On February 13, Imad Moughniyeh, a senior commander of Hezbollah, was assassinated in Damascus. “The world is a better place without this man in it,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said: “One way or the other he was brought to justice.” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that Moughniyeh has been “responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden.”
Joy was unconstrained in Israel too, as “one of the U.S. and Israel’s most wanted men” was brought to justice, the London Financial Times reported. Under the heading, “A militant wanted the world over,” an accompanying story reported that he was “superseded on the most-wanted list by Osama bin Laden” after 9/11 and so ranked only second among “the most wanted militants in the world.”
The terminology is accurate enough, according to the rules of Anglo-American discourse, which defines “the world” as the political class in Washington and London (and whoever happens to agree with them on specific matters). It is common, for example, to read that “the world” fully supported George Bush when he ordered the bombing of Afghanistan. That may be true of “the world,” but hardly of the world, as revealed in an international Gallup Poll after the bombing was announced. Global support was slight. In Latin America, which has some experience with US behavior, support ranged from 2 percent in Mexico to 16 percent in Panama, and that support was conditional upon the culprits being identified (they still weren’t eight months later, the FBI reported), and civilian targets being spared (they were attacked at once). There was an overwhelming preference in the world for diplomatic/judicial measures, rejected out of hand by “the world.”
Following the Terror Trail
In the present case, if “the world” were extended to the world, we might find some other candidates for the honor of most hated arch-criminal. It is instructive to ask why this might be true.
The Financial Times reports that most of the charges against Moughniyeh are unsubstantiated, but “one of the very few times when his involvement can be ascertained with certainty [is in] the hijacking of a TWA plane in 1985 in which a US Navy diver was killed.” This was one of two terrorist atrocities that led a poll of newspaper editors to select terrorism in the Middle East as the top story of 1985; the other was the hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro, in which a crippled American, Leon Klinghoffer, was brutally murdered. That reflects the judgment of “the world.” It may be that the world saw matters somewhat differently.
The Achille Lauro hijacking was a retaliation for the bombing of Tunis ordered a week earlier by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. His air force killed seventy-five Tunisians and Palestinians with smart bombs that tore them to shreds, among other atrocities, as vividly reported from the scene by the prominent Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk. Washington cooperated by failing to warn its ally Tunisia that the bombers were on the way, though the Sixth Fleet and US intelligence could not have been unaware of the impending attack. Secretary of State George Shultz informed Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir that Washington “had considerable sympathy for the Israeli action,” which he termed “a legitimate response” to “terrorist attacks,” to general approbation. A few days later, the UN Security Council unanimously denounced the bombing as an “act of armed aggression” (with the US abstaining). “Aggression” is, of course, a far more serious crime than international terrorism. But giving the United States and Israel the benefit of the doubt, let us keep to the lesser charge against their leadership.