding it almost impossible to relieve their beleaguered comrades in Homs city and Al-Qusayr.
In fact, over the past few months, fighting has regressed to battles of exhaustion and campaigns of attrition. Instances where the rebels could quickly seize a major city in only a few days -- as they did in Raqqa -- are the exception rather than the norm.

Controlling Homs

In the battle for Homs, external support gives the regime the military edge. But despite this superiority, the regime probably will not stamp out the rebel resistance entirely, even if it retakes Al-Qusayr. Time and again the rebels have demonstrated a talent for retreating from areas in which the regime musters overwhelming force. The regime has been careful to surround Al-Qusayr from all directions, but the rebels will continue to escape through regime gaps into the countryside or to other rebel strongholds in Homs, such as Rastan and Talbiseh.
However, thanks to considerable Hezbollah aid, the regime has largely subdued rebel operations in the Homs governorate, a goal it has tried to achieve since the early stages of the rebellion. Control over Homs will enable al Assad to rapidly move forces from the north to the south to meet emerging rebel threats. It will also provide a key avenue of retreat to the Alawite coast in the event that he needs to flee Damascus.

Read more: Syria: Outside Patronage and a New Offensive for the Regime | Stratfor 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

IDEF 2013: Altay MBT completes critical design review

IDEF 2013: Altay MBT completes critical design review

Turkey’s new-generation MBT is almost at the end of its detailed design phase, with manufacturer Otokar awaiting approval of the final design.
The company has now completed the critical design review (CDR) of the Altay MBT and hopes to begin the prototype development and qualification phase shortly.
Speaking at the IDEF exhibition in Istanbul, where the Altay was the centrepiece of Otokar’s stand, a spokesman told Shephard that the company is waiting for the Defence Industries Undersecretariat (SSM) to approve the critical design before formally moving into the next phase of development.
Alongside its development of the vehicle, the company is already eyeing prospective export opportunities for what is the only new MBT programme among NATO member countries.
The spokesman said Otokar had purposely avoided involving a foreign partner on the project, so that it can freely offer the MBT to customers in the Middle East and Asia without having to seek outside approval.
Aselsan is developing the MBT’s fire control system and C3 information system; MKEK the 120mm L55 smoothbore main gun; and Roketsan the modular armour package. In addition, MTU Turkey has provided its MTU MT 883 diesel engine for the Altay prototypes.
‘We are currently looking at the Middle East and as there are no export-licencing problems, we think [the Altay] is going to be attractive to them. They also get the advantage of the new-generation design,’ the spokesman said.
He noted that the vehicle had been designed to be easily reconfigured between high intensity warfare and operations other than war, while the open nature of the vehicle’s electronic architecture allowed for easier integration of new systems.
Otokar was selected as the prime contractor to design and qualify the Altay in 2008. It has already developed two preliminary prototypes – a Mobile Test Rig (MTR) and a Firing Test Rig (FTR) – both of which underwent a series of tests at the end of last year. The vehicle on display at IDEF featured the FTR’s chassis and a representative turret.
The MTR has now done 3600km of testing across a variety of surfaces, including terrain, tarmac and secondary roads.
Once the SSM approves the vehicle’s detailed design, the company will move into the qualification phase during which it will produce a further four prototypes.
According to the company spokesman, negotiations for a production contract will then begin in a year’s time and are expected to take some 12 months to conclude.
Turkish Land Forces Command has an initial requirement for 250 MBTs with a stated total requirement of more than 1,000 to be produced in later batches.

