Around 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 15, a car bomb rocked the Ruwais area in Beirut’s southern suburbs about 200 meters [220 yards] from the Sayyed al-Shuhada’ complex, where most of Hezbollah’s political and religious celebrations are held. Although a Syrian Sunni opposition fundamentalist group claimed responsibility for the attack, Lebanese sources told Al-Monitor that they don’t rule out the involvement of Israeli intelligence in the bombing.
About a week ago, a source close to Hezbollah told Al-Monitor that the person accused of carrying out the Majdal Anjar-Masnaa explosion in the Bekaa Valley on July 16 admitted during interrogation that he had outfitted bombs on a number of cars that were intended to be detonated in pro-Hezbollah areas, but that he doesn’t know who received those cars or where they are now.
Since that date, the residents of Beirut’s southern suburbs have witnessed extraordinary security measures by Hezbollah’s security apparatus, checking the identities of some motorists in the evenings and searching some cars at night using sniffer dogs and sophisticated equipment to detect explosives. But these measures didn’t prevent Thursday’s car bombing.
The blast didn’t come as a surprise. Residents of the area were expecting it at any time, any place, while Hezbollah has been trying to prevent it through its security precautions. The blast killed about 20 and wounded 226 civilians. That confirmed preliminary estimates by experts that the act was the work of professionals, not amateurs. Some said that the attack was a suicide bombing, but the Lebanese army only confirmed that it was a car bomb. The bomb was estimated at 80 kilos [175 pounds].
About two hours after the blast, which ignited fires in a number of buildings in the residential-commercial area that was targeted, a group calling itself the “Aisha, Mother of the Believers, Brigades for Foreign Missions” claimed responsibility for the bombing in a YouTube video in which it said Thursday’s explosion was its second operation and vowed more attacks against the Hezbollah.
A previous explosion occurred in Bir al-Abed in the southern suburbs on July 9. It wounded several people but no one was killed. Three months ago, on May 26, rockets targeted Chiyah in the southern suburbs. Also, cars carrying Hezbollah members in the Bekaa were targeted by two explosions on June 28.
There is no doubt that attention was immediately directed toward takfiri groups associated with al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra in Lebanon and Syria, especially since both the Free Syrian Army and the Jabhat al-Nusra had threatened Hezbollah with reprisals because of the latter’s participation in the Qusair battle in Syria. Also, the Salafist sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, who is sought by Lebanese authorities, had recently threatened Hezbollah with vengeance because of what he said was the party’s participation with the Lebanese army when it fought Assir’s supporters in the battle of Abra, near Sidon.
A Lebanese politician close to Hezbollah said in an interview with Al-Monitor that despite the possible involvement of takfiri terrorists from Lebanon or Syria in the blast, that doesn’t rule out the involvement of Israeli intelligence in the bombing for two reasons. First, Israel may wish to retaliate against Hezbollah for the July 2006 war by exploiting the security confusion in Lebanon resulting from Shiite-Sunni sectarian tension, which is caused by their opposing positions on the Syrian crisis. According to the source, it was no coincidence that the southern suburbs were targeted on the seventh anniversary of the victory in that war, which ended on Aug. 14, 2006.
The second reason, according to the same source, was the announcement by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday, Aug. 14, the day before the bombing, that Hezbollah was responsible for the ambush against the Israeli commandos who penetrated the Lebanese border in the Labouneh area in South Lebanon on Aug. 7. The ambush wounded four Israeli soldiers with bombs. Israel stayed quiet about the incident while Israeli sources indicated that the bombs were in fact old land mines planted in the area in the 1980s.
When asked why Israel would open a front with Hezbollah now when the group is busy in the war in Syria, the source explained that Israel is exploiting Hezbollah’s preoccupation with the Syrian war and with the threats from armed Syrian opposition and some Sunni fundamentalist groups to take revenge against the party without claiming responsibility for these operations so as not to bear the consequences on the one hand and to increase the Shiite-Sunni sectarian tension on the other.
The same source pointed out that Israel has exploited the war in Syria to conduct air strikes against missile caches in Damascus, its countryside and in Latakia under the pretext that it wants to prevent those strategic weapons from being transferred to Hezbollah, and without claiming responsibility for the strike.
The source said that the Israeli Mossad has carried out many security operations in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Dubai and other countries without claiming responsibility for them for fear of reprisals. Among these operations was the assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February 2008, the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2011, as well as the assassination of a number of Syrian scientists and military experts since 2011.
It was remarkable that a number of Lebanese officials and politicians pointed to the possibility of Israel being behind Thursday’s attack. President Michel Suleiman said that the blast bore the hallmarks of terrorism and of Israel. The head the caretaker government, Najib Mikati, said that Israel has an interest in seeing sectarian strife. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said, “That hand of organized crime and terrorism [that is behind the blast] is without a doubt an Israeli black hand. … This crime only serves the Israeli enemy, which stalks Lebanon,” and that the blast was aimed at sowing strife among the Lebanese.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that the explosion may have been “an Israeli response to an operation carried out by Hezbollah in Labouneh. The foreign minister in the caretaker government, Adnan Mansour, said, “The sole beneficiary of the rift in Lebanon is Israel, which conducts terrorist acts through its agents.” Energy Minister Gebran Bassil believed that the explosion was “an Israeli strike that targeted the southern suburbs from the inside. “
Future Movement member Mustafa Alloush saw that “the suburbs explosion is the consequence of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria. … This is the beginning and not the end. … The solution is for all of us to get out of Syria.”
In contrast, in an interview with Al Mayadeen on Thursday evening, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi charged the intelligence agencies of Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, of being behind the blast by sending, financing and arming hundreds of “terrorist” fighters in Syria and Lebanon.