Saudi regime intensifies war against Hezbollah

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Articles
Friday, 10 January 2014


saudi regimBy Yusuf Fernandez

Recently, the British newspaper The Independent published an article by a leading Irish journalist, Patrick Cockburn, which described the “ferocious war waged by assassination, massacre, imprisonment and persecution that has killed tens of thousands” of Shiites in the world, including in the Muslim countries where they form a vulnerable minority.

The incidents in three counties highlighted the group’s growing regional influence. But it was difficult to know whether the group’s activities in widely separate areas were coordinated. One analyst said that the group’s actions were likely to be dictated by the vastly different issues it faces in each place.

“While ISIS is operating in three countries, each has to be separated by local context,” said Aaron Zelin, a blogger and researcher…for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “In each country, ISIS has differing strengths and weaknesses.”

Al-Qaida in Iraq fought pitched battles against U.S. forces in that country that claimed hundreds of American lives, and the U.S. campaign to force it from Fallujah in 2004 is considered the bloodiest single battle of the Iraq war. Its resurgence in Anbar is tied to Iraq’s internal political rivalries …

The group has been active in Syria’s conflict since the early days of 2012, and is thought responsible for the establishment of the Nusra Front, a U.S.-designated terrorist group that has played a critical role in militant military successes over the past two years.

In April, al Qaida in Iraq announced that it was changing its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and that Nusra would become part of it. But Nusra’s leaders objected, and the two groups have remained separate, though allied.

ISIS’s statement on the Lebanon blast warned that the bombing was the start of a campaign against the Lebanese group Hezbollah for its military role in helping the Syrian… [goverment] survive the three-year civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 130,000 people.

The statement called the bombing “a first small payment from the heavy account that is awaiting those wicked criminals."

Lebanon has been roiled by tensions and clashes over both Hezbollah’s strong military support for Assad and by a number of …other communities that have sent material support and men to fight alongside the militants. Car bombings, rocket attacks and even kidnappings have targeted both communities and incidents have begun occurring with more frequency, casting doubt on Lebanon’s…stability.

Al-Qaida-related militants have long sheltered in Lebanon. The founder of al-Qaida in Iraq, a Jordanian militant named Abu Musab Zarqawi, is believed to have spent time here before he moved to Iraq in response to the U.S. invasion there.

The Saudi citizen who was said to be the head of another al-Qaida affiliate, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for November’s…bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, is believed to have lived in the Ain el Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon before he was captured by Lebanese authorities in December.

Lebanese authorities, who only acknowledged they were holding Majid al Majid last week, announced Saturday that he had died in custody. Details were scarce as Majid, who had been designated a terrorist by the United States in 2012, had been held and interrogated in a “secret location,” according to Lebanese authorities, who claimed Majid had suffered from a severe kidney ailment that required periodic dialysis. The statement from the Lebanese prosecutor investigating the embassy bombing said that these health issues were to blame for his death.

Meanwhile, the identity of the Lebanese man thought responsible for Thursday’s car bombing in southern Beirut provided more indications of the cross-border links. Lebanese authorities announced that DNA tests confirmed that the bomber was Qutaiba al-Satem, a 20-year-old man from the Wadi Khaled region of northern Lebanon, a bastion of support for the Syrian militancy.

A local news outlet reported that al-Satem had left Lebanon to fight alongside Syrian militants in the Syrian border town of Yabrud, which is currently held by the militants despite an ongoing offensive by the Syrian army and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.

Investigators are trying to piece together al-Satem’s activity in recent months and are examining his phone records to determine who he had been in contact with in the weeks leading up to the deadly bombing, according to the report.

Saudi Arabia as a government for a long time took a back seat to Qatar in funding militants in Syria, and it is only since this summer that they have taken over the file. They wish to marginalise the al-Qaida franchisees such as Isil and the al-Nusra Front while buying up and arming enough…war-bands to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

The directors of Saudi policy in Syria – the Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, the head of the Saudi intelligence agency Prince Bandar bin Sultan and the Deputy Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan – plan to spend billions raising a militant Sunni army some 40,000 to 50,000 strong. Already local warlords are uniting to share in Saudi largesse for which their enthusiasm is probably greater than their willingness to fight.

