ISIS bombing of Beirut is more important than Paris attacks

Bourj al-Barajneh The recent attacks by Islamic State militants in Paris continue to dominate the world’s headlines. But the double suicide blasts that struck Beirut three days earlier are far more significant for the future of the Syrian Civil War. The outpouring of grief that followed the attacks of November 15 in the French capital prompted charges of discrimination against the world’s media. The latter practically ignored the bombing of Lebanese capital Beirut on November 12, which killed 43 and injured over 200 people. The Islamic State, known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), claimed responsibility for the deadly blasts, which marked the bloodiest attack in the Lebanese capital since the end of the country’s civil war in 1990.

The contrast between the media’s treatment of the attacks in Paris and Beirut could not have been starker. The news of the double suicide blasts in Beirut hardly penetrated global headlines, with the exception of outlets like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Even the BBC, which typically pays more attention to non-Western news, relegated the incident to third place, behind a story about corruption in the international football association and the news of the killing of “Jihadi John”. There was no “safety check” app on Facebook, and no Lebanese flags were superimposed on users’ profile photos. Yet the blasts in Beirut are more significant than the attacks in Paris, for two reasons.

First, because attacking “soft targets” in Paris is far easier than attacking Beirut. Paris is a city of 2.2 million people, who are used to a life of relative security and hardly pay attention to their surroundings. The “city of light” features a café in nearly every corner, 13,000 restaurants and over 2,000 hotels; it is easy to enter and exit, and is hardly policed, even by Western standards. Beirut, on the other hand, is a tense Middle Eastern city with heavy police and military presence. The southern Beirut neighborhood of Bourj al-Barajneh, which was targeted by ISIS on November 12, is a Hezbollah stronghold, and probably one of the most tightly policed urban areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. There is little government presence there; but this does not mean that there is no security. On the contrary, Hezbollah militias and volunteers provide protection and conduct careful monitoring of nearly every street. Like its neighboring Dahieh, Bourj al-Barajneh is a world far removed from the fashionable streets of downtown Beirut, where Starbucks cafés and McDonald’s restaurants are frequented by fashionable Lebanese Christians and Western diplomats. Western intelligence has almost no presence Q Quotethere, and even the Mossad, Israel’s feared spy service, rarely ventures in the Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods.

The fact that ISIS was able to penetrate and bomb Bourj al-Barajneh is a monumental development in the ever-widening Syrian Civil War. It demonstrates the advanced planning and operational sophistication of ISIS and places the ball squarely in Hezbollah’s court. What is more, it was the second time in less than two years that ISIS bombed southern Beirut. The Shiite group has been humiliated, having been shown to lack the resources to protect its heartland from Sunni attacks. Moreover, the Lebanese group, which is almost exclusively funded by Iran, will have to respond to that provocation. For several months, the Middle East has been buzzing with rumors that Iran and Hezbollah are preparing a two-front, large-scale ground assault against ISIS forces. Do last week’s twin suicide attacks bring that possibility closer? The answer to that question may change the entire course of the Syrian Civil War.

There is also a second reason why the Beirut blasts are more important than the attacks in Paris, which is that they could actually contribute to a drastic change in the dynamics of ground forces in the region. Essentially, one thing is certain: Iran and Hezbollah seem far more willing at the moment to commit large numbers of ground troops in the battle against ISIS than any Western force, Q Quoteincluding France. Tehran has already admitted that it has lost several dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members in the war against the Islamic State. On November 15, Iran’s Minister of Intelligence, Mahmoud Alavi, warned that after Beirut and Paris, the Iranian capital may be next in ISIS’ list of targets. A day later, General Ahmad Reza Pourdestan, chief commanding officer of the Iranian Army’s ground forces, said that ISIS was planning to invade Iran, and warned that if ISIS forces reach within 25 miles of Iran’s border with Iraq, the Iranian military “will take action”. That rhetoric is far more poignant than the words of the French President, Francois Hollande, who has vouched to “destroy ISIS”, but has yet to commit a single solder to fight the militant group on the ground. Meanwhile, Dr David Kilcullen, arguably the world’s leading counterinsurgency expert, warned on Monday that, not only is it too late for ISIS to be destroyed, it is also too late for it to be contained. “If indeed it ever was possible to contain ISIS, I don’t think it is now. The idea of containing ISIS, that horse has bolted”, Kilcullen told the BBC.

In conclusion, the attacks in Paris were heart-rending, despicable and condemnable. However, they seem to be having little effect in bringing Western leaders closer to collaborating with each other, let along collaborating with Russia; nor do they seem to be prompting a commitment of Western ground troops in the fight against ISIS. The bombs in Bourj al-Barajneh, however, may prove to be critical for future developments on the ground in what has become the world’s most volatile and unpredictable hotspot.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 November 2015 | Permalink

2 Responses to ISIS bombing of Beirut is more important than Paris attacks

  1. Archibald Bomwitz says:

    Why be upset when two rabid dogs attack each other?

  2. TFH says:

    It does put a twist on things having traditional enemy of Israel attacked within days of attack on traditional friend of US.

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