Thursday’s horrific photos from Beirut, frighteningly similar to the scenes of major suicide bombings which took place in Israel so often a decade ago, strike a haunting, familiar chord. The multitude of people scrambling around the explosion point, some fleeing, others attempting to pull the injured and the dead bodies out of the way. Smoke everywhere, glass and flesh, and local security forces trying frantically to disperse the hundreds of onlookers who make the rescue work impossibly difficult.
The target this time was not Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but the center of the Shiite district in Beirut, Hezbollah territory, only a few dozen meters away from the organization’s political council compound.
This is the heart of the Hezbollah stronghold, not far from the old building that is home to the Shiite group’s broadcasting station, al-Manar — an area which one would ostensibly expect to be under strict security of the organization’s armed wing.
But in the last two months Hezbollah has discovered, to its astonishment perhaps, how vulnerable it really is. Car bombs, suicide bombings, rockets and more have managed to shake the organization time and again. All the old tricks used years earlier by Hezbollah itself are now directed against the organization, by perpetrators likely affiliated with Sunni extremist terrorist organizations.
This is the price of Hezbollah’s involving itself with the raging war of the neighbor to the east. Those who chose to fight in Syria in order to save Bashar Assad are know bleeding in Lebanon.
Hezbollah is far from collapse, but it is now vulnerable in precisely those places it is most loved. Innocent Shiite citizens in Lebanon are now paying for the escapades of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah across the border.
Hezbollah’s commitment in Syria is a full scale war effort which sees close to a third of the its fighting forces deployed there at any given time. According to Israeli estimates, more than 300 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria and over 1,000 injured. A simple extrapolation would hold that thousands of the organization’s members are likely taking part in the fighting.
A certain dissatisfaction is beginning to be heard even among the Shiites. Not a revolt against the leadership of Hezbollah or personal criticism of Nasrallah. But the first signs of a protest are rising slowly, from the families of Hezbollah operatives killed in Syria who, during the funerals, question the motives behind sending their sons on their fateful journeys.
This heavy price was weighed by Nasrallah before he decided on joining the fight for Assad. According to a Wednesday report in the Wall Street Journal, Nasrallah initially opposed Syrian and Iranian pleas to send forces across the border, even ignoring a request from Iranian Revolutionary Guards strongman and Quds force leader Qassem Suleimani.
Only after receiving a personal request from the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did Nasrallah finally agree to offer his troops in the service of the Syrian president. Ever since then, the Hezbollah leader has been boasting of the Syria operation in his speeches, as if the group’s members were fighting on the hills of Lebanon.
Since his appointment as secretary general in 1992, at the age of 32, Nasrallah has sought to strengthen the position of his organization in Lebanon, among the Shiite community as well as among other minorities. He wished to create a popular organization, supported by all factions. Instead, Hezbollah has become one of the most hated organizations in the Middle East and a preferred target for Sunni extremist organizations.
Late Thursday, calls for national unity in Lebanon were heard from all sides, including members of the anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance, an organization led by Saad Hariri, the son of assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Just a few short days ago, the alliance lost one of its senior officials in an apparent assassination, likely orchestrated by Hezbollah. Against that kind of murderous background, these calls for unity ring hollow. Indeed, fracturing Lebanon seems increasingly close to its own civil war.