Hezbollah said an investigation shows that its military commander, Mustafa Badreddine, died on May 12 in rebel “artillery shelling” at Damascus International Airport. However, an independent news organization that diligently monitors the Syrian civil war said that rebel groups have not launched artillery strikes against the airport in days.
No rebel group has claimed responsibility for killing Hezbollah’s top military leader, making it likely Badreddine was killed in an Israeli airstrike.
A statement released by Hezbollah said that blast “which targeted one of our positions near the Damascus International Airport and led to the martyrdom of Sayyed Zulfikar [Badreddine], the martyr leader’s nom de guerre, was caused by an artillery bombardment carried out by Takfiri groups stationed in the region,” Al Manar reported.
“The outcome of the investigation will only increase our determination and will to continue the fight against these criminal gangs and deal them a mighty blow so that we fulfill the martyr’s wishes and advices [sic] to his Mujahideen brothers,” Hezbollah continued.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) disputed Hezbollah’s findings, claiming that it did not observe any artillery attacks on the airport, and its sources within the Syrian military and rebel groups in the city denied shelling the airport.
“SOHR was informed by reliable sources in rebels in Eastern Ghouta and by sources in regime forces, that rebels didn’t fire any single shells or rocket on the international airport of Damascus during the past few days, as no shells have been observed targeting the area by the SOHR,” the Observatory noted on its Facebook page.
“There is no truth about what have been published by Hezbollah about the assassination of its military commander in Syria ‘Mustafa Bader’ by rebel shells near the international airport of Damascus,” SOHR concluded.
Badreddine’s death has not been claimed by the various jihadist and rebel groups that operate in and around Damascus. Given his history and stature within Hezbollah and his importance in the fighting in Syria, it is hard to imagine that the group responsible for shelling the airport and killing Badreddine would not brag about it.
Badreddine, who had four decades of experience with Hezbollah and cut his teeth by being an explosive expert for the 1983 Marine Barracks Bombing in Beirut which killed 241 American servicemen, is widely thought to have been killed by Israeli warplanes. The Israeli government and military, too, have been silent about any involvement in killing Badreddine.
The Israelis have good reason to target Badreddine. He was involved in planning military operations against Israeli forces in Lebanon from 1992 up until the IDF withdrew in 2000, and was responsible for the ambush that kill of 12 elite commandos from the Shayetet 13. After the Israelis abandoned Lebanon, Badreddine when on to direct Hezbollah’s activities against US and Coalition forces in Iraq and then the group’s military operations in Syria. [See LWJ report, Storied Hezbollah commander killed in Syria, for details on Badreddine.]
Badreddine would not be the first Hezbollah leader killed in Syria by the Israelis. His predecessor, Imad Mughniyah, was thought to have been killed by Israeli agents in a bombing in Damascus in February 2008.
Israel has capitalized on the chaos spawned by Syria’s civil war to launch airstrikes against Hezbollah in Syria. Jihad Mughniyah, Imad’s son, and Mohamed Ahmed Issa, were killed in an Israeli airstrike in January 2015. And in December 2015, an Israeli airstrike killed Samir Quntar, a notorious mid-level Hezbollah commander who brutally murdered an Israeli father and his four-year-old child in 1979.