Hezbollah flinches in the face of its Sunni counterpart
search
Analysis

Hezbollah flinches in the face of its Sunni counterpart

Suffering suicide bombings and rocket attacks by al-Qaeda linked group, the Shiite militia is targeted with its own tactics

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Lebanese firefighters extinguish burned cars at the site of an explosion, near the Kuwaiti Embassy and Iran's cultural center, in the suburb of Beir Hassan, Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, February 19, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)
Lebanese firefighters extinguish burned cars at the site of an explosion, near the Kuwaiti Embassy and Iran's cultural center, in the suburb of Beir Hassan, Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, February 19, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)

The double suicide bombing that rocked Beirut’s Shiite neighborhood, al-Dahiyah, on Wednesday — killing at least six and injuring dozens near an Iranian cultural institute — illustrated Hezbollah’s near-helplessness in the face of radical Sunni terrorism.

Time and again, Sunni terrorists have succeeded in striking at Hezbollah and carrying out serious attacks in the Shiite group’s most sensitive site, despite unprecedented security arrangements taken by Hezbollah to prevent attacks of this sort. Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army deployed dozens of checkpoints across the southern Beirut Shiite stronghold in recent weeks, checking suspicious cars and people. And yet, Wednesday’s attack claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades — the Lebanese branch of al-Qaeda — succeeded in overcoming these obstacles.

This attack was reminiscent of the attack near the Iranian embassy in Beirut last month: two suicide bombers exploded almost simultaneously in the Shiite neighborhood of Bir Hassan. Then, as now, the primary target was a building affiliated with the Islamic Republic.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ method — suicide bombing — is not especially original. Hezbollah was among the first militant groups to introduce the tactic to the Middle East, and now it finds itself the target of an ongoing wave of suicide attacks. The appointment of a new Lebanese prime minister, Tammam Salam, and the establishment of a national unity government, won’t dent the motivation of Sunni groups to continue their attacks. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades already announced that the attacks on Hezbollah will only stop when the Shiite group withdraws its forces from Syria.

In the meanwhile, Hezbollah tries not to appear as if it is flinching in the face of threats. Just this week, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed that his organization would continue to fight on Syrian soil, apparently at the Iranians’ request. Its Shiite fighters have suffered major blows in the battles there. On Tuesday, Lebanese media reported that 27 Hezbollah fighters were killed in an ambush near the Lebanon-Syria border. A few hours after Wednesday’s suicide bombings, rockets exploded in a Shiite village in the Bekaa Valley.

Hezbollah fighters in military uniform carry the coffin of one of their own, Hassan Faisal Shuker, 18, who was killed in a battle against Syrian rebels in the town of Qusair, Syria, in May, 2013 (photo credit: AP)
Hezbollah fighters in military uniform carry the coffin of one of their own, Hassan Faisal Shuker, 18, who was killed in a battle against Syrian rebels in the town of Qusair, Syria, in May 2013 (photo credit: AP)

To date, Hezbollah has lost some 300 fighters in Syria and another 1,000 have been wounded. For the sake of comparison, Hezbollah lost 700 combatants during the Second Lebanon War with Israel in the summer of 2006. What’s more frustrating for the Lebanese militant group, however, may be its lack of alternatives. So long as the Iranians keep up pressure to persist in fighting in Syria, Hezbollah will have no choice but to do so. It will be forced to continue to take blows, whether it be suicide bombings or rocket attacks falling on population centers.

Hezbollah has no real enemy in Lebanon it can fight or defeat, in part because the al-Qaeda operatives embed themselves among the civilian population — just like Hezbollah.

read more:
comments