The Saudi initiative is partly fuelled by rage in Riyadh at President Obama’s decision not to go to war with Syria after Assad used chemical weapons on 21 August, 2013. Nothing but an all-out air attack by the US similar to that of Nato in Libya in 2011 would overthrow Assad, so the US has essentially decided he will stay for the moment.

Saudi anger has been further exacerbated by the successful US-led negotiations on an interim deal with Iran over its nuclear programme.


By stepping out of the shadows in Syria, the Saudis are probably making a mistake. Their money will only buy them so much. The artificial unity of militant groups with their hands out for Saudi money is not going to last. They will be discredited in the eyes of more fanatical militants as well as Syrians in general as pawns of Saudi and other intelligence services.

A divided opposition will be even more fragmented. Jordan may accommodate the Saudis and a multitude of foreign intelligence services, but it will not want to be the rallying point for an anti-Assad army.


The Saudi plan looks doomed from the start, though it could get a lot more Syrians killed before it fails. Yazid Sayegh of the Carnegie Middle East Centre highlights succinctly the risks involved in the venture: “Saudi Arabia could find itself replicating its experience in Afghanistan, where it built up disparate…[militant] groups that lacked a unifying political framework. The forces were left unable to govern Kabul once they took it, paving the way for the Taliban to take over. Al-Qaida followed, and the blowback subsequently reached Saudi Arabia.”


ISIS said it had "struck its stronghold in the so-called security zone in southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday ... in the first small installment of a heavy account that awaits these shameless criminals."

If confirmed, it would be the first time that ISIS had claimed responsibility for an attack in Beirut, which has suffered a wave of bombings since last summer, mostly targeting civilians in the southern suburbs of Beirut whose residents mostly support Hezbollah.

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This war is being led by Saudi Arabia and especially by the Saudi intelligence service´s chief, Bandar bin Sultan, through terrorist Wahabi groups under his control, including some having links with al-Qaeda.
The goal of Saudi Arabia is to overthrow or destroy all the governments and movements which are allies or friends to Iran, including Bashar al-Assad´s government in Syria, the Nouri al-Maliki´s government in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In this sense, Hezbollah has become a main obstacle for the Saudi plans to dominate the Middle East. To the dismay of the Saudi regime, Hezbollah´s success in withstanding the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 increased its popularity in the whole Islamic word. Its participation in the Syria war was important in order to abort Saudi and Takfiri plans to overthrow the Assad government and to set up a Taliban-style government in Syria under Saudi control.
Hezbollah fighters helped the Syrian army to achieve a strategic victory in Al Qussair and have played an important role in protecting Syria and Lebanon from terrorist gangs.
In order to force the party to leave Syria, or even destroy it, Saudi Arabia has launched a four-way strategy.
Baseless accusations against Hezbollah
Firstly, Saudi allies have been trying to blame Hezbollah, and its participation in the Syrian conflict, for all the problems of Lebanon. Saad Hariri, a billionaire leader of the Saudi-supported Future Movement, has even tried to link Hezbollah with some attacks in Lebanon, like the one that killed Mohammed Shatah, one of his associates.
He has also used these claims to press for a new Lebanese government more aligned with Riyadh, Paris and Washington.
After the attack, Hariri, speaking from his self-imposed exile in Paris, immediately pointed the finger of blame at Hezbollah. “Those who assassinated Mohamad Shatah are the ones who assassinated Rafik Hariri (Saad’s father),” he asserted.”
This was a reference to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that was instigated by the Bush administration and whose goal was to give it a pretext to punish Washington´s opponents in the Middle East. However, according to Lebanese media, the beneficiary of the attack and the most likely author of these attacks was Israel or another ally of the Western powers.
Due to the claims of his former chief investigator, anti-Syrian and anti-Hezbollah Detlev Mehlis, the tribunal first blamed four generals allied with Syria -who were imprisoned for four years before being released without charge- and then alleged that some Hezbollah members could be responsible. The tribunal is to reopen in The Hague in January.
Hezbollah rejected the accusation that it was behind Shatah’s murder, calling the bombing a “heinous crime, which came in the context of a series of crimes and explosions aimed at sabotaging the country.” Syria also denied any involvement in the attack.
Saudi-supported takfiris against Hezbollah
Next, Saudi Arabia has launched a proxy war against Hezbollah by using different Takfiri terrorist groups against the party. The strategy is to open a war front against Hezbollah in Lebanon in order to force it to bring its troops from Syria. This strategy uses provocations such as the three bomb attacks in Dahiyeh (the Southern Suburb of Beirut, which is considered as the main stronghold of the Resistance Party).

