A leading U.S. newspaper says the spy agencies of the United States and Israel worked together in February, 2008 to kill a senior Hezbollah commander in Damascus.
A report in The Washington Post, citing unidentified former intelligence officials, said the Central Intelligence Agency and Mossad collaborated their efforts in tracking down and killing Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah's international operations chief.
The story, posted on the newspaper's website late Friday, said Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb blast as he approached his car. The report said the bomb was planted on the car's back tire.
The report said the blast was "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents who were in communication with CIA spotters tracking Mughniyah's movements.
A former U.S. intelligence official said "the way it was set up, the U.S. could object and call it off, but it could not execute."
The Washington Post said "the extraordinarily close cooperation" between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services was indicative of "the importance of the target" who was suspected of being the mastermind behind the abduction of Western hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s and the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina that killed 20 people.
The newspaper said, at the time of Mughniyah's death, he had been implicated in a string of killings of hundreds of Americans, including eight CIA officers.
A former intelligence official said getting permission to kill Mughniyah was a"rigorous and tedious" process that required showing that the commander was "a continuing threat to Americans."
The authority to kill Mughniyah, The Post said, in a country where the U.S. was not at war, required the signatures of then-President George W. Bush, the attorney general, the director of national intelligence, the national security adviser and the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.
The newspaper said the U.S. has never acknowledged its participation in the killing of Mughniyah, which Hezbollah blamed on Israel.
The Washington Post said the operation in Damascus indicated a "philosophical evolution" in the American intelligence services following the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks in the United States. The newspaper said before the attacks, the U.S. held a "dim view" of Israeli assassination operations.