(CNSNews.com) – Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister hailed by engagement advocates as personifying a supposed “moderate” element in Tehran, has expressed his condolences over the death of a top Hezbollah terrorist linked to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Zarif sent a weekend message to Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah, expressing sorrow at the death of Mustafa Badreddine, saying his “martyrdom” would further strengthen “resistance” forces against the Zionist enemy and terrorism, according to Hezbollah and Iranian state media accounts.
Zarif, who has met with Secretary of State John Kerry on numerous occasions during and since marathon negotiations on a nuclear deal, described the dead terrorist as “all passion and devotion” in defending the ideals of Islam and the Lebanese people.
Badreddine, the Shi’ite group’s military commander, was buried Friday after being killed an explosion near Damascus airport which was blamed first on an Israeli airstrike, but later on shelling from Sunni rebels fighting against the Assad regime.
Hezbollah, which along with its Iranian sponsor are fighting in support of Assad, said that the “huge blast” was “the result of an artillery bombardment carried out by takfiri groups present in the region.”
Hezbollah and its allies label their Sunni foes in Syria “takfiris” – a derogatory term for radical Sunnis who view Muslims not sharing their religious outlook, such as Shi’ites, as infidels.
Hezbollah has long claimed that “takfiri” groups in Syria – including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) – are part of a U.S. and Israeli project against Iran and its allies in the so-called “resistance front.”
In its statement blaming Sunni groups for Badreddine’s death, Hezbollah underlined that conspiracy theory, charging that the “takfiri terrorists” represent the spearhead of the “Zionist American scheme.”
Hezbollah media outlets ran adulatory items on Badreddine, describing him in heroic terms, as someone who had frustrated and humiliated Israel for decades.
“A great man … the significant man of resistance, is absent today, yet he left us the honor of victories and a path full of glory,” began one eulogy on the group’s television mouthpiece al-Manar.
Badreddine’s predecessor, Imad Mughniyah, was killed in a bomb blast in Damascus in 2008, blamed by the group on Israel and the U.S.
Together Badreddine and Mughniyah, who were also brothers-in-law, were implicated in many of Hezbollah’s most infamous terrorist attacks, including the 1983 suicide bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in the Lebanese capital. Two hundred and forty-one Americans were killed in what was the biggest single-day death toll for the U.S. Marine Corps since World War II.
(Another bombing in Beirut the same day targeted a French military barracks, killing 58 French personnel.)
In 2011, terrorism expert Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that plot mastermind Mughniyah and explosives expert Badreddine “reportedly watched the [Marine barracks] operation unfold from the rooftop of a building not far from the blast.”
More recently, Badreddine was accused of masterminding the February 14, 2005 assassination of Hariri, who was killed along with 21 others in a car bombing in downtown Beirut.
In 2011, the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted Badreddine and three other Hezbollah members for their alleged roles in the assassination. Hezbollah rejected the accusations and refused to cooperate.
‘Heroes in the entire Middle East’
Set up as a proxy of Tehran soon after the 1979 Iranian revolution, Hezbollah has been a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization since 1997, and the State Department has described it as “the most technically-capable terrorist group in the world.”
One of many concerns voiced by critics of the Iran nuclear deal is that sanctions relief will allow Tehran to channel more funding to Hezbollah.
Despite Hezbollah’s record, and despite his portrayal as a “moderate” in the Iranian regime, Zarif has been openly supportive of the group.
In early 2014, Zarif paid a visit to Mughniyah’s tomb and laid a wreath . In response a White House spokesperson said “the decision to commemorate an individual who participated in such vicious acts, and whose organization continues to actively support terrorism worldwide, sends the wrong message and will only exacerbate tensions in the region.”
Asked in a later NBC News interview about the incident, Zarif said he was “not running for a popularity contest in the United States” and asserted that Hezbollah fighters “are considered heroes in the entire Middle East.”)
Weeks after finalizing the nuclear deal with Kerry, Zarif last August held talks with Hezbollah chief Nasrallah in Beirut.
On the same day, Kerry suggested during an appearance at Thomson Reuters headquarters in New York that despite concerns about Iran’s ongoing bad behavior in the region, some in the government, like Zarif and President Hasan Rouhani, wanted a different path.
“I’m telling you this, given the experience that I’ve had for the last several years negotiating with them, they said to me, ‘If we can get this deal done, then we’re ready to sit down and talk about the regional issues and we may be able to work things in different places.’
“I just got a message today from my counterpart from Iran,” Kerry continued. “He’s in Beirut, meeting with the government officials there. You know where he was last weekend? He was in Kuwait and in Qatar. He’s reaching out to those countries. Are we going to turn our backs on the possibility that Rouhani and Zarif might, in fact, want to try to have a different –?
He stopped, then added, “I don’t know the answer, but I know we’ve got ample amount of time here within which we can put all of that to the test.”