U36: Another Fuel Cell Submarine for the German Navy

HDW Class 212A submarine

One of the most modern non-nuclear submarines in the world has been named during a ceremony at the shipyard of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems GmbH, a company of ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions AG. This marks another important milestone in the ongoing shipbuilding programme for the German Navy: U36 is the second boat of the second batch of HDW Class 212A submarines destined for operation in the Navy. The German town of Plauen has assumed sponsorship for U36. The ultra-modern submarine was named by Silke Elsner, companion to the Mayor.
The contract to deliver a second batch of two HDW Class 212A submarines was signed on 22nd September 2006 in Koblenz with the German Office for Military Technology and Procurement/BWB (now the German Office for Equipment, Information Technology and Employment of the Bundeswehr/BAAINBW). The submarine building activities are taking place at the shipyards of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems in Kiel and Emder Werft- und Dockbetriebe in Emden.
The two additional units will be largely identical to their sister ships from the first batch. They are also equipped with the HDW air-independent fuel cell propulsion system which has already given excellent results in operations with the boats of the first batch. The German Navy submarine U32 gave renewed proof of this in April 2013. On the way to participate in naval exercises in the USA the boat produced a new record for non-nuclear submarines with 18 days in submerged transit without snorkelling.
To meet changes in operational scenarios and to take constant technological advances into account, a number of modifications have been made in the second batch:
  • Integration of a communications system for Network Centric Warfare
  • Installation of an integrated Sonar and Command and Weapon Control System
  • Installation of a superficial lateral antenna sonar
  • Replacement of one periscope by an optronics mast
  • Installation of a hoistable mast with towable antenna-bearing buoy to enable communication from the deep submerged submarine
  • Integration of a lock system for Special Operation Forces
  • Tropicalisation to enable world-wide operations.
The Italian Navy has also decided in favour of a second batch of two HDW Class 212A submarines, which are being built under licence by the Italian shipyard Fincantieri. That means that the Italian Navy will soon also have four boats of this class available for operations.
U36 – Technical Data:
General boat data:
Length over all: approx. 57 m
Height including sail: approx. 11.5 m
Maximum hull diameter: approx. 7 m
Displacement: approx. 1,500 t
Crew: 28
Pressure hull built of non-magnetic steel
Propulsion system:
Diesel generator
SIEMENS Permasyn® motor
HDW fuel cell system [SIEMENS PEM fuel cell]
Low-noise skew-back propeller


Image of HDW Class 212A submarine courtesy of HDW

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Indonesia Becomes the Latest Buyer of German Tanks

Leopard 2A6

In August 2012, reports emerged that Indonesia had made a deal with Germany to buy heavy tanks and infantry carriers, after the Dutch had demurred. The Indonesian Army has a long record of human rights abuses, which sparked considerable opposition in the Netherlands. In contrast, Germany has been pushing hard for defense exports as a way to keep its defense industrial base busy, and of preserving jobs amidst Europe’s economic slowdown.
In May 2013, those reports were finally confirmed. What is the exact shape of the deal? How will the new vehicles fit with, and compare to, Indonesia’s existing equipment? And how did we get to this point?

Indonesia’s Armor

Indonesia’s order covers 104 Leopard 2 tanks, 50 Marder 1A2 infantry fighting vehicles, 4 Armored Recovery Vehicles to tow tanks out of trouble, 3 mobile bridge-layers, and 3 AEV armored engineering vehicles. The IFVs are from German Army stocks, and reports suggest that the tanks will be second hand as well. This may be why previous reports have mentioned the Leopard 2A4 and 2A6 variants for Indonesia, even though recent sales to Qatar and Saudi Arabia have involved the 2A7 variant. Rheinmetall’s Leopard MBT Revolution kit has also been mentioned, with extra armor, 360 degree visibility from mounted sensors, and other changes designed to adapt the tanks for urban warfare and counter-insurgency. The ARVs, AEVs, and bridge-layers are expected to be based on the Leopard 2 chassis, and the used Marders are likely to see a few upgrades before shipment.
The new vehicles will represent a big upgrade in both firepower and defensive protection. Indonesia currently fields about 100 British FV101 Scorpion 90 light tanks, and 70 or so related Stormer APCs and specialty vehicles. 300 aged French AMX-13 light tanks accompany the Scorpions as high-caliber firepower, and they’re accompanied by 200 AMX-VTT armed personnel carrier derivatives. The AMX-13 tanks are a 1950s era design, but they’re also uniquely light at just 14.5t, which improves waterborne carriage options and helps in soft terrain. Indonesia is the tank’s largest user, and its neighbor Singapore remains the 2nd largest. By comparison, the Marder infantry carriers Indonesia is receiving are double the AMX-13′s weight, and Leopard 2A6s are more than 4x heavier at 62.3t.
Bigger picture here
French VAB wheeled APCs are used for foreign deployments, and over 150 locally made Pindad “Anoa” wheeled APCs are used at home. A range of about 200 lighter armored cars round out its mechanized forces.
There are some concerns within Indonesia that the new heavy armor will be too heavy for Indonesian roads and infrastructure, and questionably suited to its terrain. Indonesia’s fragmented geography is a challenging place to use tanks in any event, and the TNI-AD is forced to scatter its armored battalions across multiple islands. The Leopards and Marders don’t have to be suited to all of them, as long as they can find useful employment in a couple of places.
It’s worth noting that Singapore, the world’s 2nd largest user of AMX-13 tanks,bought Leopard 2A4 tanks in 2006.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Airbus’s Automated Future Features Robotics

By Guy Norris
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Credit: Airbus

Airbus has frequently played the technology card in its battle for market share and now, having achieved parity with Boeing, the company is turning to advanced manufacturing technology to ensure it can deliver the fruits of its success.

The focus on development of automated processes for a “future factory” concept comes as Airbus continues to accelerate delivery rates to record levels. Airbus currently delivers almost 55 aircraft every month, equal to the total A300 deliveries over the first five years of the company's existence. Since 2000, commercial deliveries have grown by 60% and, with a doubling of the order backlog over the past decade to around 4,950, the company has eight years worth of production already on the books.

Jens Gralfs, Airbus operations vice president of overall physical design, says that as the rate continues to grow across multiple models “we are facing strong challenges in how to keep the aircraft productionized.” Each of the models represents a different set of issues, whether it is accelerating deliveries of the single-aisle A320 family as it transitions to the New Engine Option (NEO), ramping up the new A350 or improving the sophisticated double-deck A380 assembly process.

“The single-aisle is at a rate of 42 aircraft per month, which is effectively one every seven hours,” says Gralfs. He adds that production capacity for the A320 family will be increased by another four per month with the addition of the Mobile, Ala., assembly line. Production of the first aircraft is due to begin there in February 2015, with deliveries set to begin in January 2016. The A380 rate is due to increase from 2.5 to 3 per month and “in terms of complexity, it is in another dimension.”

At the same time, Airbus continues to accelerate the A330, which reached an all-time-high rate of 10 per month earlier this year. The target is 11 per month, says Gralfs, who adds that the A330's successor, the A350, is eventually expected to be produced at up to 13 per month. Overall, Airbus delivered 588 aircraft in 2012, which equates to a rate of 49 per month.

All this contrasts dramatically with the rates achieved early in the history of Airbus when it used conventional methods to produce the A300 at a maximum rate of four per month in the 1970s and 1980s. “At that time, no one thought it was possible to make more than four per month. There was zero automation, lots of fixed tooling and no flexibility. The design was 100% focused on the performance of the aircraft and not at all on manufacturing considerations. Frankly, the attitude then was 'who cares about manufacturing?'”

Even in the case of the A320, which entered production in 1988, design considerations for assembly and industrialization “was a secondary topic,” noted Gralfs, who was speaking at the recent Society of Mechanical Engineers AeroDef manufacturing conference in California. The A380, on the other hand, was “from Day One designed for performance and industrialization. It was the first Airbus aircraft designed with thoughts of both considerations at the same level. It also incorporated lean manufacturing principles from the start. This is important because what is not designed for lean is hard to make lean afterward.”

Pentagon Struggles To Pin Down F-35 Ops Cost

By Amy Butler
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Credit: U.S. Air Force Samuel King Jr

An usually public disagreement between senior Pentagon officials on the per-hour flying cost of the F-35 underscores the continuing uncertainty in the U.S., by far the largest F-35 customer, about total ownership price tag of the stealthy fighter.

The debate only reinforces the concerns of international customers who have opted to delay their purchase of the Lockheed Martin fighter until they better understand the operating cost, which dwarfs development and purchase prices that have skyrocketed.

Pentagon officials have said for months that they want an “apples-to-apples” comparison between the F-35's cost per flying hour (CPFH) and the price to operate legacy fighters it will replace. But the different figures recently put forth by the F-35 program executive officer, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, and Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall, who expects a higher CPFH, show that comparing prices is not simple. An agreed-upon number, however, is much needed in Washington and abroad, as customers prepare to outline their F-35 commitments, decisions that will have financial repercussions for decades to come.

After months of studying the issue, Bogdan told Dutch lawmakers late last month that the single-engine, stealthy fighter would cost about 10% more to operate than the F-16, one of the workhorse aircraft it will replace.

The CPFH for the F-35A, which the Netherlands intends to buy, is $24,000, according to a U.S. military official. Bogdan provided the data to Dutch legislators, including a “side-by-side comparison of flying-hour costs between the F-16 and the F-35,” the official notes.

