Hezbollah top military field commander killed in Syria
BEIRUT - Mustafa Amine Badreddine, shadowy commander of the Hezbollah army in Syria that has suffered about 1,200 dead keeping President Bashar Assad in power, was killed at Damascus airport on May 10th in what Hezbollah described as an artillery attack by Syrian rebels.
Badreddine, 55, was the fourth senior Hezbollah figure killed since January 2015, three of them by Israel. His death, however, is the party’s most critical setback since the February 2008 assassination in Damascus of iconic military chief Imad Mughniyeh, his cousin and brother-in-law, in a reported US-Israeli operation, a killing that propelled Badreddine to Hezbollah’s top ranks.
When Hezbollah announced May 13th that Badreddine was killed at it base in the military section of Damascus’s international airport used to transfer weapons airlifted from Iran, Israel, which has repeatedly attacked the base since 2012, was widely seen as being behind the killing of an elusive enemy it has hunted for decades. But Hezbollah on May 14th said: “Investigations have showed the explosion… which led to the martyrdom of commander Mustafa Badreddine was the result of artillery bombardment carried out by takfiri groups in the area.”
Takfiri means “apostates” , which the Iranian-backed Shia Hezbollah uses to describe its hard-line Sunni Islamist foes in Syria.
There were suspicions that Hezbollah, which took several days to announce how Badreddine died at its own facility at the airport, was seeking to avoid pointing the finger at Israel because it does not want to get dragged into another war with the Jewish state while it is pinned down in Syria.
Israeli warplanes have attacked the arms transfer facility at Damascus airport several times since 2012.
Badreddine had no shortage of enemies after several decades of militant operations against the United States, France, the Arabian Gulf monarchies as well as Israel. He spent seven years in a Kuwaiti prison for a series of bombings, including an attempt to kill the emir in 1983.
In 2011, Badreddine was indicted on charges of masterminding the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister and Sunni leader Rafik Hariri in a massive car bombing in Beirut.
Three other Hezbollah veterans are being tried in absentia at the UN-mandated Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague. Hezbollah denies any involvement in the Hariri killing and refuses to hand over the suspects.