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Opinion: Lebanon after the bombs | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Security forces carry flags and ride horses as they take part in a military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence, in downtown Beirut November 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

Al-Qaeda should regret what it did in Beirut on Tuesday, but that regret will not be because the bloodthirsty organization is suddenly troubled by its conscience. Rather, Al-Qaeda will regret the twin suicide bombings—which are the first of their kind in Lebanon, in terms of both technique and purpose—because they have backfired. The suicide attacks have served Iran and its allies in Lebanon far more than it has damaged their interests.

None of the Iranian embassy’s staff were harmed in the two consecutive explosions, aside from Ibrahim Al-Ansari, the cultural attaché who was killed, and a few guards. What the bombs did do was kill 20 civilians and injure 150 people of many different nationalities, including the Yemeni ambassador, a policeman, telecommunications workers, bystanders, and African and Asian housemaids. Even though the embassy building did not suffer heavy damage, over 100 residential homes did, and people had to be evacuated from them.

The operation also showed that Iran is a target of terrorism; it is a victim of barbarity it cannot master. After the blasts, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman rushed to the embassy, as did a several delegations, including the Papal Ambassador to Lebanon and the British Ambassador, Tom Fletcher. Fletcher actually donated blood to the victims, and said that dialogue should prevail over violence. But events didn’t end there. Iran took the opportunity to send its deputy foreign minister, Hussein Amir Abdul-Lahian, on a diplomatic journey to the Lebanese capital. Abdul-Lahian met with Lebanese officials and said that “Tehran will maintain its stance with respect to supporting Syria and embracing the axis of resistance.”

Even though the two blasts were targeted at the Iranian embassy—a country that certainly has opponents, even enemies, in Lebanon—nobody dared to hand out candy to passers-by or fire celebratory rounds into the air to celebrate, they way they did after the explosions in Dahieh. It was rather the opposite, in fact. A sense of dreadful shock prevailed, and from north to south Lebanon seemed to be trembling. The mere knowledge that the twin explosions were the result of suicide operations and that it was the first time explosive belts have been used in Lebanon has raised fear to the limit. Echoes of the Iraqi inferno are lingering in everybody’s minds.

Ordinary people don’t have to listen to the chatter of the political class to understand that their country has entered a dangerous phase. And they do not have to hear Sirajeddin Zreikat, the leader of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, threatening to keep attacking Lebanon to understand that their future will be very different.

Throughout the harsh 17 years of civil war in Lebanon, suicide operations never were a part of the language of war. Suicide operations at the time were associated with attacks on the Israelis or the Americans, such as the famous explosion that hit the US embassy in 1982. Suicide operations have become easier, a part of the region’s rituals. From Mali to Egypt, from Jordan to Syria and from Iraq to Yemen, there are hundreds of suicide bombers willing to die for the cause of killing others.

Until now, Lebanese suicide bombers have been rare. Al-Qaeda was convinced that Lebanon wasn’t a hotbed of new recruits—at least, that’s what Fatah Al-Islam and all those with close ties to the organization used to say. But now jihadists have been in and out of Lebanon since the start of the Syrian revolution, and perhaps even before then, and naturally they have grown in number because of the raging battle in Lebanon’s larger neighbor. This has let them transform Lebanon from a mere stopover on a journey into a haven and a battlefield, threatening to open fire on Hezbollah as a way to take revenge for it fighting alongside the Syrian Army.

Enclaves in Akar, Tripoli, Arsal and the Palestinian refugee camps have been created to embrace Al-Qaeda members. There are reports of Al-Qaeda beginning to appoint emirs in Lebanon, as well as US and Russian intelligence showing tons of explosive equipment being moved into the country.

Indeed, whenever battles in Syria rage, we will hear their reverberations echo throughout Lebanon.

The attack on the Iranian embassy happened just days after Ashura, a holiday celebrated by Shi’a Muslims, and two days before Lebanon’s Independence Day. The attack happened closer to the Corniche than to the Dahieh district. Security in this upscale place is the responsibility of the Lebanese military, against which Al-Qaeda feels nothing but bitter hostility.

The suicide bombers did not manage to hit a sensitive spot, which they usually manage to do quite easily. Instead, they opened up opportunities for Iran, which is currently conducting negotiations over its nuclear program. It also raised fear among the Lebanese people. Indeed, the twin blasts caused a state of alarm in the security apparatus—but they also awakened the citizens of Lebanon to a predator waiting to strike.

On Independence Day, November 22, the marine commandos—the most elite and ferocious forces in Lebanon—went on parade at the Lebanese University. While they do that every year, this time was remarkable. There was a massive turnout, and the youth who came to cheer the show of force celebrated by jumping ropes and eating snakes.

Only 48 hours after the horrific attack by Al-Qaeda, these young people badly needed their army’s protection against the coming madness.

The attack was not just against the Iranian embassy, as Al-Qaeda claimed. Every Lebanese person alive today knows that the attack has affected their personal life and their family’s security more than it could ever affect the Iranian embassy.

After the emergence of these explosive belt attack, Lebanon will be different.