Sept. 26, 2011 -- Syria is now in month seven of a popular uprising that shows no signs of abating, and the U.N. has just imposed new sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's regime for killing demonstrators. What's an embattled ruler to do? Change the subject by diverting the public's attention to an ancient foe.
More than three years after Hezbollah military commander Imad Mugniyah was killed by a car bomb, Syrian State Television has broadcast a taped "confession" by a Palestinian philosophy graduate who says he provided a crucial tip to the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad right before Mugniyah was killed.
In the interview, titled "The Confessions of the Spy Eyad Youssef Enaim," 35-year-old Enaim says he was recruited by the Mossad in early 2006 and gave them the license plate number of one of the two cars in Mugniyah's convoy hours before the car was blown up on a Damascus street on February 12, 2008. Syrian State Television said the interview "uncover[ed] some of the threads of the conspiracy against Syria," implying Mossad's alleged role in the murder is more evidence of long-standing international efforts to overthrow the Assad regime, most recently embodied in the current public protests.
When Mugniyah was killed in 2008, Syrian authorities and their Hezbollah allies were quick to blame Mossad, and it's true that Mugniyah had been hunted by U.S. and Israeli intelligence for decades. One of the world's most wanted terrorists, Mugniyah was linked to the attacks on the U.S. embassy and the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 that killed 258 Americans. He has also been tied to the kidnapping of U.S. citizens, the hijacking of TWA flight 847, and the bombings of the Israeli embassy and the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994, which killed 115 people. The U.S. had posted a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture on the Rewards for Justice website.
But the Syrians never presented any evidence of Israeli involvement in 2008 even though earlier this month State television said Enaim has been detained since June 2008. The Syrian regime was in fact on the list of suspects who might have wanted Mugniyah dead because of an intramural dispute with Hezbollah, according to Western intelligence officials. A new confession unearthed more than three years later doesn't lend more credibility to accusations of Mossad's involvement, according to Robert Baer, a former CIA intelligence officer who spent more than a decade tracking Mugniyah down. "No one, including the Syrians, has produced an authentic piece of evidence that would suggest they know who killed Mugniyah," Baer told ABC News.
Mossad is also a convenient target for Middle Eastern regimes battling for survival, both because of the spy agency's history of assassinations and other covert operations in the region, and because of popular hostility toward Israel. During Tehran's Green Revolution in 2009, the Iranian regime tried to claim unrest was being fomented by Mossad. Earlier this year, the Egyptian government accused Mossad of orchestrating the revolution that eventually overthrew the Mubarak regime.
After the broadcast, Eyad Enaim's eldest brother, Ahmad, presented Jordanian newspaper Al Ghad with official documents debunking the timeline put forth in the "confession."
In the Syrian TV interview, Enaim, a Palestinian refugee raised in Jordan, says he was attending his sister's wedding on the West Bank in late 2005 when he was arrested by Israeli authorities. Ahmad asserts the wedding took place in January 2003, a date corroborated by an official marriage certificate. Ahmad also disputes the claim made in the video that Enaim was arrested by Israeli authorities, presenting an affidavit from the Hebron Ministry of Detainees & Freed Detainees Affairs dated September 18, 2011, certifying Enaim has never been detained by Israeli authorities.
The office of Hezbollah Member of Parliament Hussein Hajj Hassan declined to comment on Enaim's "confession." Requests for comment were not returned by the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C.