Lebanon’s Hezbollah did not wait long to accuse “Israeli spies” of responsibility for the twin explosions outside the Iranian embassy in the Bir Hassan neighborhood of southern Beirut. Al-Qaeda affiliated groups did not wait long to claim responsibility for the attack.
There are clear political objectives behind the two claims of responsibility, as well as the sheer scale and timing of the twin blasts.
What was Hezbollah’s objective in accusing Israel and its “agents” of carrying out the bombings? It is probably seeking to restore the legitimacy of its arms, which it has been re-directed away from Israel since 2006, using its arsenal instead in a Muslim-against-Muslim civil war in the name of combating the so-called “Takfirist” groups. In fact, despite the fading luster of the Palestinian cause and the accumulated tactical and strategic mistakes made by Palestinian leaders—first by Fatah and then by Hamas—the Palestinian cause remains the litmus test of legitimacy in Arab politics. Therefore, Hezbollah and the powers behind it did not have any choice but to accuse the “spies of Israel and Zionism” of carrying out the bombings, in a bid to transcend the bitter reality of its role in displacing millions of innocent Syrians, most of whom are not “Takfirists.” This is not to mention the destruction of scores of towns and villages and the approximately 200,000 Syrians who have either been killed or displaced as a result of Hezbollah’s actions.
Initially, Hezbollah justified its military intervention in Syria on the pretext of protecting holy shrines, including the Sayyida Zaynab Mosque in Damascus and the “Lebanese-inhabited” border villages in Homs. Later on, however, the scope of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria expanded, so it needed additional justifications for its actions. When Hezbollah militants reached the towns of Nubbul, al-Zahraa and al-Fu’ah in northern Syria, pretexts of protecting shrines and “Lebanese” nationals were no longer credible. As a result of this, Hezbollah put forward an even riskier pretext, namely fighting “Takfirists.”
Being preoccupied with fighting “Takfirists”—despite the fact that the Shebaa Farms and the Kfarchouba Heights remain under Israeli occupation—can only mean two things. First, there is another issue Hezbollah sees as being more serious than the Israeli occupation, which is supposedly the reason why the Shi’a militia has kept hold of its weapons of “resistance” while other Lebanese militia agreed to disarm. Second is that Hezbollah has no problem fighting “Takfirists”—those who declare other Muslims non-believers in the name of Islam.
It has become impossible to make sure there are no jihadists among the Syrian refugees in LebanonEyad Abu Shakra
Regarding the first point, one must remember that the Syrian regime has accused Israel, the U.S., and some Western and Arab countries of fomenting the revolution in Syria due to Damascus’s “enmity towards Israel” and its anti-imperialist stance. Later on, however, we discovered that Israel, the U.S., and imperialistic Western countries were in no hurry to get rid of the Bashar Al-Assad regime. On the contrary, both Tel Aviv and Washington have made it clear that they had no intention of attacking Syria, particularly after Damascus handed over its chemical stockpiles, which it previously claimed had been allocated for the “liberation of Palestine.”
As for the second point, it is obvious that Iran—and by extension Hezbollah—does not see the risks of inciting potential Muslim-on-Muslim (Sunni–Shiite) strife in fighting “Takfirists.” If we consider Iran as an Islamic Republic and Hezbollah as an Islamist organization with Islamist slogans, this means that they are questioning the faith of their enemies, namely they are declaring their enemies as “unbelievers.” In other words, they are practicing precisely what they are accusing their enemies of doing.
In an attempt to assure those Christians who still believe in the “alliance of minorities,” Hezbollah came up with a third pretext for its intervention in Syria, namely to “prevent strife from creeping into Lebanon.” Nevertheless, since Hezbollah has intervened in Syria, the number of bombings and attempted bombings has risen, and—worse still—it has emerged that some of the suspects in these attacks have close ties to the Syrian regime.
The flow of Syrian refugees—mostly Sunnis—into Lebanon has created additional complexities. First, it has created a state of religious and sectarian tension in the country, increasing the concerns of Christians who fear that the Syrian refugees’ presence in Lebanon will become permanent. This will, statistically speaking, accelerate the marginalization of Christians, who have truly become a minority in the country.
Second, this will further escalate the state of sectarian polarization, especially given that Hezbollah and the supporters of the Damascus regime in Lebanon are keen to cover their backs by forming irregular armed groups outside the areas that are densely populated by Shiites.
Third, it has become impossible to make sure there are no jihadists among the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, especially now that Hezbollah and other groups have abolished borders between the two countries by opening supply and military routes.
Fourth, the volatile situation along the porous Syrian–Lebanese borders has created a highly dangerous situation in the northern Beqaa region (bordering the Qalmoun front), more so between the predominantly Sunni town of Arsal and its Shi’ite environs. Furthermore, during a rally attended by Sunni and Druze figures last Tuesday, Lebanon’s Minister of Social Affairs, Wael Abu Faour, and MP Bahia Hariri warned against sectarian strife being exported to the southern Beqaa region against the backdrop of the contrived tensions in Mount Hermon, the rural areas of Quneitra, and the southern Rif Dimashq Governorate.
Given the above, Hezbollah’s declared purpose for intervening in Syria, prevent strife from creeping into Lebanon, has been shown to be false. What is even more interesting is the fact that some of those who are facilitating strife creeping into Lebanon are Hezbollah’s own allies.
Here, we arrive at the issue of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. There is no doubt that the situation in Syria today is completely different from what it was when the peaceful popular uprising erupted in March 2011. When it began with the children of Deraa, the revolution was innocent and peaceful. Despite this, the Assad regime confronted the uprising in the only manner it understands: violence. Having humiliated and offended the people of Deraa, the Assad regime used live bullets to respond to demands for openness and reform.
In March 2011, there were no demands for toppling the regime, nor was al-Qaeda present in the country. However, the pillars of the Assad regime, along with its supporters, realized that the only way to confront a truly popular uprising was by ramping up the military crackdown and launching an all-out war using all forms of weaponry conceivable. The regime has also utilized its “fifth column” and other terrorist and radical factions it had previously sponsored and exploited in order to embarrass, splinter and blackmail the opposition.
Later, we witnessed the collapse of the regime’s grip on Syria’s border crossings. With this, factions and groups of all stripes started to flow into the country. The Assad regime subsequently released terrorists from its prisons precisely to perform their role on the ground by splitting the opposition and confronting the Free Syrian Army. Today, the regime’s security apparatus are behind many of the violations and abuses being committed in the name of the opposition in Syria, and Lebanon.
This is a fact that Hezbollah knows only too well. It is also well aware of the nature of this regime, which falsely claims to be secular, pan-Arabist, and part of the resistance.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 21, 2013.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.
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