These figures are “preliminary,” program officials say. Though F-35A flight training has begun and testing continues, the data gathered do not reflect an entire life's worth of use. Ongoing durability testing will help determine if any parts or systems will require support that is not built into the CPFH.

As the price of F-35 development has spiked and unit cost doubled since the contract to Lockheed Martin was issued in 2001, and in-service dates have slipped dramatically, would-be customers have grown increasingly cautious about not only the fighter's purchase price but also the cost to operate it.


An insect-like robot, no bigger than a fly, takes to the air

SOME people are convinced they are already out there: swarms of tiny flying drones discreetly surveying the world on behalf of their shadowy masters. In 2007 anti-war protesters in America claimed they were being watched by small hovering craft that looked like dragonflies. Officials maintained they really were dragonflies. Whatever the truth, robotic flies actually are now getting airborne.
This week the successful flight of what are probably the smallest hovering robots yet was reported in Science by Robert Wood and his colleagues at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. These robots (pictured above) are the size of crane flies. Most small flying robots are helicopters—kept aloft by one or more rotating wings. These, though, are ornithopters, meaning their wings flap. Wingtip to wingtip they measure 3cm and they weigh just 80 milligrams. Like true flies (those known to entomologists as Diptera), and unlike dragonflies or butterflies, they have but a single pair of wings.
Dr Wood, as he is quick to point out, is not trying to build a military drone. Rather, it is the basic science behind flying insects that he and his team are interested in. No doubt the armed forces are taking a keen interest in this sort of work. But civilian applications such as search and rescue, he thinks, are likely to be as important as military and security ones. Indeed, the idea that inspired the study was that of using swarms of robotic flies to pollinate crops.
Flies, as anyone who has tried to swat one knows, are the most agile of flying creatures. Dr Wood and his colleagues considered it impossible, even with the best miniaturised mechanical and electrical parts currently available, to build an artificial version of one that would show anything like that level of aerial prowess. They therefore had to come up with a new form of manufacturing, which they call smart composite microstructures (SCM), to do the job. SCM employs lasers to cut shapes from extremely thin sheets of material and then bonds them together and folds them to make components. The materials’ properties come from their layered structures.
Getting into a flap
The robot’s wings, for example, are powered by artificial muscles. These are made from layers of a piezoelectric material—one that deforms when an electric current is applied to it. Correct alignment of these layers creates a structure analogous to an insect’s flight muscles, which it contracts and relaxes in order to flap its wings.
Dr Wood’s robots are modelled on a hoverfly called Eristalis. They have a long way to go before they can mimic the precision of such a creature’s flight. They can, nevertheless, hover. They can also carry out simple manoeuvres. These include turning by flapping one wing harder than the other.
These acrobatics are possible because of the flight-control system Dr Wood has designed. Like jet fighters, flying insects are inherently unstable. And so are Dr Wood’s robots. Insects have nervous systems to deal with this. Fighters have computers. Dr Wood’s flies are similarly computer-controlled—and this, for the moment, is where the illusion breaks down, because the computer is on a desktop and is connected to the robot by a thin copper wire.
That could be fixed with a suitable chip. But the wire also carries electric power: 19 milliwatts, which is equivalent to the power consumed by a flying insect of the same size. Batteries light enough to fly with do exist. But they would keep the robot going for only a few minutes.
Dr Wood’s robot is not the only experimental tiny flying machine around. The others, though, are bigger and heavier than most insects. Some, such as the DelFly Micro, a robot with a 10cm wingspan build by Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, are also ornithopters. Others are helicopters. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have demonstrated how a swarm of palm-sized devices with a rotor on each corner can fly together in formation. And Seiko Epson, a Japanese firm, has built an 8cm-tall robot that uses contra-rotating blades mounted on the same shaft to achieve stability.
What is really needed is a breakthrough in battery technology. In the meantime, though, Dr Wood says there is plenty of research to get on with, in order to improve the flying abilities of his new robots and the way they are made. And eventually, like real insects, they will have to fly outdoors. Buzzing around a cosy laboratory is one thing. Coping with rain, gusts of wind and even predators that cannot tell the difference between a robot and the real thing is quite another.

