A horrific terror attack by Islamic State that killed many in a world capital: Yes, in Paris on Friday. But a day earlier the target was a busy neighborhood in Beirut, long ago known as the Paris of the East.
Two coordinated explosions at rush hour killed at least 43 people and injured 200.
Before most people outside the Middle East had a chance to absorb the implications of the Lebanon bombings, the terrorists struck Paris. The scope of that violence, and the fact that Islamic State could strike so far from the chaos of Syria and Iraq, represents a dangerous escalation of the threat to Europe, and to America.
The Beirut attacks reflect another aspect of Islamic State’s global jihad: The Sunni-dominated organization targets Shiite Muslims.
The two explosions Thursday were apparently set off by suicide bombers in a Shiite neighborhood of south Beirut. This was the first time Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack in Lebanon. By the weekend, local authorities said they had arrested seven Syrians and two locals. They also said the carnage could have been far worse: Five suicide bombers apparently targeted a hospital but could not gain entrance.
The neighborhood, Bourj al-Barajneh, is closely associated with Hezbollah, the Shiite terror organization that also operates as a political and military force in Lebanon — and as a proxy power for Iran.
In the bigger picture of who is pulling strings in the region, Iran, which is Shiite, looms large. It opposes Islamic State in Iraq and supports effective militia forces in Iraq. But in Syria, Iran is more interested in supporting the besieged government of Bashar Assad. There are political as well as religious components to this many-sided confrontation.
Iran needs Assad in power to protect Hezbollah in Lebanon. Otherwise, Hezbollah — in a continual faceoff against Israel — becomes vulnerable. This is how Hezbollah ends up fighting in Syria, and on the same side as Iran and Russia.
In going after Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic State sees itself as taking it to the Shiites, and to Hezbollah and to Iran. “The militants are trying to force Hezbollah to make a decision over priorities: secure Lebanon or fight in Syria,” Labib Kamhawi, an analyst based in Jordan, told The Washington Post.
The attack the day before Paris, the attack the Western world largely missed, largely ignored, speaks volumes about the war being waged by Islamic State. Ruthless in its tactics, it is bent on accumulating enemies, which might just be the key to its ultimate demise.
— The Chicago Tribune, Nov. 16