Friday, 13 May 2016
Mustafa Badreddine, a top military commander for Hezbollah, died in an explosion in the Syrian capital of Damascus, Lebanon's Iran-backed militant group said Friday.
Hezbollah is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad against various militant groups seeking to remove him from power. Badreddine, 55, was directing Hezbollah's operations in Syria.
While several high-ranking Hezbollah commanders have been killed over the last year, Badreddine’s death may be the most serious loss to the militant group since the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, his cousin and predecessor. Mughniyeh was killed in a joint operation by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad spy agency, according to multiple reports at the time.
“A strong explosion targeted one of our centers near the Damascus International Airport leading to the martyrdom of brother commander Mustafa Badreddine and wounded several others,” Hezbollah said in a statement.
Hezbollah initially blamed the explosion on an Israeli air strike, but later said it was trying to determine whether the explosion was the result of an air raid, missile attack or artillery shelling. It did not say when Badreddine was killed.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif sent his condolences to Hezbollah's top leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Badreddine's "martyrdom" will boost "the resolve of resistance forces in the fight against the Zionist regime of Israel and terrorism," he told Nasrallah, according to Iranian state-owned news outlet Tasnim News Agency.
Badreddine commanded 5,000 to 6,000 Hezbollah militants in Syria, who represent the military backbone of the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Assad, said Matthew Levitt, a terrorism analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who wrote about Badreddine's role in his 2013 book Hezbollah; The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God.
"Badreddine was in Syria killing Syrians there, and there are plenty of Sunni Syrians who would have wanted to kill him," Levitt said.
"This is a really significant loss" for Hezbollah because Badreddine had a broad skill set and was a close advisor to Hezbollah's top leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who Badreddine accompanied during meetings with Assad in Damascus, Levitt said.
Badreddine's death is unlikely to change the trajectory of Hezbollah's role in Syria, Levitt said.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia and political party founded and supported by Iran, is committed to confronting Sunni militants in Syria and keeping Assad in power, which Hezbollah leader Nasrallah sees as key to protecting its own dominant role in Lebanon.
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions twice on Badreddine in 2011 and 2015 for his involvement in the Syrian war.
A funeral is set to be held Friday afternoon at a cemetery south of Beirut, according to the Associated Press.
Badreddine was "dual hatted" as head of Hezbollah operations both across the world and in Syria, Levitt said.
The State Department in 2011 named Badreddine as the primary suspect in the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s then-prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people in a car bomb attack.
Badreddine helped Mughniyeh plan and carry out the 1983 Marine Barracks bombing that killed 244 American servicemen, and was later jailed by Kuwaiti authorities for his role in a series of bombings there as well.
He was captured and sentenced to death in Kuwait, but the sentence was never carried out, and Baddredine was released in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Later, people under his command carried out the 2012 bus bombing that killed seven people, including five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, Levitt said.
"As much as he was someone who got the job done he wasn’t much loved in the (Hezbollah) organization, Levitt said. "He had a gruff personality, an angry streak, and was seen as not quite as stable and calculating as his predecessor Mughniyeh had been."