A huge car-bomb in the vicinity of Hezbollah’s Beirut stronghold exploded on Thursday killing at least 20 and injuring dozens or even hundreds more:
An army statement said the cause of the explosion was a car bomb. The blast engulfed several vehicles in flames and trapped many people in nearby buildings which were damaged in the explosion. Media reports said 200 people were injured.
According to Reuters, at least five buildings were damaged and many cars in the area were destroyed. The blast sent a column of black smoke over the densely populated area in the south of the Lebanese capital.
Security elements told the Lebanese news website Daily Star that the explosion was most likely caused by a car bomb which exploded on the highway between the Al-Roueiss and the Bir al-Abd areas of Beirut’s Hezbollah-stronghold of Dahiyeh. the same area where a car bomb exploded in last month, injuring dozens.
An unknown group, probably connected to Al Qaeda, took responsibility for the explosion:
Lebanese media outlets aired a video posted online in which a group dubbed “Aisha the Mother of Believers Brigades for Foreign Missions” takes responsibility for the attack.
In the video three masked men are seen with a sign behind them reading “there is no God but Allah.”
Two of them are seen toting guns. The video’s authenticity has yet to be verified.
” We, The Aisha Mother of Believers Brigades for foreign missions, send you Hassan Nasrallah and your party our second resonant, strong message after having sent you our first message and you still do not understand,” a speaker says in the video.
The speaker also accused Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah of serving Iran and Israel, and added: “We address a message to our brothers and families in Lebanon: We ask you to stay away from all of Iran’s colonies inside and outside Beirut.”
According to the speaker, the group performed attack against Hezbollah before.
However, this did not prevent Lebanese officials from blaming you-know-who for the bombing:
Druze member of the Lebanese parliament, Walid Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, told the Hezbollah affiliated al-Mayadeen TV channel: “I blame Israel for the Beirut blast. Israel wants to avenge itself on Lebanon for its defeat in the Second Lebanon War.”
A Hezbollah parliament member told the al-Manar network: “Those who conspired against Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War are letting terror inside Lebanon.”
Even the Lebanese President blames Israel:
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman condemned the explosion which occurred on Thursday in the Dahiyeh quarter in southern Beirut. According to him, the blast had the fingerprints of Israel, and its purpose is to destabilize Lebanon.
Lebanese Prime Minister elect Tamam Salam told Lebanese media that Israel has the most to gain out of the blast. He added that this was a cowardly act, meant to harm Lebanon.
Lebanon Interior Minister Marwan Charbel in a television also pointed blame at Israel, saying that the blast may have been in retaliation to last week’s explosion near the Israel-Lebanon border, which Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday was perpetrated by Hezbollah.
I presume these Lebanese politicians don’t have much choice. They can’t afford to blame Al Qaeda or Hezbollah for fear for their own personal safety, and who can blame them? Much safer and easier to blame the Israelis, for the precise reason that they know that Israel would never commit such a crime. When Israel wants to get rid of terrorists, they use pinpoint tactics to avoid collateral damage such as we have seen today.
Avi Issacharoff in the Times of Israel points out that Nasrallah is not feeling so smart any more after this attack and has gotten himself in over his head with Al Qaeda:
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.
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.
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.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer person. The only trouble is that although it might seem to be in Israel’s interests to have all its enemies setting upon each other, committing murder and mayhem all around the Arab world, it is actually a very dangerous and volatile situation for Israel too.
An analysis in Ynet by Yoav Zeitoun and Attilla Somfalvi explains:
At the wake of violent days both in Beirut and Cairo, Israel maintains its reserved stance on the unrest at its borders.
“Hezbollah has been hurt, but Israel will continue in its non-involvement policy and will not take sides, also in regards to Cairo,” a senior defense establishment official clarified on Thursday.
“We’ve no interest to be perceived as supporters of either side.”
“We stay on the sideline as far as Cairo goes – this is an internal Egyptian matter,” said an Israeli source.
“Our interest is focused on the Sinai Peninsula, were global jihad operatives are. What’s happening in Egypt is troubling, but it’s internal. The fact they’re occupied with their own internal affairs so far had no effect on the war conducted in Sinai.”
He added that Israel is considering all the possible scenarios, including another regime shift. “No one knows what’s going to happen. It’s impossible to analyze.”
Ron Ben-Yishai, Ynet’s defense analyst, explains that the Israeli interest is for the Egyptian unrest to calm down, and similarly for tumults in other neighboring countries.
Every failing state increases the terror threat on Israel, and actually an attack on Hezbollah boosts the chances for civil war in Lebanon, which, like in Egypt, Israel would rather avoid.
Civil wars, political instability and economic hardship – these are the main factors for terror on the Israeli borders. All these factors are currently in motion in the countries that went through the Arab Spring, as well as in Lebanon.
Without internal conflict, stability and economic prosperity return – from which Israel benefits as well.
It’s hard to imagine the Middle East without internal conflict for a long time to come. Let’s hope these conflicts can be confined to stay outside of Israel’s borders.