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Lebanon Succumbs to the Regional Civil War

Bombing in Hezbollah stronghold.

2:18 PM, Jan 2, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
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A car bomb detonated today in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold. So far, four are reported dead and over 50 have been injured. With rumors spreading that the bombing may have been the work of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Sunni jihadist group with ties to al Qaeda, it seems that this was the latest in a series of moves indicating that the regional conflict with Syria as its red-hot center is growing ever wider, now encompassing all the Levant, from Baghdad to Beirut. In the Lebanese capital alone, within a one-week span a former Sunni minister was assassinated, Saudi Arabia bought a $3 billion share of a national army heavily infiltrated by Hezbollah, and then today the Party of God was targeted on its home turf.

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With Iran and Saudi Arabia jockeying for position and trading messages and blood across the region, the Obama administration has ostensibly adopted a policy of neutrality—“we’re not taking sides in a religious war between Shia and Sunni,” said Obama. The reality is somewhat different as the United States is seen to be siding with Iran and its allies. That may turn out to be a problem for the White House that isn’t going to be solved with drone strikes on al Qaeda figures.

The bombing comes a few days after the arrest of Saudi national Majid bin Mohammad al-Majid, emir of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which has taken credit for a number of operations in Beirut, most notably the bombing of the Iranian embassy. Hassan Nasrallah claims that Majid has links to Saudi intelligence, which, says the Hezbollah chief, was behind the attack on the embassy. Riyadh’s envoy to Lebanon rejects that claim, noting that Majid, listed by the United States as a specially designated foreign terrorist in 2012, is one Saudi Arabia’s most wanted fugitives.  

Still, it’s true that Saudi Arabia has a history of sending its troublemakers abroad where their violence may by chance manage to serve Saudi interests. Whether Majid is a part of that pattern remains to be seen. To date, Riyadh’s efforts to counter Iran in Lebanon have been public and legitimate, if, from some perspectives, provocative. Most notably, last week Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion in support of the Lebanese Armed Forces, an ostensibly national institution that has been extensively penetrated by Hezbollah and used against the country’s Sunni community. For instance, a joint LAF-Hezbollah action against a Salafist leader and his followers in June showed that the army had taken sides against the Sunnis, leaving the community vulnerable to the armed faction whose weapons were being used not to fight Israel, but to kill Sunnis in Lebanon as well as Syria. After all, Hezbollah has regularly targeted the Sunni community, most famously in May 2008 when dozens were killed after Hezbollah stormed Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut, and stands accused of killing Sunni leaders, like former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

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