Heavy fallout on Hezbollah from Badreddine killing
BEIRUT - The assassination of Mustafa Badreddine, Hezbollah’s military commander in Syria, supposedly at the hands of anti-regime rebels, may prove to be a seminal event in that complex war and one that leaves the Party of God precariously exposed both in Syria and at home facing an old enemy: Israel.
Hezbollah has been since its creation during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon Tehran’s creature, the first of its armed proxies under a long-term strategic plan to extend Shia power across the Sunni-dominated region.
That is one of the principal reasons it is fighting alongside Iran to save the Assad regime in Damascus, Tehran’s main Arab ally since 1980, from collapse. Another has to do with its own preservation: Keeping open its supply lifeline to Iran via Damascus.
Badreddine’s death, which Hezbollah unconvincingly attributed to Syrian rebels, on May 12th is unlikely to signal any change in the party’s deepening involvement in Syria’s messy war, its biggest military intervention outside Lebanon.
There are few veteran commanders left to take over from Badreddine, but there is a whole new generation of hardened warriors emerging from the 5-year-old bloodbath in Syria that has turned Hezbollah from a ragtag guerrilla force into a quasi-conventional army reputedly with 150,000 missiles in its arsenal, a transformation that alarms the Israelis.
Even so, analyst Ali Hashem said replacing Badreddine, one of the last of his generation from Hezbollah’s early days, will be difficult. Badreddine succeeded the iconic Imad Mughniyeh, his cousin and brother-in-law, after Mughniyeh was assassinated in a February 2008 US-Israeli operation in Damascus.
“For the first time in many years there will be a new commander from outside the legend of Badreddine… and Imad Mughniyeh,” Hashem said.
With the veteran Badreddine gone, some sources said Hezbollah’s force in Syria will fall under greater Iranian control than it has been so far and that could create turbulence.
There appear to be growing strains in Hezbollah’s relationship with Iran that might explain the absence of formal Iranian condolences for Badreddine’s demise, unlike the profuse outpourings from Tehran that marked the death of other Hezbollah luminaries.
There are persistent reports of friction between Hezbollah forces in Syria and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Shia mercenaries it uses to fight Assad’s enemies to maintain Tehran’s expanding dominion in the Levant.
Several sources say Badreddine refused Iranian demands he commit more Hezbollah forces to the pivotal battle around Aleppo because his casualties were already too high and that he met senior Iranians shortly before he was killed.
“Badreddine’s true killers will not be revealed any time soon,” observed Beirut-based Hanin Ghaddar of the Atlantic Council, “but the tension between Hezbollah and Iran will be exposed and inflamed with every loss, every assassination and every betrayal.”