On July 9, 2013, 53 people were wounded after a bomb exploded in a busy shopping street of Dahiyeh on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan. A faction of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed responsability.
On August 15, 2013, a month after the first bomb, another car bomb blast hit the Suburb. At least, 21 people were killed and 200 wounded in the massive explosion; the majority of whom were children. An unknown group linked to the Syrian opposition claimed responsibility for the attack.
On November, 2013, two…bombers struck the Iranian Embassy in southern Beirut in an attack claimed by the al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
On January 4, 2014, another attack took place in Haret Hreik, also in the Suburb, killing 6 people and injuring several dozens. Significantly, Takfiri groups struck at almost the exact same place that the Israeli air force targeted in the 2006 July War. The street is home to several buildings that were restored after the Israeli war. Hezbollah used to hold its main Ashura events right here too. In short, it is one of the most famous streets in Dahiyeh.
According to the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, residentes “seemed to all agree on the identity of the perpetrators: Salafi takfiris. Overheard often among the crowds was the name Bandar bin Sultan, the infamous Saudi intelligence chief. Some people were shouting “Death to the House of Saud,” as many people believe Prince Bandar is the preeminent sponsor of the extremist groups they accuse of carrying out the attack. This is the way, they say, in which the House of Saud is showing its gratitude to the people of Dahiyeh, which defeated Israel and brought about the first indisputable Muslim victory against the nation’s enemy.”
Al-Akhbar added: “It is clear that the popular mood, after the attack in Dahiyeh, was convinced now more than ever of the need to confront extremist groups in Syria and Lebanon. Perhaps the perpetrators thought that by striking at innocent civilians, they would drive them to renounce Hezbollah, or put pressure on the Resistance Party to withdraw from Hezbollah. However, the opposite happens after each attack.”
The Dahiyeh bombing took place as the same time as Saudi citizen Majid Al-Majid, head of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, tied to al-Qaeda, was arrested. He is the man who allegedly ordered the attack against the Iranian embassy in Beirut. However, he died in prison of “kidney failure” some days after. Riyadh did its best to persuade the Lebanese autorities to extradite him to Saudi Arabia…

Al-Majid was arrested on his return from Syria, where he had forged a cooperation pact with Abu Muhammad Al-Jolani, head of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, which fights Bashar al-Assad´s government. This agreement would have provided the Syrian takfiris with a logistical base in South Lebanon. Another al-Qaeda-linked group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham…, has also threatened Hezbollah and promised to strike the party´s strongholds in Lebanon.
A government without Hezbollah
Thirdly, Saudi Arabia and its allies in Lebanon want to isolate Hezbollah by creating a government excluding this party. While Hezbollah and the other parties of the 8 March coalition have been proposing a national unity government, the 14 March forces, led by Saad Hariri, reject this.

