He was the dauphin of terror, the son of the most infamous organizer of bombings and kidnappings in the amply notorious ranks of Lebanese Hezbollah. But he was more than that. He was a friend, and reportedly almost like a son to Qasem Suleimani, the powerful commander of the Quds Force, Iran’s special forces created to project its power by training, army and directing militias in strategies of combat and covert action.
But, twice-blessed or not, Jihad Mughniyeh died Sunday when an Israeli helicopter opened up on him over the town of Mazraeh-ol-aml in the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights. Hezbollah reported that, altogether, six of its people were killed by that Israeli military operation, and Arab media claimed six Iranian commanders also died in the incident, although their deaths have not been confirmed.
The Mashregh News website, which is closely linked to the Iranian military, also reported that commanders were among those who died, while many of the “martyred Hezbollah members had gone to Syria to train popular forces,” it said, referring to fighters supporting the regime in Damascus of Bashar al Assad. Many reports did not specifically name Mughniyeh, but that may have been out of deference to his close friend Suleimani, who is one of the most powerful people in Iran.
The Baztab website, affiliated with Mohsen Rezai, the former commander in chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, also reported that Iranian commanders had been killed. Baztab quoted Israeli sources, who said that many of those killed had been tasked with setting up missile-launching platforms in Syria. The site also published a video of two speeches by Mughniya. In one of them, the young officer is dressed in military uniform and addresses the crowd in the manner of a senior commander.
The locally focused Yazdi News site reported that General Allahdadi, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards brigade in Yazd province, was among those who died.
Suleimani has lost several close friends serving with Iran’s military in Syria and Iraq in recent months. In early January, he traveled to Ahwaz to attend the funeral ceremony of one of Iran’s highest military commanders, killed on the Iraqi battlefield by a sniper from the so-called Islamic State.
But the death of Jihad Mughniyeh, who was the son of Imad Mughniyeh, blown up by an assassin’s bomb in Damascus in 2008, will be a particularly hard blow for the Quds commander. Young Mughniyeh, thought to be about 25 years old, was said to travel to Iran often. Exactly a year ago, Iranian media made much of the presence of Mughniyeh at Suleimaini’s mother’s funeral. Then the last published photograph of him showed him, once again, with Suleimani:
“There was a good-looking young man among the guests,” Fars News Agency reported. The wire service, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, described the relationship between Mughniyeh and Suleimani as “intimate.”
“Every few minutes they whispered to one another,” the agency said. “Hajj Qasem asked him to stand next to him, introducing him to several commanders. A smile immediately broke out on the face of whomever he was introduced to.” Fars reported that each of the commanders embraced the young Mughniyeh after the introduction.
In September 2013, Fars reported that “the relationship between Jihad and Hajj Qasem went beyond a simple relationship of a young man with his father’s friend. They are often mistaken for father and son.”
On Sunday, January 18, just before he was killed, Iranian media published photographs of Jihad Mughniyeh with the sons of several Iranian commanders who had been killed in the Iran-Iraq war.
Lebanese Hezbollah has officially confirmed the names of most of those who died in Sunday’s attack, but has issued no further statements about it.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized Israel following the raid. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has been banging doors to prevent the success of nuclear negotiations for a long time now,” he said, referring to talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries. His comment suggests that the political fallout from Sunday’s military operations is already underway.