Ghosts of Beirut makes us privy to the life of a man who had become a nightmare for the CIA and an obsession for the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. Imad Mughniyeh was sometimes referred to as the ghost because of his exceptional tactical and combat skills, and the Showtime series maps his journey from the time he was the bodyguard of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat to when he started wreaking havoc through his Islamic Jihadist Organization. Imad was born in a small town named Tayr Dibba, and he had always been affected by the socio-political situation of his country. Unlike his wife, Saada, he was not someone who could turn a blind eye to what was happening in his nation. He was one of those people who believed that if you want something to be changed, then you have to work towards it because you cannot sit on your comfortable couches and talk about what is wrong with the nation while expecting the leaders to act on your behalf.
It was the early eighties, and the situation in Lebanon was getting more complicated with every passing day. The Israelis and the Palestinians didn’t want to take back their forces from Lebanon, as they wanted to strengthen their base, gather more support, and get leverage against each other. That was the time when Imad took matters into his own hands and did something that nobody had ever expected. It could be said that joining Arafat’s Force 17 made him aware of the politics of the region, and he developed his political ideologies at a very young age. He was doing well and had the potential to rise up the ranks, but because of ideological differences, he chose to quit the forces. He still didn’t despise Arafat and held him in high regard. Mughniyeh was quite entrepreneurial in his approach, and he wasn’t scared to make his own decisions and stand by them when the time came. The fascinating thing was that Mughniyeh was merely 20 years old when he decided to commit to his cause and fight against the Israelis, though his means and methods were never justified, and they ended up taking the lives of many innocent people. He was called the manipulative mastermind for a reason, and over the years to come; he became a headache for the American and Israeli intelligence agencies.
The Karbala Raid
Ghosts of Beirut begins in the year 2007, when we see a group of Lebanese mercenaries in Karbala, Iraq, pretending to be American soldiers. They entered the civilian administration center, took a few hostages with them, and later tried to cross the Iraq-Iran border. Duty Officer Lena was informed about the incident, and it didn’t take her time to realize that it was all the doing of Imad Mughniyeh. She immediately left for the CIA safe house in Istanbul to meet the deputy defense minister of Iran, Ali Reza Asgari. Asgari was also the General of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and he was the one who recruited Imad back in 1982 and convinced him to join his training camp. Asgari was a shrewd man, and he was not going to give out the information so easily. Lena got triggered while trying to interrogate him, and she told him that it was because of people like him that her family had to flee from Lebanon in the first place and settle in the United States of America.
Lena’s superior asked her to calm down because they knew that nothing could be achieved by losing one’s temper, and they had to deal with Asgari very tactfully. Lena knew deep down that Asgari had a role to play in the Karbala raid, and she told him that she was not going to stop till she found the real culprits trying to destabilize the region and wreak havoc on the lives of people. Asgari was on the run, and he was hiding in Istanbul because he had embezzled huge amounts of funds from Iran, and General Qasem Soleimni was not pleased about it. Lena threatened Asgari that she didn’t mind dropping him in Iran if he was going to be so stubborn and not give them any information about the Karbala raid. Asgari probably agreed and started telling the tale of the emergence of the Ghost of Beirut, a.k.a. Imad Mughniyeh, and how he was included in the most wanted list of every intelligence agency.
What Was Imad Mughniyah’s Plan?
Mohtashami-Pur, the Iranian ambassador in Syria, and Asgari, met Imad with the intention of recruiting him and other hardliners and taking them to their training camp in Baalbek. The diplomats from Iran tried to appeal to Imad’s emotions and told him that he was not alone in his battle and that there were others like him who were ready to fight for the cause. Asgari’s main intention was to create a task force consisting of locals to wage war against the Israelis, who were not ready to leave Beirut, even after the CIA had asked them to do so. Imad was quite orthodox when it came to his beliefs, and he was often seen asking his wife, Saada, to wear a burqa and not buy clothes from shops owned by Christians. Imad went to Asgari’s training camp with his brother-in-law Mustafa and brother Hamid, and he slowly started aligning with the ideologies of the Iranian camp. During this time, the Israelis exercised their influence to make the head of the Kataeb party, Bachir Ghemayl, the president of Lebanon. The Israelis had a long-term goal, and they knew that if the president owed them something, they could get leverage over the PLO and the Syrian forces in the region and strengthen their base in Lebanon. But that plan collapsed when President Bachir was assassinated immediately after he was made president. The Israelis stopped all negotiations and told the American convoy that a peaceful relationship was no longer part of their agenda.