Hariri was present in a recent meeting between King Abdullah and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman in Riyahd and also met French President François Hollande in the same city. It shows his complete coordination with his Saudi sponsors in the design of a strategy against Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon.
Hariri and Saudis have pressed Suleiman to set up a so-called “neutral” government (actually formed by pro-14 March figures) even though they know that it will not have the parliamentary support. This is seen as an open attack on Hezbollah and the 8-March forces, which have promised, for their part, a “surprise reaction” if Suleiman goes ahead with that plan.
However, the last terrorist attack in Dahiyeh seems to have led Suleiman to have second thoughts. According to the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, 14 March forces see now him as “weak because he has not formed the government he has promised many times.” They say that “every time President Suleiman vows to form a neutral government and is about to take the plunge, a blast goes off here or an assassination takes place there, putting his plans on hold.”
“Suleiman’s advisers partially admit that the government he had intended to form was directed against Hezbollah and the Amal movement. Therefore, it is impossible after the Dahiyeh bombing to shove a provocative government down the throat of Hezbollah and Amal supporters. They know the parliamentary majority would not allow them to form a March 14 government, as MP (Druze leader) Walid Jumblatt and his bloc insist on his decision not to give a vote of confidence to such a government”, Al Akhbar said. Moreover, influential Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, has also showed his opposition to a such government of “accomplished facts” and has called for dialogue and forming a government in which all parties participate.

French arms paid by Saudi Arabia against Hezbollah
The fourth front opened by Saudi Arabia against Hezbollah is maybe the most dangerous. During the recent meeting between King Abdullah and his new friend and ally, French President François Hollande, both reached an agreement to send a 3 billion-worth French weapon shipment to the Lebanese army. The weapons will be entirely paid by Saudi Arabia. Media reported that it is the biggest ever military export to Lebanon.
Hollande made it clear that the weapons would not be used “where they should not” (against the Israeli army), so the only logic conclusion is that they are intended to be used against Hezbollah if a 14-March-controlled Presidency or government decide so.
In order to show his personal gratitude to Saudi rulers, Suleiman ended a speech in which he talked about this issue by saying “Long live Saudi Arabia”, an expression which was both condemned and mocked by Lebanese journalists and commentators.
Ibrahim al-Amin, a leading Lebanese commentator, accused Suleiman of being willing to become the spokesman of the Saudi king and his friend, Zionist Hollande, in order to seek their support to continue in his post, as his term ends in May 2014.
“During the last visit to Riyadh, the author of this generosity (the Saudi king) said it was the duty of the Lebanese army fight Hezbollah, disarm it and prevent it from entering Syria”, Amin wrote. He added that the clear goal of the agreement was to strengthen the Saudi allies in Lebanon and wondered why Iranian and Russian offers to send weapons to the Lebanese army had been rejected. Moreover, he said, the French-Saudi initiative should be approved by the Lebanese government and the Parliament and not to be accepted just by the Presidency.
US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the murder, saying, “The Obama Administration supports Lebanon as its leaders work to bring those responsible for this heinous and cowardly attack to justice under the rule of law.”
The UN Security Council condemned “any attempt to destabilize Lebanon through political assassinations and demanded an immediate end to the use of intimidation and violence against political figures.”

On Saturday, President François Hollande of France, the former colonial power, called on Lebanon not to let the assassination disrupt the presidential elections due in May. Hollande is currently in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah. He is expected to discuss “the need to preserve stability in Lebanon,” the Syrian conflict, and Iran’s nuclear programme.

Hariri, by alleging that the same people who had murdered his father had carried out Shatah’s assassination, may have said more than he intended.

A number of analysts have pointed out that Hezbollah has no interest at exacerbating tensions at this time. Hariri’s Sunni Future Movement is discredited for its right-wing economic policies and support for Israel in the 2006 war, and its political rival Hezbollah has been able to block any moves against it. Hezbollah fighters helped Assad push back opposition forces in Syria, while its leaders have been engaged in talks with Washington following the US deal with Iran in October.

Lebanon’s political system, notorious for corruption and nepotism, has been deadlocked for months. Prime Minister designate, Tammam Salam, has been unable to form a government since Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the country’s richest businessman, resigned in March.

Legislators—unable to agree on a new electoral law allocating seats according the relative weights of different religious groups—were forced to postpone the parliamentary elections scheduled for last June until November 2014, citing “political deadlock and the civil war in neighbouring Syria.”

The tiny country faces an economic and social catastrophe. The Syrian conflict has devastated the Lebanese economy, which is inextricably linked to Syria. Tourism, its main earner, has plummeted, as has foreign investment from the [Persian] Gulf.

