‘Black Friday’ in Lebanon: air-strikes, terror blasts —and confusion

The Israeli air force struck the compound of a Palestinian militant group in Lebanon Aug. 23—hours after a different organization claimed responsibility for four rockets fired into northern Israel from Lebanese territory, causing some damage but no casualties. Israel’s military said, “The pilots reported direct hits to the target.” Lebanese media said the target was a position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), whereas the rocket salvo was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an Islamist group that similarly claimed rocket fire on Israel in 2009 and 2011. Israeli army spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai actually said the rockets were “launched by the global jihad terror organization”—standard Israeli military lingo for the al-Qaeda network. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened retaliation after the rocket strikes: “Anyone who harms us, or tries to harm us, should know—we will strike them.” Yet the retailiation didn’t strike “them.” (AFP, Lebanon Daily Star, Aug. 23)

The PFLP-GC and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are actually bitter enemies. PFLP-GC, led by Damascus-based Ahmed Jibril, is extremist and rejectionist, but also secular—and allied with the Bashar Assad regime. The Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades, in contrast, are aligned with the Salafist rebels fighting to bring down the Assad regime. Israeli military affairs columnist Ron Ben-Yishai admitted this ciognitive dissonance in an analysis for YNet, justifying it thusly:

This is interesting because Jibril is a supporter of the current Syrian regime while the actual rocket launchers are rebel supporters. Some would say the attack therefore lacks logic but we must bear in mind that when Israel defends itself while trying to prevent a spillover of intra-Arab conflicts, it must adopt its neighbors’ logic and not the West’s cause and effect rationale.

Also Aug. 23, car bombs exploded outside two Sunni mosques in Tripoli, killing 42 and wounding hundreds—the highest toll in an attack in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war. Both blasts hit at the hour of weekly Friday prayers, and at least five children are reported among the dead.  Al-Taqwa Mosque, the second targeted in the near-simultaneous blasts, came as Sheikh Salem Rafei, a leading Salafist cleric and harsh opponent of Bashar Assad, was delivering a sermon. After the blast, an angry crowd, hundreds strong, gathered outside the  mosque, shouting curses against Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

The blasts come a week after a bombing in the Beirut bastion of Hezbollah, killing 22. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah blamed that attack on “takfiris”—the standard Shi’te pejorative for Sunni militants, perhaps best rendered as “those who accuse others of apostasy.” But Hezbollah reacted to the Tripoli bombings by saying they were part of a plan to “plunge Lebanon into chaos and destruction”—without, it seems, explicitly denying responsibility. 

Lebanon’s media have dubbed the day of violence “Black Friday.” (AFP, Lebanon Daily Star, Aug. 23; BBC News, Aug. 16)

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  1. Pro-Syrian regime cleric killed in Lebanon
    Saadeddine Ghiyeh, a Lebanese Sunni cleric close to the Syrian regime was shot dead by tmasked men on a motorbike in Tripoli on Nov. 12. Ghiyeh was a member of the Islamic Action Front, an umbrella grouping of pro-Syrian regime Sunni groups in Lebanon. He was wounded several months earlier by a grenade that was thrown at him. He was reportedly close to the head of the Front, Hashem Minkara, who was arrested four days ago on suspicion of involvement in an August 23 double bombing in Tripoli that killed 45 people. (AFP, Nov. 12)

  2. Twin blasts at Iran’s embassy in Beirut
    Two explosions near the Iranian embassy in Beirut have left at least 20 dead and nearly 100 wounded. The dead include two Iranian nationals, and embassy’s cultural attaché was critically wounded. The embassy is located in the Janah  nieghborhood, described as a Hezbollah stronghold. (AP, Nov. 19)

    The Abdullah Azzam Brigades have reportedly claimed credit for the blasts, but the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon, Ghadanfar Roknabadi, said it was an “Israeli scheme” and that the attacks served  the “Zionist entity.” (Jewish Press, Nov. 19)