Any four-year-old kid in Lebanon, and certainly in the Shi’ite community, knows who was responsible for Thursday’s attack in Hezbollah’s Dahieh stronghold of Beirut that killed at least 18 people. You don’t need to be an intelligence operative or a Middle East analyst to recognize that extremist Sunni groups operating as part of the Syrian opposition made good on their promise to strike at Hezbollah and its supporters on their home turf.
This was a response to the dominant involvement of Hezbollah in the fighting against the rebels in Syria. On Thursday evening, the “Brigade of Aisha” even issued a statement of responsibility to make it crystal clear to Hezbollah why it carried out the car bombing.
And yet despite this, a whole host of Lebanese politicians, not all of them Sh’iites, rushed to charge that Israel was involved. These allegations are ridiculous and in Lebanon too are considered an insult to the intelligence — even when they come from President Michel Suleiman, who claimed that the blast bore the fingerprints of the Israelis, or from Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, one of the Middle East’s great opportunists, who leveled similarly ridiculous charges.
The reason for these claims is obvious: These politicians, including Suleiman, are worried that an attack like this will prompt a particularly violent Hezbollah retaliation. In pointing the finger at Israel, they are trying to manufacture a common enemy for all Lebanese. Suleiman, who only days ago demanded the disarming of Hezbollah, understands that an attack like this in Dahieh could eventually lead to a complete takeover by the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon and a cleaning out of all pockets of opposition — be they Sunni extremists or rival politicians.
Like many in Lebanon, Suleiman recognizes that the Syrian civil war, which has intermittently seeped into Lebanon, on Thursday escalated to a still more dangerous level for his country. It was notable that the internet site of Hezbollah’s TV station Al-Manar was quick to publicize comments by the organization’s number 2, Naim Qassem, who said that Israel is deterred from confrontation with Hezbollah “and checks itself a thousand times over before risking any aggression against us.” This was Hezbollah telling all those politicians, and its own people, that, no, Israel isn’t the problem right now.
But Hezbollah does not have too many good options right now. For a start, it doesn’t have a clear target to attack or punish.
The car bombing was not a particular surprise. Hezbollah only recently told its men to be on the alert in Shi’ite areas for fear of suicide bombers, car bombs or missile attacks. Evidently this didn’t help.
Thursday was one of the harshest terror attacks Hezbollah has ever suffered. And it does not reflect well on the ostensible wisdom of Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah. This purported strategic genius made a foolish mistake when he ordered his men two years ago to increase their involvement fighting alongside Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria; a similar mistake to the one he made in 2006 when he approved the kidnapping of Israel soldiers that led to the Second Lebanon War.
Right now in Lebanon, the Hezbollah-affiliated TV channel Al Mayadeen has been broadcasting nightly episodes of a series dedicated to that war, which happened to end precisely seven years ago. Nasrallah himself is interviewed in the final episodes and restates his assertion of Hezbollah victory. He appears to have forgotten his acknowledgement immediately after the war that the kidnappings had been a mistake and that, if he had known the price that Lebanon would pay, he would not have approved them.
It’s fair to assume that on Thursday night, too, Nasrallah was internalizing the scale of the mistake he made when he caved in to Iranian pressure and agreed to send his forces to fight alongside Assad’s in Syria. Thursday’s car bombing was only the beginning for those terror groups associated with al-Qaeda who see the Shi’ites — no less than the Jews and Christians — as their enemy.
Nasrallah may even be starting to realize that he is now at odds with the only people in the Middle East whose mindset may be even more pernicious than his own.