Crucially, nearly a million Syrians have sought refuge from the fighting in Lebanon. According to the latest estimates by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, one in five residents are Syrian refugees. This has altered the country’s demographics, increasing the Sunni population, and tied its fate immediately to the war in Syria.

The government has refused to provide camps for refugees, fearing they will become permanent like the Palestinian camps. Living in abject poverty, refugees have accepted work at any wage, displacing local workers, exacerbating social and sectarian tensions. In the absence of a progressive political alternative, this has provided a fertile breeding ground for militant recruitment.

The government continues to spend on projects that benefit wealthy businessmen and local banks, whose deposits exceed $130 billion—three times Lebanon’s GDP and twice public debt, which is now equal to 146 percent of GDP.
The political vacuum left by the Future Movement has been filled by Salafists, funded and armed by Saudi Arabia.
The assassination is also aimed at further drawing Lebanon into the Shia-Sunni sectarian bloodletting the United States and its allies have stoked in Syria and helping derail any rapprochement with Iran.

It comes after a series of bombings targeting Hezbollah and Iran. These include the assassination of Hassan al-Laqis in December, widely attributed to Israel; an attack in November on the Iranian embassy that killed 23 people and wounded more than 140 attributed to forces allied with Saudi Arabia; and seven bombs and rocket attacks, as well as car bombs targeting Hezbollah along the Beirut-Damascus highway through the Beka’a valley.

In early December, Salafists targeted Lebanese army forces in the southern city of Sidon, home to Ain al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp, and …militants. Sidon is strategically located between the Beka’a Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold, and the only road to the south and the border with Israel.

Given this political context, it is not implausible to suppose that Shatah’s killing, coming amid dismay in Riyadh and Tel Aviv over Obama’s failure to attack Syria and his negotiations with Iran, was an attempt by Saudi- or Israeli-backed forces to break up the negotiations and lay the ground for war.

Israel for its part shelled southern Lebanon after two rockets landed across the border in northern Israel. It follows heightened tensions when Israel shot two Lebanese troops after an Israeli soldier was killed two weeks ago.
Last month, the Jerusalem Post carried a report that claimed Israel’s army believed that Hezbollah “is carrying out massive preparations” for war with Israel, the justification for a massive build-up of forces to confront the group.

At least 23 people were killed and over 140 injured Tuesday in a…bomb attack targeting Iran’s embassy compound in Lebanon. Most of the dead were passersby in the predominantly Shiite southern Beirut neighborhood of Janah, where the embassy is situated. Iran confirmed the death of its embassy’s cultural attaché.

An al-Qaeda affiliated group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigade, claimed responsibility for the attack in a tweet by its “spiritual mentor,” Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat. The Brigade has reportedly vowed to continue such attacks until Iran and Hezbollah, an Iranian-allied Lebanese Shiite militia, cease militarily supporting Syria’s government.
Tuesday’s atrocity aimed to escalate tensions in the region, while the US and its allies carry out high-level talks with Iran over its nuclear program, and with the Syrian …[goverment] to arrange a diplomatic settlement with the US-backed, al-Qaeda-linked Syrian opposition.

Today Iran will resume negotiations in Geneva over its nuclear program with the so-called P-6: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. Earlier this month, Iran and the P-6 nearly struck an interim agreement….This agreement would reportedly return only $5 billion of the tens of billions of Iranian oil revenues currently frozen in foreign bank accounts.

Several US allies in the region with ties to al-Qaeda, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, have indicated that they are adamantly opposed to these talks. They insist the sanctions must remain until Iran’s civilian…[energy] program has been completely dismantled. Their demands, cloaked behind unsubstantiated charges that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, reflect their fear that a rapprochement between the US and Iran would reduce their importance as US allies.

