We reported on Friday that top Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine was killed in an explosion in Syria, but that the circumstances were unclear, Another top Hezbollah commander killed – but who dunnit?.

Badreddine was considered a master bomb maker, credited with developing that combination of explosives and gas that took down the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and numerous American and other diplomatic facilities. Badreddine of late was commander of Hezbollah forces propping up the Assad regime, and was hated not only by Israeli but also by many Arab states. So he had plenty of enemies, and plenty of people who wanted him dead.

But he also lived in the shadows, with few photos of him prior to his death (Hezbollah has released more photos after his death) and a life lived under assumed names.

While pro-Hezbollah Lebanese media immediately blamed Israel. That made perfect sense in light of Israel’s presumed assassinations of numerous Hezbollah leaders, 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).

Blaming Israel for Badreddine’s death would require Hezbollah to retaliate in some deadly way in order to save face. But that would risk sparking a wider conflict with Israel at a time that neither Hezbollah nor its Iranian sponsor can afford such a conflict while bogged down in Syria.

A funny thing then happened. Pro-Hezbollah media started deleting the accusations against Israel. Hezbollah then released a statement today improbably blaming a rebel artillery attack for Badreddine’s death.

Reuters reports:

Hezbollah said on Saturday its top military commander, whose death it announced on Friday, was killed in Syria by Sunni Islamist artillery fire and not by an Israeli air strike as one member of the Lebanese Shi’ite movement had said.

“Investigations have showed that the explosion, which targeted one of our bases near Damascus International Airport, and which led to the martyrdom of commander Mustafa Badreddine, was the result of artillery bombardment carried out by takfiri (hardline Sunni) groups in the area,” Hezbollah said in a statement….

But a war monitoring group cast doubt on its version of Badreddine’s death, saying there had been no shelling by rebels in that area for more than a week.

Damascus airport and its surroundings are controlled by the Syrian government and allied forces. Between it and government-held central Damascus, rebels control a portion of the Eastern Ghouta suburb, which has experienced fighting for most of the conflict now in its sixth year.

“There has been no recorded shelling or firing from the Eastern Ghouta area onto Damascus International Airport for more than a week,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters.

The NY Times adds that if it was a rebel artillery strike, it’s odd that none of the rebel groups is claiming credit for such a major score:

And no insurgent group has taken responsibility for the attack — surprising given that the array of insurgents, from the Islamic State to Syrian Army defectors, would presumably be eager to do so.

Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal reports that rebel leaders now are specifically denying the Hezbollah accusation:

https://www.facebook.com/syriahroe/posts/865603136881359

Amos Harel at Haaretz writes that Hezbollah’s quick reaction to clear Israel smells like an attempt not to be drawn into a wider conflict:

Hezbollah’s announcement Saturday that top commander Mustafa Badreddine was killed by shelling by Sunni rebels removes the threat of an escalation between the Shi’ite organization and Israel.

Hezbollah’s announcement is consistent with early indications on the Israeli side. It seems both sides know that the blame this time lies with a third party, and that they have no interest in increasing the threat of a renewed conflict between them.

True, the incident leaves many unanswered questions. Which rebel group has the ability to launch an artillery barrage in which Badreddine is the only person killed? And which rebel group has resisted boasting about the achievement and issuing a statement on its success?

Hezbollah and Israel view the incident as closed. Hezbollah will focus on its efforts to keep the Assad regime alive, while Israel maintains a low profile in the Syrian civil war.

Carl in Jerusalem notes some other suspicious evidence that Hezbollah is clamping down on media trying to blame Israel, including a tweet from a Journalist indicating Hezbollah operatives are telling journalists not to blame Israel:

If Badreddine was killed by artillery, it was an incredibly lucky shot for which no one wants to take credit. Which seems incredibly unlikely.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HukHl3Aq9pM