Although there is no classic summer slump to be filled for a medium like MENA Research Center – the German and British tabloid newspapers are particularly famous for this type of reporting – we take the opportunity and would like our readers, who are probably on vacation, to have some different reading.
So today is not supposed to be about politics, religion, migration or extremism in the narrower sense, but the main aspects we are dealing with will still play a role. It’s about a new TV show that just started very successfully on Paramount+. We are talking about “Ghosts of Beirut” and the author of the article only heard about the title of the series and without knowing the content I was hooked. But I wasn’t expecting the story!
“This is a fictional account of precisely researched facts and events.” Not only does the first episode of the mini-series begin with this sentence, but it is set at the beginning of each of the six parts. It tells the story of the rise and fall of Imad Mughniyeh, co-founder of the Islamist and Iran-controlled terrorist movement Hezbollah. The protagonist is responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks that killed hundreds, if not thousands, and was one of the world’s most wanted terrorists for more than two decades. In February 2008 he was killed in an attack planned by the CIA and the Israeli Mossad.
The series first unrolls the story chronologically from the back: Hezbollah terrorists, disguised as US soldiers, stormed the headquarters of the US troops in Basra, Iraq, on January 20, 2007 and kidnapped four Americans, whom they later murdered in the desert. The CIA agent Lena Asayran, the second protagonist of the TV series, is certain that Imad Mughniyeh, aka Radwan, aka “Father of Smoke”, aka “The Ghost” or the “Machiavellian mastermind” of Hezbollah must be behind the attacks. Mughniyeh’s many pseudonyms are also shown to the viewer in the intro of each episode, as a kind of reminder of someone who hasn’t been identified for a long time.
But how did it all begin, how could an apolitical-looking car mechanic become the co-inventor of the terrorist Hezbollah, the “father of smoke” who was the first to plan and have suicide bombings carried out? In the first episode, the viewer is transported to Beirut in the year 1982, right in the middle of the civil war. The then 20-year-old Mughniyeh wanted to liberate Lebanon from its “enemies”, i.e. Israel and the United States. Bombs and suicide bombings are his tools of choice. He first has to persuade the perpetrators to carry out such attacks, and he knows how. Suicide is considered a sin in Islam, so you have to commit it in order to achieve a supposedly higher goal. Mughniyeh convinces a relative, a young man mourning the loss of his family, to blow himself up at the Israeli military headquarters in Tyre. That is not a sin, but martyrdom in the “holy war”: “You press the button and go to paradise.”
Mughniyeh’s manipulation speech is compelling, and not just on this occasion. He recruits assassins, exerts pressure, plots murders and tortures, appears modest among his peers and towards unsuspecting third parties and has charisma. The man in the shadow dominates the series, his adversaries die from his bombs or, like the head of the CIA office in Beirut, are kidnapped, tortured and murdered. Viewers see him as a terrorist, as a father, brother, husband, lover and – as a cheater. He has an affair with an Iranian, modern lover in Damascus and, curiously enough, this relationship – anything but Halal – will be his undoing.
Only the CIA agent Lena Asayran, her parents fled with her from Lebanon to the US when she was a child, together with his Mossad colleague Teddy, discovered the mastermind of terror. At the same time, Lena’s personal story shows the inner turmoil of a person from this region: While she stands up for Western values and wants to rid the US of this terrorist, her colleagues from the CIA and Mossad do not take this idealism at face value: because they know that one her uncles is a member of Hezbollah in Lebanon; she is also believed to be a spy for terror.
“Ghosts of Beirut” manages without excessive depictions of violence, despite its subject of cruelty, torture and murder, despite bombs and atrocities. You wouldn’t have expected anything else from the screenwriters Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz. In their series “Fauda” they have already examined the Middle East conflict in a knowledgeable and exciting way and not being one-sided. It’s similar here, and just like Fauda, Ghosts of Beirut uses more than one language — English, Arabic, and Hebrew—also by the pundits, politicians, former CIA and Mossad agents, and journalists working in intercut interview passages have their say.
In the last two episodes of the mini-series, the narrative focuses on how the two spies from the CIA and Mossad are finally able to identify Mughniyeh. They still don’t have permission to get rid of him as well. When the US President’s “placet” finally comes, the spies could even kill two birds with one stone, and that in 2008: The most wanted terrorist is alone on a street in Damascus with Qasem Soleimani, the mastermind of Iranian state terrorism in the Near East. But the US forbids an assassination attempt on both, it would freeze relations between Washington and the US. It will need more than another decade to kill Soleimani.
The terrorist who was said to have been the one who killed most Americans and Israelis before bin Laden’s terror came to an end in Damascus on February 12, 2008: Mughniyeh returned late in the evening from a party with Soleimani and the right hand of Syrian dictator Assad, returns to his parked car and – is killed by a remote-controlled car bomb.
Ghosts of Beirut runs on Paramount+.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.