The claiming of responsibility for the bombing by an al-Qaeda-linked group suggests that the atrocity was likely carried out with support from these US allies. Saudi Arabia in particular has longstanding ties to al-Qaeda, whose first leader, Osama bin Laden, came from one of the kingdom’s wealthiest families. Saudi Arabia has, along with Qatar, emerged as one of the main backers of the al-Qaeda-linked Syrian opposition forces.
Janah residents themselves blamed the Saudis for the bombing. A New York Times report said a local woman could be heard near the site of Tuesday’s bombing shouting, “May God send Bandar to hell! This is the Saud family.” Prince Bandar Bin Sultan is the Saudi intelligence chief and the organizer of its financial and military support for its …proxies in Syria.
Speaking in Rome, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed the bombing on the rise of al-Qaeda-linked…militants in Syria. These … have been armed and supported by the United States and its allies.

“We already see the consequences of the extremist forces in Syria,” Zarif said. “The same organizations are killing people on the streets of Baghdad. … It is a very serious problem, and I believe once we see a flare-up of the tension that is boiling in Syria, there will be hardly a possibility of stopping it at the Syrian border [and] even within the Middle East.”

While not directly accusing Saudi Arabia of being behind Tuesday’s atrocity, Syria’s Foreign Minister said it was an outcome of the Saudi and Qatari monarchies’ support for al-Qaeda-aligned…militants.

Tuesday’s bombing underscores the extreme tensions and the threat of war that has now spread throughout the region, for which US imperialism is principally responsible. Over the past decade, it has waged a series of illegal wars to shore up its strategic dominance in the world’s most important oil exporting region. It invaded and occupied Iraq, mounted a “humanitarian” war for regime change in Libya…and has repeatedly threatened Iran with war.

Little more than two months ago, Washington was on the verge of launching a direct attack on Syria. Amid rising divisions within the US foreign policy establishment over the advisability of full-scale war—due to the role of al-Qaeda in Syria, warnings from Iran and Russia of a wider war as they supported Assad, the Pentagon’s reluctance to enter into such a war without first launching a full-scale assault on all its potential enemies, and deep popular discontent with US war threats—the Obama administration pulled back from war at the last minute.

It carried out a tactical shift in its policy, opening negotiations with both Syria and its main regional ally, Iran. Washington aims to force Iran to accept US hegemony in the Middle East, throw open its economy to the US transnationals, and secure Tehran’s cooperation in stabilizing the region—from Afghanistan to the Eastern Mediterranean—under US hegemony. If it cannot secure these predatory objectives via diplomacy, Washington can as abruptly return to the path of war as it turned to talks in September.

The sudden shift stunned and angered Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are vocally seeking to break up the negotiations and lay the ground for war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly accused the Obama administration of preparing to deliver Tehran the diplomatic victory of the century. He sent senior officials to Washington to lobby for the US Congress to impose still harsher sanctions on Iran, and proclaimed that Israel will not necessarily be bound by any deal signed by the P5+1—an implicit threat of a unilateral Israeli military strike on Iran.

In an interview with the Financial Times published Sunday, Netanyahu’s former national security advisor Yaakov Amirdor boasted that Israel has the military capacity to halt Iran’s …[energy] program “for a very long time.” He then added that if Hezbollah retaliated against an Israeli attack on Iran, Israeli ground forces would “go into (Lebanon’s) urban centers”—i.e. would mount a full-scale invasion of Lebanon.

To show its displeasure at the Obama administration’s “diplomatic opening” to Iran and its failure to launch a war against Syria, Saudi Arabia recently refused to take a UN Security Council seat it spent years lobbying for.

Saudi Arabia also recently offered to assist an Israeli attack on Iran. In addition to allowing Israeli jets to fly over Saudi airspace, Riyadh has reportedly offered to supply tanker planes, helicopters and drones. A diplomatic source told the London Sunday Times, “Once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs.”
Tuesday’s bombing is also aimed at further drawing Lebanon into the Shia-Sunni sectarian bloodletting the United States and its allies have stoked in Syria and helping derail the proposed US-Russian-led talks over Syria. It is the latest in a series of bombings targeting Lebanese Shiite neighborhoods stretching back to the beginning of the summer.

