After Mughniyah’s assassination, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, spoke at his funeral via video link and announced an “open war” with Israel.
But by 2009 the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah began showing some cracks.
Hezbollah accused Iran of focusing more on protecting its nuclear program than on avenging Mughniyah’s death. Iran, on the other hand, was increasingly dissatisfied with Hezbollah’s run of embarrassing failures starting with a failed 2008 attempt to bomb the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan. Some of these plots were foiled by counterterrorism agencies, while others simply failed.
The assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in January 2010, however, would put the whole debate to rest.
As a result, Iranian leaders settled on a campaign of retaliation and violence targeting Israeli tourists, government figures, and targets broadly representative of Israel or the Jewish community. To exact revenge on covert attacks to its nuclear program, the Iranians put together a dedicated unit within its Qods Force targeting Western and Israeli diplomats.
Levitt said Hezbollah continues to engage in terrorist operations around the global at a pace not seen since the late 1980s.
In 2012, an attack on a tourist bus killed six and wounded 35 in Burgas, Bulgaria. A few days earlier, an almost identical plot targeting Israeli tourists as they got off their plane onto a tourist bus was thwarted in Cyprus. In the months that followed, more threats arose, prompting the Israeli government to issue travel advisories covering countries like Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria and Ukraine.
In June, the European Union designated Hezbollah’s terrorist and military elements as an international terrorist organization, partly in response to the attack in Bulgaria.
The men involved in the bombing fit a pattern that Hezbollah has long employed of recruiting operatives with Western nationalities and passports and then using these recruits to carry out operations abroad.
Levitt said a complex organization like Hezbollah should be judged by the totality of its operations.
“Anybody who says they are just terrorists and that they are Iranian proxies are just wrong. It would be much easier if that were the case,” he said. “But it is also the fact that anybody who says they’re only political, only social, and only a standing militia – that’s also equally wrong. If you wanna understand them holistically, with Nasrallah at top of all the decision-making, you have to appreciate all of these different things.”