Beirut is no stranger to deadly bombing attacks, but few have had such serious long-term implications for Hizballah, Iran and the Palestinians, as the double suicide attack on Monday, Nov. 16, opposite Hizballah headquarters in the Bourj-al Barajneh district of southern Beirut.
The two bombers killed 43 people and injured hundreds in explosions that were just 150 meters apart.
The Beirut bombing is seen as part of a series of spectacular “external” terrorist attacks launched by ISIS in the last three weeks, along with the downing of the Russian plane in the Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31 and the multiple assaults on Paris on Nov. 13.
In a separate article in this issue, DEBKA Weekly brought you an exclusive exposé of the plotters and executors of the Russian airline disaster in Sinai. In this item, our intelligence and counterterrorism sources uncover the agents who perpetrated the Beirut bombing as proxies of the Islamic State.
Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s first reaction was one of defiance: “If they (ISIS) assume that killing our men and women and children and burning our markets would weaken our determination, then they are mistaken,” he said in a televised speech. Nasrallah vowed the attack “will increase our determination…we will go and search for new fronts to open against ISIS.”
Bombing shook Hizballah’s legitimacy as an “army of resistance”
But more tellingly, he also dismissed rumors spreading across Beirut which attributed the bombings to Palestinians living not far from the Lebanese capital. Nasrallah claimed “the leaking of the names is intended to stir up strife between Lebanese and their Palestinian and Syrian neighbors.”
Asserting strongly that all the bombers were Syrian and Lebanese, he warned against the targeting of “”Syrians, Palestinians and Sunni Lebanese” in the wake of the attacks.
“Palestinians and Syrians were among the martyrs and the wounded. This terrorism does not differentiate (between its victims),” he said.
The Hizballah leader’s insistence on this point is understandable, once it is clear that those responsible for the assault on the center of Shiite rule in Lebanon were none other than Sunni Palestinians, because this cuts the ground from under his oft-repeated contention that his organization is a “resistance group” whose mission is to liberate the Palestinians and their land from Zionist occupation – not just a terrorist organization.
The “resistance” slogan on behalf of the Palestinians, has given Hizballah, a political and religious party, the legitimacy to maintain an autonomous army in sovereign Lebanon, equipped with advanced heavy weapons systems such as long-range surface-to-surface missiles, or sea-to-sea ones – all of course, aimed at Israel.
Palestinian ISIS proxies from Ain Hilweh bombed Beirut
But when Palestinians strike Hizballah on behalf of ISIS, Hassan Nasrallah loses his raison d'être raison for conducting terrorist operations against Israel and, just as importantly, for sending his followers to the Syrian battlefield to die for Bashar Assad.
In the past year, the Hizballah chief has often explained that his people are fighting in Syria because, if Assad goes, ISIS, whom he calls “takfirs” or Sunnis, will be able to storm across the border into Lebanon and massacre the Shiite population, which Hizballah aspires to protect and represent.
Hizballah is therefore fighting in Syria to defend the homeland.
That contention would likewise lose its force if Palestinians were seen to be acting as the Islamic Sate’s long arm into Beirut.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources report that, just as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi know who carried out the attack on the Russian plane, Nasrallah too knows exactly who was responsible for the suicide bombings in Beirut.
The perpetrators were, according to our sources, five to seven members of radical jihadist groups embedded in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, opposite the south Lebanese coastal town of Sidon.
Crammed with 60,000 Palestinians, parts of the camp are so violent that Lebanese security forces never set foot there.
Hizballah-trained Palestinians hired to instruct ISIS recruits
In Taware, for instance, Palestinians openly display the black flag of ISIS, and shopkeepers hang the photograph of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi next to that of Osama Bin Laden.
The largest Palestinian organization in the refugee camp is directly tied to ISIS in Syria, with the Shabab al-Muslim, or Muslim Youth, serving as liaison. The three suicide bombers who carried out the Beirut attacks (one failed to detonate) belonged to this Palestinian organization. Most of its local members are aged 15-17.
Others come from the 6,000 refugees who fled the war-stricken Palestinian camps around Damascus and Latakia in the last two years.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources point out that the phenomenon of increasing Palestinian adherence to ISIS terror networks is not confined to Lebanon. There are quite a few Palestinians, mostly from the Gaza Strip, fighting in the ranks of the ISIS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula.
Also, officers from the Palestinian extremist Hamas, who were trained by Iran and Hizballah, serve as senior military instructors at the large facility ISIS established in Libya to train new recruits from Middle East lands. The camp is located in the Libyan coastal town of Sirte, halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi.
The Palestinian instructors are to be found there turning their terror and military expertise against the Shiite Hizballah and Iran, who taught them those skills, in the service of the burgeoning Sunni jihadi group.
Tehran’s investment in funding, training and arming Palestinian extremists has backfired with a vengeance.
There are also increasing numbers of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship trying to cross the border into Lebanon or Syria in order to join ISIS.