Already both Hezbollah and its US-allied Sunni rival, the Future Movement, are ranged on different sides in the Syrian conflict, with sections of the Sunni elite organizing and financing Lebanese Sunni Islamists to join the Syrian conflict. The Future Movement solidarized itself with the Al Qaeda forces that attacked the Iranian embassy, saying the bombing was Hezbollah’s fault because of its support for the Syrian government.

The [so-called] Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on Saturday claimed credit for a…car bombing that took at least four lives and wounded dozens in a Hezbollah-controlled suburb of Beirut Thursday, marking the first attack by the group in Lebanon.
If ISIS’s claim is accurate, the operation would indicate that the al-Qaida affiliate[d group] has infiltrated a third Middle Eastern country even as it faces challenges to its control of parts of northern Syria and portions of Iraq’s Anbar Province.

“Clearly, al-Qaida in Iraq wasn’t kidding when it changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria,” said Will McCants, a former State Department adviser and military expert. “The breadth of its current operations reflects its ambition to establish a caliphate controlling the entire Levant.”

But the group also risks “spreading itself too thin and making too many enemies,” he added.

On Saturday, ISIS forces remained in control of the western Iraqi city of Fallujah, which they’d captured on Friday. But they were fighting to maintain control of major outposts in northern Syria, where they faced a fierce offensive from Syrian militants who once had viewed the group as an ally in the fight to topple President Bashar Assad.

Fierce fighting between ISIS and Syrian militant groups was reported in a dozen locations, with militant spokesmen claiming that ISIS had been ejected from at least eight towns and villages in Idlib Province and from the town of Atarib in Aleppo province. Militants also reported they had recaptured the border crossing with Turkey at Bab al Hawa.

Multiple reports from militant activists said that anti-ISIS fighters were arresting family members of the al-Qaida group.
ISIS, however, had repulsed a militant push in Kafr Zeta in Hama Province, according to reports, and remained in control of the strategic Idlib province town of Saraqeb, which sits astride the Aleppo to Damascus highway.

ISIS fighters also reportedly executed dozens of people as they fled the town of Harem ahead of militant attackers, and had ordered up reinforcements from their forces in Raqqa. They also threatened via Twitter to withdraw from the frontlines inside the city of Aleppo – a step, they said, would make it possible for pro-Assad forces to recapture that key northern city.

In Iraq, the group reportedly resisted assaults by both Iraqi government forces and local tribal leaders Friday night and Saturday to maintain control of all of Fallujah and perhaps as much as half of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.

"Fallujah is under the control of the [so-called] ISIS," the French news agency AFP quoted a senior security official in Anbar as having said on Saturday. AFP reported at least 65 people died Saturday in Iraqi fighting.
The incidents in three counties highlighted the group’s growing regional influence. But it was difficult to know whether the group’s activities in widely separate areas were coordinated. One analyst said that the group’s actions were likely to be dictated by the vastly different issues it faces in each place.

“While ISIS is operating in three countries, each has to be separated by local context,” said Aaron Zelin, a blogger and researcher…for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “In each country, ISIS has differing strengths and weaknesses.”

Al-Qaida in Iraq fought pitched battles against U.S. forces in that country that claimed hundreds of American lives, and the U.S. campaign to force it from Fallujah in 2004 is considered the bloodiest single battle of the Iraq war. Its resurgence in Anbar is tied to Iraq’s internal political rivalries …

The group has been active in Syria’s conflict since the early days of 2012, and is thought responsible for the establishment of the Nusra Front, a U.S.-designated terrorist group that has played a critical role in militant military successes over the past two years.

In April, al Qaida in Iraq announced that it was changing its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and that Nusra would become part of it. But Nusra’s leaders objected, and the two groups have remained separate, though allied.

ISIS’s statement on the Lebanon blast warned that the bombing was the start of a campaign against the Lebanese group Hezbollah for its military role in helping the Syrian… [goverment] survive the three-year civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 130,000 people.

The statement called the bombing “a first small payment from the heavy account that is awaiting those wicked criminals."

