Anonymous U.S. officials are quoted by the NY Times stating explicitly that a Hezbollah suicide bomber attacked the Israeli tourist bus yesterday. While this is entirely possible, I think we should remember the bizarre bombing plot of a few months ago in which a small-time Iranian drug dealer was alleged by the Justice Department to have direct links to the Revolutionary Guards, and to have plotted the assassination of the Saudi ambassador. By the way, this is the same person, Bandar ibn Sultan, just appointed chief of Saudi intelligence.
We haven’t heard a peep from the government about the so-called Saudi bomb plot though Obama had it all over the front pages at the time, since it was a useful cudgel to use against Iran. So I think caution is warranted in approaching this latest claim.
But let’s assume the news is true and review the issues surrounding possible Hezbollah involvement. Why would they do it? Yesterday, former Israeli national security advisor, Uzi Arad, gave a fascinating interview (Hebrew audio beginning around the 5:00 mark) to Israeli Army (Galey Tzahal) radio. You’ll recall that the irascible Arad left the prime minister’s office (or was fired) in a huff, after being accused of leaking prejudicial information that angered the Obama administration. When he left, he was not a happy camper. As I recall, he even threatened a lawsuit.
Yesterday, Arad got a dose of revenge. He revealed for the first time (Hebrew) a secret that most of the world already knew: that the Mossad assassinated Hezbollah’s second in command, Imad Mugniyeh in 2008. But this statement seemed extraordinarily candid considering it came from an ex-Mossad spy and hardline Israeli national security official. It was made in response to Bibi Netanyahu’s claim that Iran was behind the Bulgaria attack and, as such, was the “world’ leading exporter of terror:”
We are to a great extent the initiator. We attacked Imad Mugniyeh and we are conducting a battle against Iran [an allusion possibly to Israeli assassinations there]. We are not passive. The other side is responding [to us], deterring and [counter] attacking. If Israel responds to this [the Bulgaria bombing], then we must take into account that the other side will respond in kind. That’s the dynamic.
…Both Syria and Iran are in retreat. The side that is on the attack is the one seeking to stop Syria and Iran and that will, at the right moment, deal with this problem called Hezbollah.
He said about yesterday’s attack: “now is Iran’s revenge.” How is the assassination of a Hezbollah leader Iran’s revenge? First, Mugniyeh was the chief liaison between the Lebanese Islamist movement and Iran. He was rumored to have played a role in the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in which 250 U.S. soldiers died. He certainly played a key role operationally in Hezbollah’s defense of southern Lebanon during the 2006 war.
In that sense, Iran might’ve wanted revenge just for Mugniyeh’s killing. But personally, that wouldn’t make sense to me. That wouldn’t be enough to motivate Iran to take such a large risk that might lead to war. But given today’s claim of Hezbollah authorship, Arad’s comment yesterday makes much more sense. It isn’t Iran’s revenge, but rather Hezbollah’s. Of course, the two maintain such close relations that there might’ve been some Iranian involvement. And certainly Iran can count this as some sort of revenge (however twisted) for the Mossad murder of its nuclear scientists. But Hezbollah has clear motivation and the least to lose from orchestrating this act of terror.
With such an act it avenges the murder of Mugniyeh and strikes a further blow in return for Israel’s devastation of southern Lebanon during the 2006 war. But what disturbs me about this claim is that Hezbollah hasn’t engaged in such an act of international terror in nearly 20 years. And that’s considering you accept disputed claims that it was involved in the 1994 Argentina bombings. For it to return to such activities seems out of character for the movement. Until now, it has kept the scope of its activities confined to Lebanon itself and its direct feud with Israel.
Israel has warned periodically since 2006 of Hezbollah’s intent to take revenge on its targets abroad. Recently, a suspected Hezbollah operative was arrested in Cyprus for allegedly planning to attack Israeli targets.
If Hezbollah authored the attack, it is willing to go on the attack against Israel despite the heavy losses it incurred in 2006. It is prepared to absorb whatever losses it may incur from expected Israeli counter-attacks. In short, it’s willing to turn back the clock to those dark days of war. With the major difference, that it now has several times the missiles it had then to fire at Israel if hostilities are renewed. It also means that Iran is prepared to see a possible renewal of hostilities on the Lebanese front as well. Which is important to Hezbollah because Iran is its major arms supplier.
I don’t know how the unrest in Syria factors into this. It certainly complicates things for Iran, as Syria was the major arms conduit for matériel it sent to Lebanon. Further, if major hostilities break out in northern Israel alongside a possible Syrian civil war, one wonders how much instability this small region can take at the same time. Not to mention that the more instability there is, the easier it would be for a single incident or even a single bullet to blow the entire region to smithereens, along the lines of the 1914 Sarajevo assassination that precipitated World War I (Trita Parsi picked up on this reference in his post at Open Zion yesterday).
Finally, let’s reiterate a message I’ve stated here countless times (and it was Arad’s too): terror isn’t born ex nihilo. It comes from a context. The context here is that Israel’s acts of vengeance (for example, its launch of all-out war against Leabanon in response to the death of several of her soldiers) have spurred retaliation from the other side. If the U.S. and/or Israel believe that their own acts of terror can bring Iran to heel or force it to do anything it refuses to do (like end its nuclear program), it will pay dearly for the presumption.
To be clear, this is not justification for Iranian or Hezbollah terror. It is a factual, realistic prognosis of what will happen if each side continues to believe it can bomb the other into submission. Blood is blood. It doesn’t matter if it’s Israeli or Iranian or Lebanese. If you shed their blood they’ll shed yours. Should we get to the point where we have to measure which side has the most blood to spare, and can thereby outlast the others? If that’s the case we might as well abandon our pretence of being a civilization and resort to primal wars of conquest and extermination of the sort recounted in the Old Testament. Or better yet, to quote Randy Newman, “Let’s drop the Big One now.”
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.