BTR-82A Armoured infantry fighting vehicle

BTR-82A armoured infantry fighting vehicle technical data sheet specifications information description pictures photos images intelligence identification intelligence Russia Russian army defence industry military technology Arzamas Engineering Plant

The BTR-82A is an upgraded version of the BTR-80A wheeled armored vehicles. In December 2008, Russia's Military Industrial Company (MIC) was already testing the prototypes which were unveiled in December 2009. In April 2010, Russian defence industry has started to market the BTR-82 and BTR-82A as a modernization program for existing BTR-80 operators. Russia will supply Kazakhstan until 2013, with 100 armoured vehicles BTR-82: 30 in 2011 and 70 in 2012. 
- BTR-82: basic version with 14.5 mm machine gun
- BTR-82A: armed with one 2A72 30mm cannon
Technical Data
 Back to top
The firepower of the BTR-82A is increase by the use of a new unified fighting module with electric drive armed with one 2A72 30mm cannon coupled with a 7.62 mm machine gun. The turret is fully stabilized on the two axes and fitted with new sights. The BTR-82 can fire on the move in day and night operations.
Design and protection
The layout of the BTR-82A is very similar to the BTR-80A. The BTR-82A is more protected than the basic version of BTR-80A. The vehicle is fitted with a reinforced multi-layer floor which provides protection against mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The BTR-82A is also equipped with new seats and a special suspension that have energy-absorbing properties which increase the protection for the personnel inside the vehicle against mine blast. The hull of the BTR-82A is made with new armored vehicle ballistic protection of laminated synthetic material such as Kevlar.
The BTR-82A wheeled armored infantry fighting vehicle features energy absorbing structures and a new powerful Diesel engine KAMAZ 740.14-300 developing 300 hp of power. The BTR-82A is also fitted with a new transmission components and suspension allowing an increased average speed in rough terrain. The BTR-82A can run at a maximum speed of 80 km/h on road with a maximum range of 600 km.
The gunner gets a new stabilized day/night fire control system TKN-4GA. The vehicle command system is equipped with advanced communications, topographic maps and a surveillance camera (TKN-AI) for the vehicle's commander. TKN-AI is fitted with laser range finder which allows the commander of the vehicle to detect enemy target at a distance of 3 km. The BTR-82A is also equipped with an improved fire extinguishing system that improves safety in case of fire and explosion. To increase the comfort of the crew, the BTR-82A is equipped with air-conditioning system, which also serves to optimize operations conditions of electronic devices of the vehicle. The BTR-82A is equipped with new radio station R-168-25-U2, topographic orientation system, "Trona-1" with an independent satellite channels and receiver navigation data. The Trona-1 positioning system is designed to enhance the accuracy and credibility of navigation data by integration of the vehicle's navigation system with the receiver of the GLONAS and NAVSTAR satellite navigation systems. The BTR-82A is fully amphibious, and an overpressure NBC system, night vision equipment and a central tyre-pressure regulation system are fitted.
 Back to top
One 30 mm cannon and one coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun.
Country users
Russia, Kazakhstan
Designer Country
Fire control system TKN-4GA, surveillance camera TKN-AI, air-conditionning. Trona-1 positionning system.
3 + 7 soldiers
Protection against small arms ans shell splinters, multi-layer floor increase protection against IED's.
14,550 kg
80 km/h maximum road speed
600 km
Length, 7.65 m; Width, 2.9 m; Height, 2.8 m

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Driver

An exclusive look inside the mysterious death and life of the world's most dangerous terrorist not named Osama bin Laden.


On the night of Feb. 12, 2008, an overweight middle-aged man with a light beard walked from his apartment in the Kfar Sousa district of Damascus to his silver Mitsubishi Pajero, parked in front of his building. It was already 10:15, and he was late for a meeting with Iran's new ambassador to Syria, who had arrived in the country the night before.

