Homeland Security

Hezbollah Operations Chief Killed in Syria—But Who Did It?

In this Aug. 16, 2015 file photo, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at his office, in Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s office said Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2015, that he would meet with President Vladimir Putin next week to outline the new threats posed to Israel as a result of Russia’s recent infusion of advanced weapons to Syria. Israel is particularly concerned about the weaponry making its way into the hands of Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)[/caption]

Mustafa Amine had been Hezbollah’s operations chief since February 2008, when his predecessor and brother-in-law, arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in a car-bomb attack in Damascus.

Last Friday, May 13, Badreddine, too, met a violent end—killed, according to reports, in a mysterious explosion near Damascus International Airport.

Badreddine’s terror activity with Hezbollah went back to 1983, when he led a cell that car-bombed the U.S. embassy in Kuwait. Captured and imprisoned in Kuwait, he managed to escape in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded the country.

Badreddine made it back to Beirut, his Hezbollah comrades, and terror activity—both against Israel and against U.S. and British forces in Iraq. But Badreddine’s most notorious exploit came on February 14, 2005, when he masterminded the vicious killing of moderate Sunni Lebanese leader Rafiq Hariri in Beirut.

As Israeli investigative writer Ronen Bergman describes it:

a suicide bomber driving a van loaded with explosives equal in damage power to three tons of TNT collided with Hariri’s armored convoy, turning it into a fiery hell.

The attack succeeded, Bergman says, even though

Hariri was one of the best-guarded people in the world, with his security protocol formulated by experts from Germany and the United States. Badreddine’s success in killing Hariri (together with 21 other people) had once again proven that apart from Mughniyeh, he was the best operative in the organization.

Badreddine was also—surprisingly, perhaps, for a Hezbollah chief—a hedonist and womanizer who

made sure to live life to the fullest, including studying at the American University of Beirut, dining at expensive restaurants, running a jewelry store and having many friends and pleasures that he was unwilling to give up, not even for Hezbollah.

Which still leaves open the question: who was it that finally put an end to Badreddine’s versatile career last Friday?

On the day of the attack, pro-Hezbollah media outlets in Lebanon pinned the blame on Israel. It made sense, since Israel is believed to have been behind the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh and other Hezbollah leaders—including his son, Jihad Mughniyeh, in an airstrike on the Syrian Golan Heights on January 18, 2015.

Yet, on the next day after Badreddine was killed, Hezbollah claimed instead that it was insurgents in Syria who had finished him off in an artillery shelling.

But as the New York Times noted at the time, there was a problem with that story—namely that “Syrian opposition monitoring groups and residents of Damascus [said] there had been no major shelling over the past week near the Damascus airport, where, Hezbollah said, the attack took place.”

By now the riddle—if there ever was one—seems to be getting solved.

Israeli Middle East analyst Smadar Perry reports that “senior Hezbollah spokesmen recently contacted senior journalists in Lebanon and members of the foreign press with an unusual request: Don’t mention Israel as being involved in [Badreddine’s killing].”

Perry quotes an “editor of a Beirut daily” who told her that “no one is buying” the story about Syrian rebels having done it.

Another Beirut source told her: “Hezbollah is deeply involved in a war in Syria which is taking great effort and causing it casualties, and Iran believes that Hezbollah’s fighters will not be able to handle two fronts.”

In other words: if Hezbollah charges Israel with assassinating Badreddine, Hezbollah will then feel obligated to retaliate against Israel—and if it retaliates against Israel or tries to, it will find itself with even more trouble on its hands than it already has.

As yet another Israeli analyst, Prof. Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University, observes:

The assassination of…Badreddine is another severe blow for the terrorist organization and its Iranian patron…. [H]is death adds to the growing list of Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard casualties in Syria. What was supposed to have been an easy victory march against exhausted and demoralized rebels has become an onerous slog through the deep Syrian mud.

Close to a year, then, after the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran that many feared would give it a huge boost, Iran and its allies are still not doing so well in Syria.

Even as John Kerry keeps scrambling to drum up funds for Iran, at least one opponent of Iran and its allies, left to fight them by itself on the Syrian front, is apparently not doing badly at it.