Mustafa Badreddine
Mustafa Badreddine Reuters

The Hezbollah terrorist group has already announced a replacement for leading military commander Mustafa Badreddine, just days after he was assassinated in unclear circumstances in Damascus.

According to the Saudi Arabian Asharq al-Awsat paper, Badreddine's successor is his own nephew, Mustafa Mughniyeh.

Mugniyeh is the son of Badreddine's predecessor and brother-in-law Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by Israel in 2008. He is also the brother of another senior Hezbollah commander assassinated by Israel, Jihad Mugniyah, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike last year while operating in Syria's Quneitra region.

Mentored by his father, the younger Mugniyeh was taken under Badreddine's wing when he took over as Hezbollah's terrorist mastermind. He was allegedly named after his uncle while the latter served a term in a Kuwaiti jail for carrying out terror attacks in the Gulf Arab country.

Like his father, uncle and brother, Mustafa Mugniyeh rose through the ranks of the Lebanese Shia jihadist group and is responsible for many terrorist operations. Yet he is far more camera-shy than his predecessors - who, while notoriously elusive, were occasionally seen in public.

According to a veteran Israeli analyst cited by Asharq al-Awsat, it is unlikely Israeli intelligence have any up-to-date photos of Hezbollah's new military commander, which will thus make him far harder to pinpoint.

"In 2005, he was 18 years old – the age when one completes basic military training in Hezbollah and is sent to specialize in a certain field. At the same time, Mustafa began joining his father on operational missions, and hence received an informal education," analyst Ronen Solomon told the pan-Arab paper.

"He participated in several missions with the security agencies that fall under Badreddine’s command and held several posts to keep the security of top figures in the party.

"It can be presumed that Mustafa’s identity has been kept mysterious, as opposed to his brother, to ensure that in the future he will be included in secret missions, such as those carried out by the 910 unit (Hezbollah’s unit in charge of overseas attacks), led by his uncle Mustafa Badreddine."

Solomon claimed Mughniyeh even avoided appearing in public after the assassination of his brother Jihad, and that his photo wasn't even taken at his birth in Tehran in 1987.

If true, Mughniyeh will be inheriting a post which is arguably more dangerous than ever. Since joining the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Assad regime, Hezbollah has accrued a wide range of enemies beyond its traditional foe Israel, as illustrated by Badreddine's assassination, which Hezbollah has blamed on Sunni Islamists.

Other reports speculate Badreddine's death may have been the result of an internal feud within Hezbollah, with many of the Shia terrorist group's leaders unhappy with his aloofness and "un-Islamic" reputation as a serial womanizer.

Leading officials from Hezbollah's sponsor, Iran, eulogized the assassinated terrorist leader, with Revolutionary Guards chief Qassem Soleimani quoted by Iranian media as saying: "We have lost a leader and a brother."

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