There was good reason for the man's tardiness: He had just come from a meeting with Ramadan Shallah, the leader of the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and before that had spent several hours talking with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The man was Imad Mughniyeh, the world's most wanted terrorist not named Osama bin Laden. His true identity as the violent mastermind of Hezbollah would have come as a shock to his Damascus neighbors, who thought he was a chauffeur in the employ of the Iranian embassy. A number of them had even called on him, on several occasions, to help tote their bags to waiting taxis. He had happily complied.
On this night, he was in a hurry. He exited his apartment building and walked quickly to his SUV, crossing behind the tailgate to the driver's side door. He never made it. Instead, a remotely detonated explosive, containing hundreds of deadly, cube-shaped metal shards, ripped his body to shreds, lifting it into the air and depositing his burning torso 15 feet away on the apartment building's lawn.
Just like that, the most dangerous man you never heard of was dead, his whole career proof that one person really can reshape politics in the Middle East -- and far beyond it. "Both bin Laden and Mughniyeh were pathological killers," 30-year veteran CIA officer Milton Bearden told me. "But there was always a nagging amateurishness about bin Laden -- his wildly hyped background, his bogus claims.… Bin Laden cowered and hid. Mughniyeh spent his life giving us the finger."
UNTIL HIS DEATH, Hezbollah stubbornly refused to admit any knowledge of a commander named Imad Mughniyeh. Hezbollah's penchant for secrecy meant that, unlike bin Laden, who never tired of seeing himself on television, a nearly impenetrable fog settled on Mughniyeh while he was still alive. Only upon his assassination did Hezbollah hail "Hajj Radwan," as he was known, as one of its indispensable military commanders, the head of its Jihad Council, and the architect of its war strategy during the 2006 conflict with Israel.
Chanting pro-Hezbollah slogans and holding posters extolling his martyrdom, tens of thousands of Hezbollah partisans attended Mughniyeh's funeral in Beirut two days after his death. His 22-year-old son spoke to the crowd, pledging that his father's murder would be avenged. Mughniyeh's youngest son, 17, stood nearby alongside his sister, according to senior Hezbollah officials in attendance. They had only been informed that day that their father was something other than a midlevel Hezbollah official -- the "driver" -- who shuttled Iranian diplomats and Hezbollah leaders to and from Beirut and Damascus. After long denying his existence, Syrian officials quickly described the assassination as a "cowardly terrorist act." Iran called it "organized state terrorism by the Zionist regime," while Hezbollah leaders said Mughniyeh "died a martyr at the hands of the Israeli Zionists."
It was a violent end for a man who had devoted his life to violence on behalf of the Lebanese militant group and its patron, Iran. Although few had heard of him, he was responsible for virtually all the most notorious terrorist attacks of the pre-9/11 era: the October 1983 bombings of the U.S. Marine and French barracks in Beirut, the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner, and the kidnapping and murder of Western hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s. Mughniyeh also plotted the March 1992 attack on Israel's embassy in Argentina and the 1994 synagogue bombing in Buenos Aires. Until his death, however, no intelligence agency had ever successfully tracked him -- and only one American, former hostage Terry Anderson, admits to ever having met him.
For many CIA officers -- those who had long tried and failed to find him -- Mughniyeh's death represented an incredible victory over an elusive foe; in the shadowy world of intelligence, it was almost as big a score as the bin Laden raid a few years later. There's just one trick: The United States didn't kill Mughniyeh. And even now, five years later, it's not entirely clear who did.
I first heard of Mughniyeh in 1989, while reporting on the kidnapping of the CIA's Beirut station chief. Only the barest of facts about Mughniyeh were known at the time, and he remained, for me and other reporters, an obsessive journalistic pastime, a story we were sure would help us understand the region's murderously dysfunctional politics, if only we could decode it. "For years, people claimed Mughniyeh was behind anything that went 'boom,'" reporter Nicholas Blanford, aHezbollah expert, says. "Just sit in a Beirut cafe and listen to what people say. Most of it is pure fantasy, but no one really knows for sure."
Blanford has stories of his own. "I hear that he rarely traveled with bodyguards," he told me, "and on some days he'd hop on his Vespa and run down the coast highway to train Hezbollah fighters in the south. Just imagine: One of the world's most wanted men on a scooter. In plain sight."
Only now, five years after his death, is a clearer narrative of his life coming into focus, one that finally separates the myth from the man. Indeed, though this account relies on dozens of conversations with Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, Israeli, and American observers and officials over a period of more than two decades, it's just in the last two years that those who knew Mughniyeh have begun to provide the details of his life, and only early this year, during a trip to the Middle East, was I told of his final hours.
What I have found is an untold tale about the murderous three-decade shadow war between Iran and the United States, one filled with not only a gruesome body count but also the complicated politics of a region where even Hezbollah's closest friends could be suspect -- and where a shadowy terrorist could wield enough power to shape global events.