Assassination of Hezbollah commander in South Lebanon sparks speculation
BEIRUT - The assassination of Hezbollah commander Ali Mohammed Younes on April 4 in southern Lebanon could be related to internal feuds with the militant pro-Iran party especially in dealing with certain thorny issues such as financial corruption, Lebanese political sources said.
According to the sources, Younes was a known second-rank figure in the party in charge of counter intelligence. He worked on the ground in south Lebanon and his main task was to hunt spies and infiltrators.
Younes was assassinated somewhere between the villages of Qaqaiyat al-Jisr and Zutar al-Gharbiyeh in southern Lebanon, an area entirely under Hezbollah’s control. Hezbollah was quick to circulate information saying that Younes was ambushed by assassins who came aboard three cars but observers in southern Lebanon ruled out the possibility that anybody from outside the area, including Israel, would ambush a leading figure of Hezbollah in that Lebanese location simply because Hezbollah knows exactly who is travelling in and out of the region.
While Hezbollah sought to steer suspicion for the killing of Younes towards Israeli intelligence (the Mossad), a resident of the area said that Hezbollah’s account of the assassination did not seem accurate. He noted that a person was accompanying Younes when he was shot and that this person was injured and is now being treated in a hospital in the region out of the sight of the official Lebanese authorities.
Lebanese political sources suggested that Younes could have been the victim of internal personal or financial feuds within the party that led to his liquidation in that manner. The fact that the Hezbollah commander was shot and stabbed with a knife made the attack look more like an act of revenge.
Hezbollah mourned Younes by calling him a “martyr,” suggesting that his assassination was related to the nature of his work in the party. A Lebanese politician summed up the issues by saying that the assassination in fact revealed the existence of disputes of a financial nature within Hezbollah. At the core of these disputes were lucrative deals involving certain party members and their families, who have been showing ostentatious signs of sudden wealth.
This politician did not rule out that Hezbollah, like other Lebanese parties, notably the Amal Movement, was suffering from internal strife and disputes over benefits from certain deals.
Well-informed Lebanese sources have also linked Younes’ assassination to the killing of Anton al-Hayek a few days ago in southern Lebanon. Hayek was considered a close aide of Amer al-Fakhoury, a dual national with Lebanese and American citizenships who was referred to in southern Lebanon as the ‘Butcher of al-Khiam Prison Camp’ during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and in which Israel had used South Lebanon Army militia to subdue the local population.
In a spectacular recovery operation, Washington had managed to airlift al-Fakhoury out of Lebanon only hours after the Military Court issued a decision to stop all prosecution procedures for treason against him. Al-Fakhoury’s escape soon after the issuance of a second arrest order against him had made headlines and caused embarrassment to Hezbollah.
Hayek was assassinated in Sidon, just days after al-Fakhoury’s return to the United States. The scandal resulting from the whole affair led to the resignation of the President of the Military Court, a rare occurrence in Lebanon.
Informed sources have threaded the sequence of events together and favoured two hypotheses: Younes’s assassination was the result of party-internal disputes and came to close his file as the security official in charge of counter-intelligence; or it was revenge for Hayek’s assassination. The Military Court had decided to stop prosecuting al-Fakhoury and al-Hayek for their crimes at al-Khiam Prison Camp on the basis that the statutes of limitation have run out in both cases.
While the Iranian Fars News Agency reported Younes’s assassination labelling him a Hezbollah commander, Lebanese sources were quick to point out that he was not a first-rank officer. These sources also noted that Younes was killed in an area not far from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) deployment sites in southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah has always used the assassination of some of its cadres to paint itself as being constantly targeted by Israeli intelligence agencies. Such reputation reinforces the stock of sympathy it enjoys in its strongholds in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and the south.
Younes’s assassination came after the loyalty of party supporters was tested and shaken by the al-Fakhoury scandal, for they had a hard time believing that the latter’s release had taken place without Hezbollah’s approval, even if implicitly, knowing very well that the party controls all details of the state’s decisions and its political organs especially in security-related issues.