The devastating car bomb attack in Hezbollah’s Beirut stronghold on the eve of
Ramadan on Tuesday may symbolize the movement’s greater vulnerability to attacks
by opposing ideological forces in Lebanon and Syria.
In recent years,
Hezbollah seemed to be on guard mostly against Israeli attacks or espionage, but
now the growing power of Sunni Islamist forces in the region and the ongoing
civil war next door, in which it is deeply involved, increasingly challenge
Hezbollah’s dominance of its home turf.
The spread of the Syrian
sectarian conflict into Lebanon seems to be growing by the week, and the attack
may have been perpetrated by Sunni Islamist rebel forces based in Syria or
possibly by local Sunni jihadist forces sympathetic to Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir,
who is on the run after facing off against the army in Sidon.
blamed Hezbollah for being behind the attack on Assir and his forces, and former
prime minister Saad Hariri said that the Shi’ite group triggered the tensions by
putting up security outposts and provoking residents of the city.
did not evoke sympathy from all Sunnis, yet many see a double standard in the
army’s tough response in Sidon versus its inaction against Hezbollah, such as
earlier this month when its fighters killed an unarmed protester in Beirut – in
plain view of the military.
Hariri came out on Tuesday blaming Israel for
the Beirut bombing.
As quoted in the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star,
he said: “[The blast] requires the highest level of awareness and vigilance in
the face of dangers that surround the country and the entire region, especially
while facing attempts by the Israeli enemy to push [Lebanon] to strife by
organizing terrorist attacks, as happened today.”
Harel Chorev-Halewa, a
researcher at The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at
Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post that the reactions from mainstream
Sunni leaders are very interesting, and in particular Hariri’s mentioning of
Israel was notable since it is “not his typical response.”
expresses their anxiety of the possibility that the Syrian war will finally
infiltrate the Lebanese border and lead to Sunni-Shi’ite bloodshed inside
Lebanon,” he said.
Chorev-Halewa assumes that the perpetrator was likely
an al-Qaida-linked organization – such as Jabhat al-Nusra – responding to
Hezbollah’s deep involvement in the Syrian conflict.
A unit of the Free
Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the attack on its Facebook page Tuesday,
claiming it was a response for the onslaught in Homs and the participation there
of Hezbollah fighters. The claim could not be verified.
Tony Badran, a
research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post that
he is not sure if the blast is related to the Assir situation, but that it is
more likely “a result of Hezbollah’s involvement in Homs, so it is probably
linked to the Syrian situation.”
Badran said that sources in Beirut told
him that two weeks ago, before the Assir incident, there was another car bomb on
its way that was intercepted in the Mar Mikhael area. Hence, Hezbollah’s idea
that its involvement in Syria “could be cordoned off and kept in Syria – as per
Nasrallah’s speech – was always fanciful.”
He added that the more these
kinds of bombings are able to slip through and hit Hezbollah areas, the higher
it will raise the cost of the organization’s role in the Syrian
Reuters contributed to this report.