Lebanon: 'A land divided and subservient to outside forces'
For years it was a well known fact that ISIS had managed to infiltrate Beirut. It was not promenading its soldiers through the capital - far from it! It was lying low, appearing dormant, but ready to strike at any moment.
While Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army have been locked in what could only be described as “epic battles” with ISIL in the north of the country near the border with Syria, countless deadly cells of this Sunni Muslim terrorist organization (ISIL) were increasing their presence in all major Lebanese cities, including the country’s capital Beirut.
“ISIL militants are living not only in the Sunni Muslim parts of the city,” a local academic explained to me. “They are residing even in some of the upscale Christian neighborhoods. They managed to infiltrate the entire country. They can strike anytime and anywhere they want.”
And on November 12, 2015 they did strike with full force. Three suicide bombers penetrated Burj al-Barajneh, a suburb of Beirut and a predominantly Shia neighborhood, a stronghold of Hezbollah.
One suicide bomber rode on a motorbike through the Ain al-Sikke neighborhood, and then blew himself up in the middle of the road, in front of a popular coffee stand, during rush hour. As people ran to the site, trying to help the victims, the second blast was suddenly heard. The third bomber was unable to detonate his device, as one of the explosions tore him apart.
The carnage could have been worse. Allegedly, the suicide bombers were trying to enter a Shia mosque during prayers, but were stopped.
On the night of the attack, to get to the site was almost impossible. Hezbollah volunteers cordoned the area and the Lebanese security forces, both police and the army supported them. It felt like a war and in a way, it was a war.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement they posted online: "A soldier of the caliphate blew himself up in the stronghold of the heretics, and after the apostates crowded around the site of the explosion, a second martyr blew himself up using his explosive belt.”
In a language of Wahhabi Sunni fundamentalists, Shia Muslims are defined as ‘apostates’ and legitimate targets.
This was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the modern history of Lebanon. At least 43 people lost their lives and over 200 were injured.
Something fragile got broken. Something terrible was put in motion.
But many Lebanese people are not yet willing to give up. In her emotional discourse, Ms. Zeinab Al Saffar, a prominent socio-political talk show anchor and producer (Al-Mayadeen TV), declared one day after the carnage: “I think that after what we’ve seen and witnessed yesterday, apart from the huge losses of our dear ones and the pain of the injured and all the families, especially the mothers, our people are now more deeply rooted in their national resistance; they are standing firm in face of any schemes that target the resistance! It is now clear that defending our land and people, even with our own bodies and our own children if necessary, is something that is inculcated in our blood since our inception. Believe me: we are strong! And we will remain steadfast and strong!”
Lebanon declared 13 November a day of national mourning.
On the streets and in the offices of Beirut, people have been speaking about insecurity and fear. Suddenly, the war in Syria came to their doorsteps. And this time it was not only through more than two million Syrian refugees who are already scattered all over this tiny country, but through the deeds of ISIL - the deadliest terrorist organization in the region that has clearly detectable links with both Saudi Arabia and the West.
Ms. Rania, who works for an international organization in Beirut, exclaimed: “We had been feeling increasingly very unsafe in Beirut, but what happened last night shocked me and my family. But thinking about it, we shouldn't be really surprised because a battle with ISIS and Al Nusra has been waged on our Lebanese soil for some time. It was perhaps only the matter of time when we would be stricken here in Beirut.”
A local financial expert, Mr. Mahmoud: "Those who are fighting on our territory know that Lebanon has a huge vacuum now, politically and militarily. Imagine that we have not even been able to find solutions to our garbage problem, for more than three months now! Lebanon is so weak now. Anyone can move in and exploit the situation!”
Lebanon has practically no functioning government, and it is now experiencing total collapse of its infrastructure. It feels that everyone gave up on the country. The nation is divided and fully subservient to the outside forces (politically), be it the West, Saudi Arabia or Iran. Economically it mainly depends on remittances, production of drugs, foreign handouts and shady investments in West Africa.
Many of the two million refugees who are now living in Lebanon are not even registered, and the strain on the country’s sanitation, electric utilities, medical care and other basic services is tremendous.
Hezbollah, a Shia movement with strong links to Iran, is the only solid social force in the country, which extends its hand well beyond its religious realm. It is also the main adversary to ISIL. It has already lost more men in the fight against ISIL than it did when fighting against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Hard hit by Russian air power and by the advancing army in neighboring Syria, both principal regional terrorist groups – ISIL and Al Nusra - are becoming increasingly desperate. ISIL never abandoned their dream of establishing a caliphate in northern Lebanon, as both expansion and back-up plan.
Lebanon is weak, the border with Syria is porous, and tens of thousands of potential fighters are now said to be hiding among the multitude of refugees. And refugees do not come in a homogeneous group: even in Burj al-Barajneh, there is an old Palestinian refugee camp with many of those who are sympathizing with the Sunni extremist groups.
It is even possible that, should ISIL and Al Nusra be defeated in Syria, they could regroup and rise again here in Lebanon.
Suicide attacks in Burj al-Barajneh on November 12 are a chilling preview of the horrors that may soon become a norm in this split and confused country.
Of course it is time for Lebanon to unite, but could it? It is time for the West, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop supporting terrorist groups in Syria. For as long as the war in Syria is raging, there is increasing danger that Lebanon, this small but spectacular country, this tiny sister of Syria, could be infested with brutal outside forces and then, once again, go up in flames.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.