Hezbollah’s alleged role in carrying out the Burgas bombing shows how dangerous the organization remains. Not for nothing did the former American defense official Rich Armitage once call it the “A-Team” of terrorism. It is not as professional as it was in the days when terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyah (who was killed in 2008, almost certainly by the Mossad) was running its international operations; in fact it can be downright amateurish at times as seen in its plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. It is certainly not as good as it once was about covering its tracks, assuming that it was behind the Burgas bombing, given that the Israeli and U.S. governments immediately traced the operation to it. But the Bulgaria operation shows that Hezbollah (along with its prime backer, Iran) maintains the desire and capacity to kill Israelis in particular and Jews in general around the world, and that, when push comes to shove, it will employ suicide bombers to do so–a tactic it hasn’t used in many years because it didn’t need to.
At the same time that Hezbollah is baring its fangs, however, it is also displaying its vulnerability. It has wound up in a no-win situation with regard to its patron in Syria: either Hezbollah embraces Bashar al-Assad and thereby alienates the Arab world, which has turned against this Alawite ruler–or it abandons Assad and risks losing its major source of weapons if Assad remains in power. Hamas, a Sunni terrorist group, has chosen to abandon Assad. But Hezbollah is a Shi’ite organization and remains true to the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. In fact, Hezbollah is doubling down in its support for Assad–and their mutual patrons in Tehran. As the New York Times notes:
In a televised address on Wednesday night, the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, offered eloquent condolences for the deaths of the three high-ranking Syrian officials killed earlier in the day. “These martyr leaders were comrades in arms in the conflict with the Israeli enemy, and we are confident that the Arab Syrian Army, which overcame the unbearable, will be able to persist and crush the hopes of the enemies,” he said.
He credited Mr. Assad and his government with the victory that Hezbollah claimed against Israel in the 2006 war in Lebanon and with saving Gaza during the 2009 Israeli incursion. “The most valuable weapons we had in our possession were from Syria,” he said. “The missiles we used in the second Lebanon war were made in Syria. And it’s not only in Lebanon but in Gaza as well. Where did these missiles come from? The Saudi regime? The Egyptian regime? These missiles are from Syria.”
Give Nasrallah points for honesty about the source of his weapons–but his embrace of the Assad henchmen who are killing thousands of their largely Sunni countrymen should dispel whatever appeal Hezbollah managed to win in the Arab world as a result of its wars against Israel, most recently in 2006. When Assad falls–it now seems more a matter of “when” rather than “if”–Nasrallah is going to have a big problem on his hands dealing with whatever regime comes next in Damascus. Assad’s foes will remember the way Hezbollah embraced the hated dictator.
Seen in this context, Hezbollah’s attack in Bulgaria–and its attempt to carry out similar murder plots elsewhere–is a sign of weakness, not strength. It is desperately trying to embrace the role of Israel-fighter even if it is not willing to risk a confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces–all it can do is slaughter unarmed tourists far from Israel.
Once Assad is gone, it will be imperative for the U.S. and its allies to once again turn their attention to Hezbollah and do what they can to undermine this murderous organization which has gained a stranglehold in Lebanese politics. By its own actions, Hezbollah is leaving itself vulnerable in the future. Let us hope we can exploit that vulnerability to allow Lebanon’s fragile democracy to reassert itself.