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Analysis: Intelligence agencies succeeding in penetrating Hezbollah
By
May 15, 2016 01:29
The assassination of Mustafa Badreddine is a blow to Hezbollah's already low morale and is an example of the group's vulnerability.
A man reads the Koran in front of a picture depicting top Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine

A man reads the Koran in front of a picture depicting top Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine. (photo credit:AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

The circumstances of Hezbollah "Defense Minister" Mustafa Badreddine's death are shrouded in mystery, as was most of his life in the underground. Hezbollah released an official statement on Saturday, saying that he was assassinated a few days ago by the rebels near the Damascus airport. 

Unlike in previous assassinations of its top commanders in which Israel was blamed, this announcement would apparently clear Israel of responsibility for the act. However, Arab media also quoted a Hezbollah MP in Lebanon, as well as several former Iranian generals, as saying that "the rebels" are working under the orders of "the Zionists." Still, the announcement is a clear signal that the Shi'ite Lebanese organization doesn't wish to escalate its relations with Israel. 

It is still not clear how Badreddine was killed - there are reports that he died in an artillery blast, and others which claim he was hit by a missile, and even some reports that the missile was fired from an airplane. In any event, it is clear that those who planned and carried out the assassination had precise intelligence information. Especially since Badreddine knew he had enemies that would be happy to see him join his cousin and brother-in-law Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated eight years ago, also in Syria's capital in an operation attributed to the Mossad with the help of the CIA.

While Israel has not officially responded to Badreddine's death, the official White House spokesman stressed that the US was not involved in the affair. Yet is is strange that so far no one has claimed responsibility for the operation, not even one of the Syrian rebel groups.The list of those who wanted him dead was long. In addition to the US and Israel, all of the rebel groups in Syria, France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and others are glad that one of the most cruel and wanted terrorists in the world is dead. The possibility has also been raised that he was killed by one of his rivals within Hezbollah, but that is most likely disinformation being spread by some intelligence agency's psychological warfare department.

Mustafa Badreddine was born in Beirut in 1962 and together with Mughniyeh was among the first to enlist into the ranks of Hezbollah, which was formed in Lebanon in the early 1980s at the initiative of Khomenei's Iran and Lebanese Shi'ite clerics. According to a document from the Israeli Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center at Glilot, before they joined Hezbollah, they were operatives of "Force 17," Fatah's special forces unit. During the same period, Mughniyeh married Sa'ada, Bedreddine's sister.

Despite their young age - they were in their early 20s - they gained a reputation as bold and notorious terrorists who took part in a number of operations: car bombings, assassinations and airplane hijackings. Badreddine's "specialty" was putting together explosives and gas canisters in order to strengthen the blast and cause an especially large number of casualties.

US and other western intelligence agencies attribute to Badreddin the building of car bombs for and direct involvement in dual terror attacks in 1983 that destroyed the headquarters of the multinational force in Beirut, killing 241 US Marines and 48 French paratroopers.

Two years later he was arrested in Kuwait carrying a Lebanese passport under the name Elias Saab, and he was sentenced to life in prison together with 16 others after he was convicted of carrying out terror attacks against the embassies of the US and France, a power station, an attempt on the country's leader and more. Sixty-four people were killed in these acts of terror.

The terror attacks were carried out simultaneously, and thus Badreddine can be considered "the inventor" of the tactic adopted years later by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

While in jail, his aggression and ruthless behavior were not softened. He attacked a prison guard with a razor and was sorry that he only butchered his face and did not succeed in decapitating him. His brother-in-law Mughniyeh and Iranian intelligence did everything they could to get him out of prison. They kidnapped American and Western hostages in Lebanon, attacked Kuwaiti targets and hijacked a Kuwaiti passenger plane. However, the Emir of Kuwait refused to give in. Only in 1990, amid the occupation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Badreddine took advantage of the chaos and escaped back to Lebanon with the help of Iranian intelligence operatives.

He was made Mughniyeh's deputy a few years later and was responsible (together with Talal Hamia) for external operations. A day prior to the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon, he arrived, together with his brother-in-law and three other senior Hezbollah members, for a patrol of the border. Israeli Military Intelligence recognized Hezbollah's "Fab Five" and prepared an assassination mission, but it was not ultimately approved by then-defense minister Ehud Barak.

In 2005, Badreddine served as the "project manager" of the assassination of then-Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was pro-western and pro-Saudi. The operation was carried out as a joint initiative of Syrian intelligence and Hezbollah. UN-sponsored International Criminal Court investigators found Badreddine and three other Hezbollah members to be those responsible for Hariri's murder and demanded that they be extradited and made to stand trial. The Lebanese government, under threat from Hezbollah, did not acquiesce to the ICC's request.

Badreddine became even more alert and went further into the underground, gaining the nickname "the Shadowman." However, this did not prevent him from enjoying life's pleasures. Posing as Sami Issa, he visited casinos, lived it up with women and being an avid diver, sailed in his fisherman's boat. After Mughniyeh's assassination in 2008, he was named Hezbollah's supreme military commander, which also made him responsible for avenging his brother-in-law's death through attempts to hit Israeli targets (most of which failed) in India, Georgia, Thailand, Cyprus and Burgas, Bulgaria. In the last attack, six people were killed, five of whom were Israelis.

Mustafa Badreddine's death is a blow for Hezbollah that will further diminish the organization's already low morale due to the war in Syria. The assassination of the brothers-in-law shows that, despite their strict compartmentalization, Hezbollah is a group that intelligence agencies are succeeding to penetrate. This further compromises the feeling of security for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and his patron, General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force. It is also an operational blow, but eventually Hezbollah will recover and a new military commander will be chosen, likely Talal Hamia.

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