Epic changes in the Middle East often start with small, unnoticed events.
One such event was signaled by a speech delivered Monday, Nov. 12, by Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah at a ceremony commemorating Martyrs’ Day, which he said marked 30 years since the founding of “Islamic resistance.”
This year’s ceremony was dedicated to a man and occurrence which have all but disappeared from Western and Israeli memories.
Nov. 11, 1982, at around 7 a.m., a huge explosion flattened the building housing Israeli military administration in the Lebanese coastal town of Tyre. It left 76 Israeli soldiers, security personnel and border police dead as well as 27 Lebanese nationals.
Israel declared a day of national mourning at the time, while refusing to admit the disaster was one of the earliest terrorist mass-murders on record. It was marked down as caused by a gas explosion.
However, some weeks later, the small Shiite village of Bir Canon al-Nahar near Baalbek in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley, raised a monument to one Ahmed Kassir. The dedication lauded the martyr who drove a car bomb loaded with explosives into the Israeli command center in Tyre and killed Israeli troops.
Acknowledging this calamity as a terrorist attack – and treating it as such – may possibly have averted, the suicide bombing of the US Marine base in Beirut a year later, on Oct. 23, 1983, when 241 US Marines lost their lives.
Nasrallah takes a bow before Egyptian diplomats
Nasrallah chose to remember the suicide bomber Ahmed Kassir. But he used his speech for a more pragmatic purpose. Five diplomats from the Egyptian embassy in Beirut had suddenly turned up to hear his taped speech among the mostly Hizballah officers and rank and file – a unique occurrence and significant enough for a rapid Nasrallah ad lib.
Referring to the Palestinian-Israeli clashes which erupted in Gaza two days earlier (A separate item focuses on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s role in that flare-up), Hizballah’s leader asked provocatively: What does the Egyptian president plan to do in Gaza when the Zionists run wild there? He went on to accuse President Mohamed Morsi over being over-cautious with regard to Israel.
The Hizballah leader spent the first part of his speech boasting of the “Lebanese resistance movement’s” capacity to deter Israel from an attack, and describing how the Iranian-made drone which had penetrated deep into Israeli airspace (on October 6) and came very close to the Dimona nuclear plant, was part of its strategy of deterrence.
“We have reached a point,” Nasrallah bragged, “where we forced the enemy (Israel) to acknowledge our deterrent strength.”
While Nasrallah’s fire-eating rhetoric is a common feature of Middle East airwaves, the presence of Egyptian diplomats at a Hizballah Shiite ceremony was a novelty. It was a conspicuous departure from the 30 years in which Egypt shunned any contact with Lebanese and any other Shiite terrorist organizations.
Is the Muslim Brotherhood being drawn into the Shiite-led radical orbit?
Obama administration officials have often been quoted as asserting that backing the Syrian revolt against the Assad regime would be worthwhile if it led to the collapse of the radical Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah axis. Now Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood rule is stepping across certain lines with the symbolic gesture of sending its diplomats to attend a Hizballah religious ceremony celebrating the memory of a suicide bomber as a “martyr.”
Does this mean that the New Egypt is preparing to throw in its lot with Hizballah’s allies, Syria and Iran?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East sources read a pointer to this intention in the Beirut event.
If Cairo goes through with this realignment, Iran and Hizballah would be able to celebrate their substantially enhanced standing in the Middle East. Israel would be set back in the regional power stakes and have even more to worry about in its uncertain relations with Islamic-ruled Egypt.
Cairo may be seeking to cash in on the close ties the radical Palestinian Hamas in Gaza has developed with the extremist Lebanese Hizballah, the source of some of its armaments and military training. The hand of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was ominously detected in the missile offensive Hamas launched against Israel on Nov 10 . (See a separate article on this involvement).
Putting all these events together is making Israel feel increasingly squeezed by an Islamic military belt, which also encloses neighboring Jordan.