I just returned from a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land with members of my parish, but we didn’t go into Lebanon. The Syrian civil war arrived there today with a vengeance, as al-Qaeda took responsibility for a terrorist attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut that killed 23 people as of the latest count. The two suicide bombs destroyed part of the building and injured more than 140 people:
Two suicide blasts struck Tuesday near the Iranian Embassy in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, killing at least 23 people.
The Lebanese health minister said 146 more people were injured in the blasts.
Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi said cultural attache Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari was among the dead. Speaking to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, he said Ansari took his post in Lebanon a month ago and was overseeing all regional cultural activities.
The blasts in south Beirut’s neighborhood of Janah also caused extensive damage on the nearby buildings and the Iranian mission. The area is a stronghold of the militant Hezbollah group, which is a main ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war next door. It’s not clear if the blasts are related to Syria’s civil war.
The two bombers arrived on a motorcycle and a car within minutes of each other:
A Lebanese security official said the first suicide attacker was on the motorcycle, which carried 4.4 pounds of explosives. He blew himself up at the large black main gate of the Iranian mission, damaging the three-story facility, the official said.
Less than two minutes later, a second suicide attacker driving a car rigged with 110 pounds of explosives struck about 10 yards away, the official said. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
That’s the MO of al-Qaeda, and one of its affiliates in Syria claimed responsibility for the attack:
The Abdullah Azzam brigades, a Lebanon-based al Qaeda affiliate, said it was behind a double suicide attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut on Tuesday, according to the Twitter page of a cleric linked to the group.
“The Abdullah Azzam brigades – the Hussein bin Ali cells – may they please God – are behind the attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut,” Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the group’s religious guide, posted on Twitter.
The conflict in Syria is a proxy war of sorts between Sunnis and Shi’ites that has been ongoing for 1400 years. In a more practical context, it’s a battle between who will retain dominance in the Islamic nations of the Middle East, Persian Iran or the Sunni Arab nations. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations want Iran contained, and want the West to actively support the rebellion against Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria as a means of reducing Iran’s influence. While there might be some value in that for the West, this attack demonstrates that there isn’t much difference between a Syrian state controlled by Iranian terrorist proxy networks like Hezbollah or Sunni terrorist networks like al-Qaeda. The best outcome would be to get everyone out of Syria except the Syrians and let them fight it out themselves.
Unfortunately, this attack in Lebanon will put a big dent in any containment strategy for the civil war. More importantly, it may create an even larger refugee crisis in Jordan and Turkey, with the potential for destabilization increasing in both nations.