Across the Bay

Sunday, February 27, 2005


Readers have asked for my reading of the latest Tel Aviv suicide bombing, and whether it was related to the current situation in Lebanon. Needless to say, I have no idea for certain, so all I have to offer is speculation. There are several theories floating around and I'm sure you've heard most of them.

An Islamic Jihad official in Beirut claimed responsibility. The Damascus-based Islamic Jihad had also told reporters that the attack was in retaliation to Israel's violation of the truce. There are rumors that Islamic Jihad may have split, as the Gaza office vehemently denied any involvement, whereas the West Bank office seemed to endorse it.

The other suspect is Hizbullah. It was senior Palestinian officials who fingered Hizbullah, and Abbas appeared to be implicitly accusing them when he talked of "third party" involvement. Allegedly, a Hizbullah official by the name of Qays Obeid recruited the Palestinian youngster and then asked the Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades to endorse the operation. Hizbullah has denied any involvement and so has Syria. It's also worth noting that Israel, while not ruling out a Hizbullah involvement, seems to be leaning more in the direction of the Damascus-based Islamic Jihad and its Syrian patrons, as Mofaz's statements suggest. This may be significant.

What's certainly significant is the reaction of the Palestinians, both officially and on the popular level. A resident of Jenin voiced his frustration at Hizbullah: "If Hezbollah was behind this attack, I as a Palestinian tell them, 'Deal with your own problems and stay out of ours.'" As the Palestinians continue to sense that negotiations are delivering better results than violence, the infatuation with Hizbullah will continue to diminish, and with it Hizbullah's regional prestige. So such statements are very important.

However, I find the official Palestinian blame of Hizbullah somewhat all too convenient. I mean, Israel is blaming Islamic Jihad in Syria, while it could just as easily have focused on Hizbullah, if all it was interested in is pressure on Syria. The Palestinians are understandably trying to disentangle themselves from this attack, lest it ruins the talks and embarrasses Abbas. So it might be convenient for them to blame it all on Hizbullah, when it may be an internal Palestinian thing, as Josh Landis seems to think (although he's more interested in saying that the Syrians may not have had foreknowledge about this. Color me suspicious!). This is not to say that Hizbullah is not involved, but one has to keep the former point in mind if indeed the Syrian-based Islamic Jihad is the culprit, as Israel seems to believe. At any rate, the rejection of this "regional resistance" rationale for the sake of national interests is important (the whole notion of the primacy of national interests as opposed to ideologyand rage in itself is a significant development in the Palestinian territories). It also echoes Jumblat's statements about Hizbullah and the Shebaa Farms (see my post "Jumblat vs. Hizbullah"). As this gains traction it will damage Hizbullah's prestige in the immediate region. Similarly, Josh writes in relation to Syria: "Syria’s old cards are blowing up in its hands ... It is completely isolated. The Lebanese, Iraqi and Palestinian fronts have all boomeranged against Syria. They are not cards but self inflicted wounds. The government will have to give them all up to save itself." (Emphasis mine.)

So, while it may be Hizbullah trying to revive the primacy of the fight against Israel (as opposed to Syria) from which it draws its prestige, and thus trying to match its rhetoric, what if it was the Syrian-based Islamic Jihad? Whether this indicates a split in a Palestinian organization (it wouldn't be the first time either) or not, it's clear that if the Damascus-based office did it, the Syrian knew about it. So is this Syria trying to remind everyone that it can still do a lot of damage and not just in Lebanon? Does this say that even if you take away the Lebanon card, we can still do a whole lot of damage in Israel and we still have a say in Palestinian affairs, so you better make sure to resume talks on the Golan? Bashar recently called for a direct talks with the US to continue discussion over "security issues" because, as he put it, the US "lacks vision" in the region, and that can create a lot of "chaos." Is this his attempt to try to bargain over "security" in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories? Also, the Syrians have supposedly handed Saddam's half-brother along with 29 other officials (what, all of a sudden they are operating in Syria!?) to Iraq. So is this Bashar's way of both enticing (and bribing, in order to see where the US priority lies, in Iraq or Lebanon, so maybe he'll catch a break on Lebanon) as well as reminding the US of the kind of trouble he's capable of causing? The US has so far dissociated all these issues, and maintained that it won't do any "swaps." It's all plausible, but this is all speculation, and I clearly can't say for sure.

So after all this, that's all I have!! Nothin'! We'll see how this develops.

Update: Ghassan Tueni of An-Nahar picks it up a couple of notches. Tueni wondered (Arabic) why the Damascus-based Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility from Beirut!? He wonders whether this was hoping somehow to draw an Israeli retaliation against Lebanon, thus providing the pretext for the Syrians to claim that their presence is necessary to protect Lebanon and its unity. Tueni said that the Syrians know very well that any threat from Israel against Lebanon would give them that pretext. Tueni also accused the Syrians of instigating a renewal of an Israeli-Palestinian war, that the Palestinians don't want, in Lebanon, and whose price Lebanon will have to pay. This is partially why I said that Israel's insistence on pointing the finger at Syria (and not Lebanon or Hizbullah, as the Palestinians did) is significant.