“It’s a message,” Hezbollah parliament member Nawar al-Sahili told reporters when asked whether the attacks were a response to Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iran and Shiite militant group Hezbollah have provided vital support to Assad, helping secure his recent advances on the battlefield.
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“The people who are losing ground in Syria … are behind this act of terrorism,” Sahili said, before crossing a cordon to survey the damage.
The close relations between Iran and its proxy Hezbollah were on display at the scene of the attack, where embassy security worked alongside Hezbollah members (identified by their yellow armbands and numbered lanyards) to secure the site.
The al-Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigade, which is reported to have various branches in Lebanon and the Arabian Peninsula, took responsibility for the attack on Twitter, warning that more attacks would follow for as long as Hezbollah continued to side with the Assad government.
Less than a week before, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gave a rare public speech to tens of thousands of followers in Beirut, pledging that his group would remain and fight on in Syria.
Following Tuesday’s attack, Haidar, a 25-year-old Hezbollah commander, said that his group was more resolved than ever.
“Hezbollah is in Syria for one reason: We are fighting them over there so that these people won’t come here,” he said. “I don’t like war, but when I go to Syria I know it is for a reason.”
Fight Them ‘Over There’
Aram Nerguizian of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International studies said such attacks are “embarrassing” for Hezbollah, a sign of vulnerability and collateral damage inflicted for its involvement in Syria. He stressed that such attacks actually play into the party narrative that Shiites are under attack by extremists.
“If anyone thought this would weaken Shiite support for Hezbollah, they are mistaken,” he said. “There is no fracture. They are in it all the way.”
Hezbollah has also become bolder in its operations in Lebanon, dispensing “with much of its usual cloak and dagger. They don’t even bother to hide their new urban war maneuver training grounds from surveillance,” said Nerguizian, referring to Hezbollah’s once-clandestine Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) facilities, now visible to the public through open source reports and satellite imagery.
Echoes Across the Border
As Beirutis picked up the pieces of the embassy attack, the battle for the villages surrounding Qalamoun, a strategic 70-kilometer stretch of mountainous terrain on the Syrian side of the border, was under way. Agence France-Press reported on Tuesday that the Syrian military had captured the village of Qara, which sits on the critical supply route between Damascus and Homs.
Haidar has spent five months on duty in Syria since Hezbollah began fighting there, and said he is one of 50 to 100 commanders on his level. He trumpeted his group’s military prowess. “The Syrian army are a classic army; they must be 120 in a group,” he said, while “Hezbollah can be 10. If Hezbollah was not in Syria, Assad wouldn’t stay one minute.”
Nerguizian noted that time is on Hezbollah’s side in the fight for Qalamoun, with the group likely to steadily besiege the area by cutting off supply lines as winter sets in.
“Qusayr was the primary route from Lebanon to Syria to transit guns, money and people. Now this has decreased and just Ersal is left,” said Haidar, referring to the Sunni enclave in the Bekaa Valley that serves as a transit point for Syrian rebels stationed in the Qalamoun. “We’ll close off [the route between Ersal and Qalamoun] in 10 days. Then they can last 15 days, maybe a month.”
Haidar saw Qalamoun as a turning point. “When this area is under Hezbollah control, nothing can go to Syria. Turkey is tightening its border and Iraq is already closed. Only Jordan will remain, and they cannot stand alone,” he said.
“After Qalamoun, all is finished.”