Hezbollah blamed Israel for an assassination of one of its top militant leaders in Beirut today, an assassination in which silenced pistols killed Hassan Hawlo al-Lakiss. Little known to outsiders, Lakiss served as one of the top deputies to Hassan Nasrallah.  Hezbollah wasted little time before deciding who ordered the hit:

“The Islamic resistance announces the death of one of its leaders, the martyr Hassan Hawlo al-Lakiss, who was assassinated near his house in the Hadath region” east of Beirut, said Hezbollah.

“Direct accusation is aimed of course against the Israeli enemy which had tried to eliminate our martyred brother again and again and in several places but had failed, until yesterday evening.

“This enemy must bear full responsibility for and all the consequences of this heinous crime,” Hezbollah said on its Al-Manar television channel without elaborating.

Israel denied any involvement in the assassination:

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor dismissed the allegations as “yet another Pavlovian response from Hezbollah, which makes automatic accusations (against Israel) before even thinking about what’s actually happened.”

“Israel has nothing to do with this,” he said.

Five years ago, Israel might have been the only suspect, but that’s not true at all today.  Thanks to the Iranian intervention in the Syrian civil war by deploying Hezbollah to defend Bashar al-Assad, there are a number of groups targeting the Iranian proxies, both in Syria and in Lebanon.  They are all aligned with al-Qaeda — Sunni extremists playing out the centuries-old conflict with Shi’ites (such as Hezbollah) in the Syrian civil war.  They want to push Iranian hegemony out of the Arab world, and have already made Beirut a battleground with a suicide-bombing attack on the Iranian embassy less than three weeks ago. They have the most to gain by attacking Hezbollah’s top military leadership in Lebanon, not Israel.

Hezbollah knows this, of course, but they’re not going to let a propaganda opportunity escape.  The rest of the region understands the nature of this conflict, too — which is why the Sunni Arab states are so suspicious of the American efforts to normalize relations with Iran. They fear that the US wants to promote Iranian hegemony in the region at their expense:

At the same time, however, a sharp uptick in violence along some of the region’s most pronounced sectarian fault lines, including the beheading of three members of the Shiite Hezbollah movement by al-Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria and a revival of apparent death-squad activity in Iraq, points to the risks inherent in the realignment that is underway.

Although the threat of a war involving Israel and Iran and drawing in the United States has abated for now, many fear that the rapprochement is just as likely to exacerbate existing conflicts as it is to heal them, by putting U.S. allegiance into play and raising the stakes in the long-standing struggle for influence between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arab states.

“There will be small wars,” predicted Mohammed Obeid, a Beirut-­based analyst who is close to Iranian-backed Hezbollah and familiar with the thinking of its leaders. “There won’t be a big war, but there will be more small wars, and they will intensify.”

Sunni Arab states don’t object to a deal that could curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but they worry about the ramifications of warming ties between Tehran and Washington, said Mustafa Alani, the Dubai-based director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Center. The big worry, he said, is that a long-term deal normalizing ties between Iran and the United States would come at the expense of Sunni influence.

“We have concerns about what sort of concessions the Americans will give. Will they anoint Iran as a regional superpower?” Alani asked. “The idea of Iran having hegemonic power is an absolute red line for all the Arab states.”

An agreement might even be worth their wrath in the short term, if it actually prevented Iran from building nuclear weapons.  Jeffrey Goldberg offers six reasons to worry that the agreement won’t do any such thing:

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked a question last week about when the deal might actually take effect. “The next step here is a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement. So that would involve the P5+1 — a commission of the P5+1 experts working with the Iranians and the IAEA,” shesaid, referring to the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and the International Atomic Energy Agency. “Obviously, once that’s — those technical discussions are worked through, I guess the clock would start.”

Focus on those last words for a second: “I guess the clock would start.” Do words like those make you worried, or is it just me? What this means is that Iran, at this moment, is still not compelled to freeze any of its nuclear program in place. I’m not sure why American negotiators would leave Geneva without having a fully implemented agreement. I understand that the technical hurdles to implementation are daunting. But equally daunting is the realization that the Iranians are going about their business as if they’ve promised nothing. …

The (still unenforced) document agreed upon in Geneva promises Iran an eventual exit from nuclear monitoring. The final (theoretical) deal, the document states, will “have a specified long-term duration to be agreed upon,” after which the Iranian nuclear program “will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state” that is part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. From what I’m told, the U.S. hopes this eventual agreement, should it come to pass, would last 15 years; the Iranians hope to escape this burden in five. After the agreement loses its legal force, Iran could run however many centrifuges it chooses to run. This is not a comforting idea.

Indeed. And shouldn’t the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini be a non-negotiable item for the US?