There have been a series of assinations of top Hezbollah commanders in the recent past, including Imad Mughniyeh (mastermind of almost all attacks on Israel and the U.S.), his son Imad Mughniyeh (who was killed along with several high level operatives and an Iranian general), Hassan Laqqis (key Hezbollah link to Iranian weapons procurement) and Samir Kuntar (who killed an Israeli girl by smashing her head against the rocks on a beach).

In some of the cases (Imad Mughniyeh) Israeli involvement was clear, in the others it’s presumed.

Hezbollah just lost another top commander, the brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyey, and its top commander in Syria, Mustafa Amine Badreddine.

The BBC reports:

The man believed to be Hezbollah’s most senior military commander in Syria’s war has been killed in Damascus.

Mustafa Amine Badreddine died in a large explosion near Damascus airport, the Lebanon-based militant group said in a statement on its al-Manar website.

Hezbollah supports Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and has sent thousands of fighters into Syria.
In 2015, the US said that Badreddine was behind all Hezbollah’s military operations in Syria since 2011.

The US treasury, which imposed sanctions on Badreddine last July, said at the time he was behind the movement of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon to Syria, and was in charge of the key battle for the town of al-Qusair in 2013.

Badreddine was also charged with leading the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, in 2005.

BBC notes that there is confusion as to where and how he was killed:

An initial report by Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV said that Badreddine, 55, died in an Israeli air strike. But a later statement by Hezbollah on al-Manar’s website did not mention Israel.

A number of Twitter accounts supporting Syrian rebel groups and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front say Badreddine was killed in a battle in Khan Touman, southern Aleppo, rather than in Damascus.

The NY Times also reports on the shifting Hezbollah accusations:

Hezbollah, which confirmed the death on Al Manar, its television network, said that Mr. Badreddine had died in a “huge blast” near the Damascus airport, in which several of the group’s fighters were wounded. “The investigation will find out the nature of the blast as well as its reasons, and whether it was a result of an airstrike or rocket attack,” it said.

The timing of the attack was not provided. A Beirut-based television network, Al Mayadeen, which is also close to Hezbollah, initially reported that Mr. Badreddine had been killed in an Israeli airstrike, but it later removed that report.

Iranian TV is trying to spread conspiracy theories:

Badreddine was a bad guy, as this 2012 Washington Policy Institute profile recounts:

Twenty-nine years ago yesterday, December 12, 1983, Hezbollah and operatives of the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite group Da’wa carried out a series of seven coordinated bombings in Kuwait, killing six people and wounding nearly ninety more. The targets included the American and French embassies, the Kuwait airport, the grounds of the Raytheon Corporation, a Kuwait National Petroleum Company oil rig, and a government-owned power station. An attack outside a post office was thwarted….

In these attacks, senior Hezbollah operatives, joined by their Iraqi compatriots, acted in the explicit service of Iran, rather than in the group’s immediate interests…. The Kuwait bombings were the first in a long chain of such attacks.

Ultimately, seventeen convicted terrorists were jailed in Kuwait — the Kuwait 17 as they came to be called — including several Hezbollah members. Over the following years, Hezbollah would carry out many more attacks, at home and abroad, seeking the release of members jailed for the bombings.” ….

One of those convicted — and sentenced to death — was Mustapha Badreddine, Imad Mughniyeh’s brother-in-law and cousin, who was in Kuwait under the Christian-sounding cover name Fuad Saab. When a Kuwaiti court sentenced Badreddine to death in March 1984, Hezbollah threatened to kill some of its hostages if the sentence were carried out (it was not). The abduction of the CIA’s station chief in Beirut, William Buckley, that same month, as well as several other kidnappings in the second half of 1984, are believed to have been a direct response to the arrest and sentencing of the Kuwait 17 bombers….

Badreddine was still alive in 1991, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and emptied the country’s prisons. After he escaped to the Iranian embassy in Kuwait, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reportedly facilitated his travel to Iran and eventual return to Lebanon.

Today, echoes of the Kuwait 17 saga reverberate in current events. Mughniyeh was assassinated in February 2008, and succeeded by Badreddine as head of Hezbollah’s military and terrorist wings. In June 2011 the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon — the body charged with investigating the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri — indicted Badreddine and three other Hezbollah operatives for their roles in the Hariri assassination. In a sign of Badreddine’s ongoing leadership role in Hezbollah militancy and terrorism, the Treasury Department added him and Talal Hamiyah, “two senior terrorist leaders of Hezbollah,” to the department’s terrorist designation list “for providing support to Hezbollah’s terrorist activities in the Middle East and around the world.”

In August 2015, The Daily Beast had a profie of Badreddine, Meet the Pyromaniac Playboy Leading Hezbollah’s Fight in Syria:

Among the reasons Badreddine isn’t far better known is that, officially, he barely exists. In the words of STL prosecutor Graeme Cameron, “There are few official records in Lebanon relating to Mustafa Badreddine […] He has never been issued a passport. He has never been issued a driver’s license. He is not the registered owner of any property in Lebanon. The authorities have no records of him entering or leaving Lebanon. No records are held by the Ministry of Finance which would reflect that he pays any taxes. There are no bank accounts in any of the banks or any of the financial institutions in the country in his name.” In summary, “Badreddine passes as an unrecognizable and virtually untraceable ghost throughout Lebanon, leaving no footprint.”

“Hezbollah has many heads, some of them quite visible, like their social welfare networks and parliamentary presence,” Nicholas Blanford, veteran Lebanon reporter and author ofWarriors of God: Inside Hezbollahs Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel, told The Daily Beast. “Other parts are not so visible. The world that Mustafa Badreddine inhabits is one of those dark, invisible ones.”

The death presents Hezbollah with a dilemma. If it accuses Israel of involvement, it forces Hezbollah to take some sort of retaliatory action that could spark a wider conflict. Since Badreddine was killed in Syria, Hezbollah would risk dragging Lebanon into destruction over Hezbollahs support for Assad and fighting in Syria.

If Hezbollah does nothing, it will be another in a long line of humiliations in which it seems powerless to stop or even effectively retaliate for the assassination of its leadership.

We will continue to update.