The explosion that ripped through Downtown Beirut Friday, taking the lives of former Minister Mohammad Shatah and five other people, wasn’t merely the latest in a long series of terror acts targeting Lebanon. It can also be seen as the first salvo in a new attempt to push the country straight into the abyss.
The killing of Shatah, a key figure in the March 14 coalition, follows months of political paralysis and rising tension, stemming mainly from the dispute over Hezbollah’s participation in the war raging in Syria.
The atmosphere has been poisoned by the threatening tone of rhetoric used by March 8 politicians, who have overtly and covertly warned the March 14 camp to accept whatever policies and conditions they decide are in the “national interest.”
And in a few weeks’ time, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will finally commence its long-awaited trial of Hezbollah members accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, a crime that took place relatively close to Friday’s horrific bombing.
The car bomb attack, in a heavily monitored part of the capital, was also significant because it took place in close proximity to the government serail as well as the home of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has long been the target of threats of assassination.
However, the target of the attack deserves special scrutiny. Shatah symbolized March 14’s policy of moderation, and its firm belief in the process of national dialogue to help Lebanon exit its current crisis.
By targeting Shatah – and the other moderate March 14 figures in recent years – the criminals have exposed their agenda. They want to rob Lebanon of the kind of figures who can help the country move forward. They want the voices of extremism and hatred to grow stronger, in a vicious circle of tension and conflagration.
Only those who operate based on blind hatred, who devote themselves to playing with the fire of sectarian and other types of polarization, and who believe that violence is a solution to political disagreements, will be emboldened by Shatah’s killing.
It’s not enough to bemoan the lack of security and the long list of crimes that preceded Friday’s attack – because they have gone unpunished, Lebanon’s enemies have become emboldened to strike down whomever they see as a threat to their influence. And it’s certainly not enough, as some March 8 politicians are doing, to blame Israel, without any evidence. This only misleads the public and does nothing to address the root problem – no one is being punished for the long list of outrageous crimes that have targeted Lebanon and the Lebanese.
Lebanon is standing on the brink of a precipice, and those who uphold sovereignty and independence should make every possible effort to prevent the criminals who cold-bloodedly carried out Friday’s bombing from reaping any benefit from this despicable crime.