Experts continue to debate whether the explosion at an Iranian military base at Parchin earlier in the week was an act of sabotage.
The New York Times notes that the satellite images of the incident showed evidence “reminiscent of pictures of a missile-development site 30 miles west of Tehran that was virtually destroyed during a test in November 2011 that killed 17 people, including Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the leading force behind Iran’s advanced missile efforts.”
Nonetheless David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security, told the Times that it “could have been an accident.” However, Hussain Abdul-Hussain, writing in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai, reports that European diplomatic sources in Washington confirm that "the massive blast … was no accident, but a premeditated attack by a foreign country.”
Hussain further contends that Iran believes Israel was behind the operation. According to his report, Iran tasked Hezbollah to retaliate earlier this week. The blast in Parchin, Hussain writes, “led Iran to order Hezbollah to place a bomb at Mount Dov [on the Israel-Lebanon border] which then wounded two Israeli soldiers."
Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, believes that the Hezbollah operation may have been triggered for different reasons. “The attack appears to be part of a broader conversation that the Iranians and Hezbollah are having with the US,” Badran writes in NOW Lebanon. “Even as the operation targeted Israel, its message was as much aimed at Washington.”
To be sure, Badran explains, Hezbollah “needed to retaliate for a series of blows by Israel. This includes, most recently, the death of a Hezbollah sapper as he was dismantling an alleged Israeli listening device in Adloun last month.” But, argues Badran, Hezbollah was also signaling “that it is willing to heat things up on the border should Israel, and the U.S., allow Syrian rebels to advance from the Golan toward southeastern Lebanon.”
Rightly or wrongly, Hezbollah is convinced that Israel’s ostensible ties with Sunni Arab states—from Jordan to the Gulf sheikhdoms—also extend to various Syrian rebel groups backed by Sunni powers. That is, Hezbollah believes that Israel is working with the Sunnis through rebel units. On this reading, Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsor are telling the White House that it had better get its own bloc—Israel and the Sunnis—in line, or it is willing to take a war now consuming the rest of the Levant, from Beirut to Baghdad, to the Israeli border as well.
Given the extent to which the Obama administration and Iran have been coordinating throughout the region, the White House may well heed Hezbollah’s warning. However, it’s not clear how much Washington’s traditional regional allies are willing to listen anymore to a White House they feel has abandoned them. The real concern then is that Iran and Hezbollah may overplay their hand. As Badran writes: “Hezbollah is playing a dangerous game. It has already brought Lebanon to the edge. Sooner or later, it’s bound to push it over.”
During the first two weeks of the Gaza conflict, Hamas landed at least two significant punches. In firing missiles at Ben Gurion Airport, Hamas convinced the Federal Aviation Authority and European air carriers to temporarily suspend flights to Israel. The fact that relatively primitive rockets falling far short of their targets are nonetheless capable of at least briefly severing an advanced Western democracy with a leading tech economy from the rest of the world is a psychological blow.
Last month the president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition went to the White House. Ahmad Jarba and the Syrian rebels want American weapons, in particular the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles that might neutralize Bashar al-Assad’s air force and stop it from dropping barrel bombs loaded with chlorine gas canisters. What Jarba got instead was a handshake and platitudes.
Six years ago Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated when the headrest in his car was detonated in Damascus. While Israeli intelligence neither denies nor confirms its involvement, the Mossad is generally believed to have been responsible for his death. And yet there is no shortage of Western as well as Arab intelligence services that wanted Mughniyeh dead—including the CIA, whose station chief William Buckley Hezbollah abducted, tortured and killed in 1985. Moreover, Mughniyeh was responsible for the April 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Beirut that killed 17 Americans, and the Marines barracks bombing in October of that year that killed 244 American marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen. As founder and director of Hezbollah’s terrorism apparatus, Mughniyeh left a long wake of blood across the world. And even six years after his death, Mughniyeh’s legacy of terror lives on, as Hezbollah has recently plotted operations on several continents, including Europe, Asia and Africa.
Remember a few years ago when Iranian officials had to intervene to prevent Hezbollah gunmen from turning on their Syrian patrons? Few people do. Today, the "axis of resistance" is as strong as ever, with Iran and Hezbollah fully committed to fighting for the survival of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, despite battlefield losses and the political costs of siding with a brutal dictator who gasses and bombs his own people.
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.
In the wake of the interim deal that the White House signed with Iran Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry said on the Sunday talk shows that nothing has changed, not with the American position in the Middle East, or with the U.S. alliance system in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is screaming his head off, but Israel has nothing to worry about says Kerry.
The cartoon above is from the Great Game era in Central Asia, when the British and Russians were in a contest for places like Afghanistan and Iran. It's strongly (perhaps perversely) suggestive given current events.
Thirty years ago last month, Hezbollah blew up the barracks of the U.S Marines and French paratroopers stationed at the Beirut airport, killing 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 Frenchmen. It wasn’t Hezbollah’s first terrorist operation, but this attack, the most memorable in Lebanon’s vicious and chaotic 15-year-long civil war, marked the Party of God’s entry onto the world stage.
Lebanese authorities have arrested two suspects affiliated with a pro-Syrian regime group in the bombing of two Sunni mosques in Tripoli on Friday. Forty-seven people were killed in the attack in the northern Lebanese city, likely retaliation for a bombing the previous week in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, that killed another 27.
The Obama administration is heralding a conference later this month in Geneva where representatives of Bashar al-Assad’s regime will ostensibly sit down with the Syrian rebel forces opposing them. The effect will be to prop up Assad. Sen. John McCain, on the other hand, is committed to the Syrian people. We commend him for the courage he showed last week when he became the most senior American official to visit Syria since the shooting started, entering from the Turkish border.
For over a week now, the Syrian town of Qusayr in Homs Province has seen some of the heaviest fighting in the two-year conflict. The struggle for Qusayr, says besieged President Bashar al-Assad, “is the main battle” in all of Syria.
Are we watching Hezbollah closely enough these days? Probably not. Given events in Syria and the Balkans, it appears that we’re in for a whole new set of problems to be presented by Iran’s favorite proxy.