A car bomb exploded in Hezbollah’s southern Beirut stronghold yesterday, reportedly killing five and injuring at least 20 in what an Israeli terrorism expert said is further evidence that the civil war in Syria is spilling over into Lebanon.
“In the last six to eight months the conflict in Syria has invaded almost all of Lebanon,” said Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.
Karmon spoke on a conference call hosted by the Israel Project, a non-profit organization that aims to shape perceptions about Israel and emphasizes education for journalists.
He cited the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in November that killed 25, and the massive bomb blast last Friday that killed former Lebanese minister Mohamad Chatah and four others as just the latest examples. Chatah had openly opposed embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad that Hezbollah, a Shiite group, is supporting and authorities said his car was the target of the bomb.
Other explosions have also hit other nearby Hezbollah districts and Sunni mosques in the northern city of Tripoli.
Karmon noted that despite Lebanon’s “huge sectarian problems,” the country had been “relatively pacified for the last four or five years.”
“It has now become a battlefield between two major coalitions,” Karmon said. “[On one side] are the Shia [the second largest denomination of Islam], the Alawite regime of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, which has sent hundreds if not thousands to fight alongside Syria’s regular army, as well as volunteers from Iraq. They are against a loose coalition of groups that include a weak army that challenged Syria and that is under Turkish and Saudi influence. [They are joined by] Salafist Islamic radical groups and the jihad organization. They are all fighting to liberate Syrian territory and to go further and have a unified Islamic nation with Sharia law everywhere.”
In yesterday’s bombing, television newscasts showed that several cars had been destroyed and that the façade of several buildings was torn away. A reporter for the Hezbollah network al Mayadeen said that a car bomb had been detonated next to an old Hezbollah-run al-Manar television building that had been bombed by Israel in 2006.
Hezbollah’s political bureau is near the area of the explosion but was reportedly not damaged.
Regarding Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, Karmon noted that until “two or three months ago the border was quiet, and Israel has no desire for the conquest of Lebanon.” But he said there have been two firings of missiles from Lebanon into northern Israel lately and that Israel is “not sure who is responsible for it.”
In addition, he said a Lebanese soldier shot and killed an Israeli soldier. But Karmon suggested that these were isolated incidents and pointed out that the Lebanese soldier’s capture and arrest was “closely coordinated” by Lebanese authorities and Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah does not want a situation with Israel while it is in Syria, “ he said, suggesting that missiles fired into Israel could have been fired by those seeking to challenge Hezbollah’s control of southern Lebanon.
“One possibility is that they may be trying to get Israel to strike Lebanon,” he said.