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.
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.