Lebanon has been roiled by tensions and clashes over both Hezbollah’s strong military support for Assad and by a number of …other communities that have sent material support and men to fight alongside the militants. Car bombings, rocket attacks and even kidnappings have targeted both communities and incidents have begun occurring with more frequency, casting doubt on Lebanon’s…stability.

Al-Qaida-related militants have long sheltered in Lebanon. The founder of al-Qaida in Iraq, a Jordanian militant named Abu Musab Zarqawi, is believed to have spent time here before he moved to Iraq in response to the U.S. invasion there.

The Saudi citizen who was said to be the head of another al-Qaida affiliate, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for November’s…bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, is believed to have lived in the Ain el Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon before he was captured by Lebanese authorities in December.

Lebanese authorities, who only acknowledged they were holding Majid al Majid last week, announced Saturday that he had died in custody. Details were scarce as Majid, who had been designated a terrorist by the United States in 2012, had been held and interrogated in a “secret location,” according to Lebanese authorities, who claimed Majid had suffered from a severe kidney ailment that required periodic dialysis. The statement from the Lebanese prosecutor investigating the embassy bombing said that these health issues were to blame for his death.

Meanwhile, the identity of the Lebanese man thought responsible for Thursday’s car bombing in southern Beirut provided more indications of the cross-border links. Lebanese authorities announced that DNA tests confirmed that the bomber was Qutaiba al-Satem, a 20-year-old man from the Wadi Khaled region of northern Lebanon, a bastion of support for the Syrian militancy.

A local news outlet reported that al-Satem had left Lebanon to fight alongside Syrian militants in the Syrian border town of Yabrud, which is currently held by the militants despite an ongoing offensive by the Syrian army and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.

Investigators are trying to piece together al-Satem’s activity in recent months and are examining his phone records to determine who he had been in contact with in the weeks leading up to the deadly bombing, according to the report.

Saudi Arabia as a government for a long time took a back seat to Qatar in funding militants in Syria, and it is only since this summer that they have taken over the file. They wish to marginalise the al-Qaida franchisees such as Isil and the al-Nusra Front while buying up and arming enough…war-bands to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

The directors of Saudi policy in Syria – the Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, the head of the Saudi intelligence agency Prince Bandar bin Sultan and the Deputy Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan – plan to spend billions raising a militant Sunni army some 40,000 to 50,000 strong. Already local warlords are uniting to share in Saudi largesse for which their enthusiasm is probably greater than their willingness to fight.

The Saudi initiative is partly fuelled by rage in Riyadh at President Obama’s decision not to go to war with Syria after Assad used chemical weapons on 21 August, 2013. Nothing but an all-out air attack by the US similar to that of Nato in Libya in 2011 would overthrow Assad, so the US has essentially decided he will stay for the moment.

Saudi anger has been further exacerbated by the successful US-led negotiations on an interim deal with Iran over its nuclear programme.


By stepping out of the shadows in Syria, the Saudis are probably making a mistake. Their money will only buy them so much. The artificial unity of militant groups with their hands out for Saudi money is not going to last. They will be discredited in the eyes of more fanatical militants as well as Syrians in general as pawns of Saudi and other intelligence services.

A divided opposition will be even more fragmented. Jordan may accommodate the Saudis and a multitude of foreign intelligence services, but it will not want to be the rallying point for an anti-Assad army.


The Saudi plan looks doomed from the start, though it could get a lot more Syrians killed before it fails. Yazid Sayegh of the Carnegie Middle East Centre highlights succinctly the risks involved in the venture: “Saudi Arabia could find itself replicating its experience in Afghanistan, where it built up disparate…[militant] groups that lacked a unifying political framework. The forces were left unable to govern Kabul once they took it, paving the way for the Taliban to take over. Al-Qaida followed, and the blowback subsequently reached Saudi Arabia.”


ISIS said it had "struck its stronghold in the so-called security zone in southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday ... in the first small installment of a heavy account that awaits these shameless criminals."

If confirmed, it would be the first time that ISIS had claimed responsibility for an attack in Beirut, which has suffered a wave of bombings since last summer, mostly targeting civilians in the southern suburbs of Beirut whose residents mostly support Hezbollah.

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