The twin suicide blasts that rocked south of Beirut this morning are especially alarming given the tactics, the narrative and the target of the attack being the Iranian embassy. It highlights Lebanon’s vulnerabilities in the middle of the regional turmoil, and threatens -if no political path is sought- to drag the country further into al-Qaeda’s menace.
Waking up to the images of bombings and sheer terror in the heart of the city that has overcome years of civil strife and outside aggression is a bitter reminder of how quickly things can go wrong and how fragile Beirut is.
A new trend
Today’s attack killing at least 23 people and injuring 146 others should set off an alarm regionally and in Western capitals given the means it was carried out, and those who are claiming responsibility. It bears the finger prints of al-Qaeda, operating skillfully and lethally inside Lebanon, in a way not seen in the history of the country. The attack which targeted a Shia neighborhood, employed two suicide bombers, one who detonated a five kilogram bomb while on a motorbike, and the second, in an SUV with 60 kilograms of explosives.
All throughout the 15-year-old Lebanese civil war, suicide bombings were a rarity, only used against Israel in the South, or during the infamous 1983 U.S. Marines barracks bombing. The Beir Hassan bombings introduce a new trend in nature and type of threats. The perpetrators, in this case the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, labeled and associated with al-Qaeda, are escalating their game and operations inside Lebanon on a scale and magnitude that have not been seen before. The group that was designated as terrorist by Washington in 2012 is exploiting the Sunni-Shia sectarian tension inside Lebanon, and recruiting Lebanese who are angry and disgruntled at what is happening in Syria and Hezbollah’s role there, to carry out such attacks.
The bombings, while surprising in the skill set and ability to recruit Lebanese youth to strike inside Beirut, they do not come in vacuum. Just last August, a car bombing rocked the Hezbollah Dahiyeh suburb of Beirut, killing 16 and injuring 200. The sectarian clashes inside Tripoli have only escalated as the situation in Syria deteriorated, and in Sidon the army intervened last June against al-Assir militants.
As to be expected, all kind of condemnations from East to West have followed after the attack. Some are accusing Israel, while others al-Qaeda, as the grim reality stands: Beirut is once again in eye of the storm and only a political path can prevent it from being dragged deeper into the regional instability and turmoil.
Lebanon’s leaders and security apparatuses have been more preoccupied in exchanging insults and trading accusations, as lawlessness and extremism was spreading across the board in Lebanese cities. The same leaders have utterly failed at coming together and forming a government since the recent caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned last March.
As smoke covers Beirut, gun shots becoming a daily ritual in Tripoli, while sectarianism breeds in Sidon, Lebanese leaders are prioritizing their benefits and narrow interests in the consultations for the upcoming government. Who will assume the veto power, and who will control the communications and the energy and the finance cabinets have become more important to the Lebanese political elite than salvaging the country from instability and security breakdown.
A national dialogue on Hezbollah’s role in Syria and reaching consensus towards forming a new government are more urgent for Lebanon’s stability than any time before. Political infighting or armed retaliation over the ashes in Beir Hassan, Bab Tebaneh and Abra will only drag Lebanon deeper into Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi-Syrian belt, and slap in the face Lebanese coexistence and relative stability.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam