In May 2016, the Mossad assassinated the chief of Hezbollah’s military operations in Syria: Mustafa Badreddine. Besides his senior rank, he was also a cousin and brother-in-law of Imad Mugniyeh, the former second-in-command of Hezbollah. The infamous Israeli assassination squad also assassinated Mugniyeh, Mugniyeh’s son, and an entire cadre of IRG senior commanders and Syrian generals. In case there’s any doubt about the Mossad’s involvement on Badreddine’s killing, veteran Israeli intelligence correspondent Yossi Melman wrote this in Maariv:
The first assassination [under the tenure of Mossad chief Yossi Cohen] was Mustafa Badreddine, cousin and brother-in-law of [Imad] Mugniyeh, and in recent years his successor, who headed the military wing of Hezbollah.
Though I have often disagreed with Melman’s interpretation or analysis of Israeli security issues, I’ve never found him wrong in asserting factual claims like this one. Further, none other than former national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror, offered this non-denial denial of responsibility:
“In an interview with Army Radio in Israel, Ya’acov Amidror, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, said Mr. Badreddine’s death was “good for the state of Israel but the state of Israel is not always responsible.” He added: “Those operating in Syria today have many haters in Syria without the state of Israel. But as a number of people who have accumulated so much experience disappear from the wanted list, then so much the better.”
That’s why it’s exceedingly bizarre that chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot told an Israeli security conference a real whopper:
Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, told an academic conference on Tuesday that the death of Mustafa Badreddine last May illustrated “the depth of the internal crisis within Hezbollah.”
An Israeli military official said Israel believes the order to kill Badreddine was given by Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
Israeli intelligence believes Badreddine had been feuding with Iranian military commanders in Syria over the heavy losses his group had suffered on the battlefield. Both Iran and Hezbollah are backing Syrian government forces.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a confidential intelligence assessment.
This Middle East Eye report adds important context to the claim.
Noted Syria correspondent Elijah Magnier called Eisenkot’s comments “science fiction.” I would delete the word “science.” There’s nothing scientific about them. They’re pure fiction.
There is an ongoing war between Israel and Hezbollah. Periodically it escalates into all-out conflict like the 2006 Lebanon war. Sometimes it involves covert assassinations and spy rings. Other times, it involves intrigue and disinformation like the Israeli website which offered a bounty on the heads of Hezbollah commanders for militia members who informed against their bosses. This story is yet another example of the low-level disinformation campaign waged via the media.
No one in their right mind (except some gullible reporters and Friends of the IDF) believes a word of this. This hardly plants seeds of doubt and discouragement in the enemy camp as it purports to. More likely it’s meant for domestic consumption: the IAF recently got itself into a dust-up with Syria’s president and his Russian backer after it attacked a Hezbollah weapons convoy near Palmyra. Assad fired missiles aimed at Israel in retaliation, which it intercepted with its Arrow missile system. Then Putin summoned the Israeli ambassador for a dressing down, informing him that Syria was no longer the Wild West as far as Israel was concerned. Its IAF gunslinger could no longer roam the prairie hunting out “bad hombres” and exacting frontier justice. There was a new sheriff in town.
If I was a betting man, I’d say this was Eisenkot puffing out his chest a bit, pushing back against the bad news, and trying to get the media to believe it was Hezbollah in disarray, and not the IDF’s Syria strategy.
This Guardian assessment also notes a serious failure in the IDF-Israeli strategy concerning the overall Syria conflict:
…What has been fast emerging in recent months is that Israel may have badly misjudged the potential outcome of the Syrian war.
It had anticipated a conflict that would undermine the Assad regime, seriously wound Hezbollah and push back Iran’s attempts to expand its influence. But since Moscow’s intervention, Assad’s forces and Hezbollah have clawed back territory from rebel groups and Islamic State, creating conditions more conducive for Iran to supply weapons to the Lebanese militants.
In other words, instead of a Syria fractured into tiny enclaves and cantons of Sunni, Alawite and Druze influence–an environment in which Israel could play off different groups against each other and dominate them–Israel faces the prospect of an Assad who will rule a significant portion of the country with the strong backing of both Russia and Iran. This is little short of a nightmare for Israel. It will mean that its chief enemies, Iran and Hezbollah, will be able to foment instability along the Golan front for years to come. Instead of an enemy held at bay as they’d hoped, the enemy will be knocking at the door.
That’s why this report from the director general of Israel’s intelligence ministry is so ridiculous:
“As we speak, relations between Iran and Syria are getting tighter,” said Chagai Tzuriel, the top civil servant in Israel’s Intelligence Ministry, who spent 27 years in Mossad, including as station chief in Washington.
“Iran is in the process of putting together agreements, including economic agreements, with Syria to strengthen its hold, its ports and naval bases there,” he said in a rare interview. “There is a need for Russia and other powers to work to avoid the threat that Iran ends up with military, air and naval bases in Syria.”
After refusing two serious offers over the past 20 years to resolve all outstanding disputes with Syria and return the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan to its rightful Syrian owners, Israel complains as if the world owes it a favor. Because Israel bet on the al-Nusra horse in Syria and lost, so the Russians are supposed to do Israel’s bidding and rein in Iran’s purported territorial ambitions.
What did Israel think would happen? Russia has its own port in Syria in Tartous. Why wouldn’t Iran seek the same? And given their alliance supporting Assad, why should the Russians intervene? And what does Israel have to offer that would persuade the Russians to do their bidding? Very little, it appears to me.
If I were a Russian, I’d respond to the Israeli demand by saying: “As soon as you [Israel] stop meddling in Syrian and Lebanese affairs, we’ll tell Iran to butt out too.”