‘Ghosts Of Beirut’ True Story, Explained: Who Was Imad Mughniyeh?


The Showtime thriller series Ghosts of Beirut states in the beginning that it is a fictional retelling of events that actually happened in real life, and the makers have researched the subject matter thoroughly before coming to a conclusion. The creators might have taken a diplomatic stance because these days, nobody wants to be held accountable for not stating the facts correctly, and moreover, calling the series a “fictional account” also gives them some amount of leeway to take creative liberties and add certain scenes or elements solely for entertainment purposes. But after watching the first episode of Ghosts of Beirut, we can say that it mostly stays true to the real-life facts, accurately documents the conflicts of the Middle East in the early 1980s, and tells us how an individual troubled the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world. It’s one big history lesson about the status quo of the Middle Eastern nations from the early 1980s to the aughts.

Spoilers Alert

Ghosts of Beirut takes us through the life of one of the most influential members of the Hezbollah party and the one who laid the foundation of the Islamic Jihad Organization in Lebanon, Imad Mughniyeh. Imad rose to power, and the intelligence agencies didn’t even realize that he could be such a big threat at first, and whatever has been shown, at least in the first episode of the series, is actually the true, word for word. Imad did bomb the Israeli headquarters in Tyre in 1982, and he had selected a boy named Ahmad Qassir for the job. Obviously, the part where Imad has a conversation with Ahmad might be dramatized for the screen, but the essence of it is kept intact, as several testimonies later proved that Imad and other fanatics like him always chose similar kinds of people for such suicide missions, who were going through a lot in their lives and were suffering mainly because of the actions of the enemy they were asked to wage a war against. They were chosen for the simple reason that they were in a chaotic mind space, that it was easier to brainwash them into believing that what these so-called leaders were saying was right. Generally, they had miserable lives, and they lived in deplorable conditions, which made it a bit easier for them to make the decision to end their lives and hoped that there was a better world, a paradise waiting for them.

It is true that Imad could have just planted a bomb and left the Israeli headquarters, but he wanted the impact to be so huge that the Israelites got an idea of what they were capable of doing. Imad was as shrewd and cunning as he is shown in Ghosts of Beirut, and he had built his connections and network from scratch. Imad worked for Yasser Arafat, and he became a part of the special unit of the Fatah movement known as Force 17. Though he had left the unit due to some differences in ideologies and opinions, he respected the PLO leader, and in a scene in Ghosts of Beirut, we could see him arguing with Asgari and Mohtashami-Pur about the same. Imad had a reason for everything he did, and he was well aware of the implications his actions could have on the geopolitics of the Middle East, and that is why, his every move was very calculated. Maybe that is why he was able to evade the intelligence agencies for more than 15 years. The CIA operatives and even the Mossad officials agreed that he was quite a smooth talker and that he could influence anybody in a matter of seconds. An example of his persuasive qualities was seen in Ghosts of Beirut when he convinced Ahmad Qassir to sacrifice his life for his cause. He knew that nobody would want to risk their lives in the first place, but Imad always knew the trigger points of people and how to coerce them to do what he wanted.

Dermot Mulroney plays Robert Ames (based on the real-life CIA director), who is shown as a peace emissary in the Ghosts of Beirut series and probably the only person who believes that he could bring back peace to the region. Robert was an excellent negotiator, and his superiors knew that he had done the impossible and almost closed the deal with the Israelis and convinced them to leave Lebanon when a tragedy happened that changed the course of things. Robert was sent back to Beirut for the final round of negotiations when Imad Mughniyeh sent a suicide bomber with a van full of explosives inside the American headquarters, killing more than 50 people. Ames also died in that attack, and the U.S. government called it a cowardly act but refused to retreat from the region and stated that unless and until peace was restored, they wouldn’t take a step back. We will also see William Buckley take control of the reins after Ames in the series, and his character is also based on a real-life person. The real William Buckley was kidnapped by the Hezbollah party in 1984, and in 1985, Imad’s Islamic Jihad organization took responsibility for his assassination.

We know that Greg Barker has an exceptional research team, and whatever he shows on the screen will be backed by real facts and events, but the point of discussion is that if he is able to keep an unbiased approach and not have a preconceived notion about the characters and leave it up to the audience to decide what they want to feel. We don’t want Ghosts of Beirut to be converted into a cliched patriotic drama where we witness the fight between good and evil. We have an ample number of movies and series for that, and we don’t want Greg Barker to add another name to that long list. While making these arguments, we got reminded of a series we watched called Waco, where, till the very end, you were not able to decide whether the evil was delusional to think that he was the good that the society needed or if the party who believed themselves to be on the right side knew how wrong they were. That’s the kind of dilemma we are expecting from Ghosts of Beirut, and we hope that it lives up to the expectation.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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