The president was killed on September 14, 1982, and within two months, Imad had convinced Ahmad Qassir to take revenge on the Israelis by bombing their headquarters in Lebanon. Ahmad didn’t understand why he had to die on the mission when he could easily wreak havoc by shooting a few Israeli diplomats, and come back. But Imad told him that suicide bombing would send a very strong message to Israel and the rest of the Arab countries. Imad was of the opinion that they had to show the world that a Lebanese soldier was not scared of dying and was ready to go to any extent to fight for their cause. Like every manipulative mastermind, he convinced Ahmad that a better life awaited him and that his death wouldn’t be the end, but the beginning of a beautiful afterlife, and his sacrifice would be remembered for generations to come. I don’t know how, but every extremist seems to fall for this trap, and just like that, a 17-year-old boy decided to take his life and it all seemed justified to him. Imad also assured him that this little brother would be taken care of and would get the best education one could ask for. Ahmad agreed, and on November 11, 1982, he entered the Tyre headquarters in his four-wheeler vehicle and killed more than 100 Israeli soldiers and diplomats.
The entire Middle East, together with the United States of America, was shaken up by what happened, as never before had they seen an attacker who was willing to undertake a suicide mission just so that he could cause the maximum number of casualties. It had set a very scary precedent, and Mossad and the CIA knew that it was just the beginning and that a deadly battle was to ensue. Israel, for the longest time, believed that the explosion was caused by a gas leak. Imad also didn’t take responsibility for the attack, and he was concealing his identity because he didn’t know that owning up to it would get him more attention from the Western media.
What Happened To Robert Ames?
Robert Ames wanted to find this Ghost of Beirut who was responsible for the Tyre headquarters bombings, but he wasn’t able to find any potential lead. For the longest time, even he was unaware of the involvement of Imad Mughniyeh, and he believed that it was a gas leak. That’s when he got a call from Meir Dagan, the brigade commander who later became the director-general of Mossad in 2002. Meir had done extensive research and come to the conclusion that it was not a gas leak that had caused the explosion. He knew that it was a case of suicide bombing, and things became pretty clear when he saw posters of the 17-year-old Ahmad Qassir stuck on the walls of his village to celebrate his sacrifice and inspire and brainwash other unfortunate victims to do something similar. Meir told Robert that these were a very different brand of terrorists that had surfaced in Lebanon, and they didn’t have much experience dealing with them.
These were impulsive youths who were not scared of anything and lived their lives on the edge. He believed that Imam Khomeini acted as the motivator, and these fanatics were ready to cross all boundaries of humanity. He told Robert that sooner or later, they would come for the CIA, and that is exactly what happened. At the end of Ghosts of Beirut episode 1, Meir’s prophecy came true, and on April 18, 1983, Imad and his men bombed the United States embassy and killed more than 60 people, including the East Director for the CIA, Robert Clayton Ames.
The death of Ames shocked the entire world, and Imad had sealed his fate. Ames was a respected individual, and moreover, he was one of those few people who believed that a peaceful solution could be achieved to the conflict. The man was not making baseless claims, and his progress had surprised his superiors at the oval office as well, who believed that in a few months, the Israelis would take back their forces. It was the beginning of probably the longest manhunt in the history of mankind, and after the bombings, the CIA and Mossad realized that this man had to be caught and eliminated at all costs if they wanted to maintain peace in the region. With Ames passing away, we would see other significant CIA officials taking charge of the matter in the upcoming episodes of Ghosts of Beirut and carrying on the hunt.