For decades, the port of Beirut has been a common site of explosions, insurgent and terrorist attacks.
And until a bomb that set off in the capital’s east killed the former army chief General Abbas al-Azmi on Saturday, no one had died there since 1996.
On Sunday, the government resigned, collapsing after a week of opposing cabinet members refusing to meet because they accused each other of infighting.
On Sunday, the government resigned, collapsing after a week of opposing cabinet members refusing to meet because they accused each other of infighting. After a series of bombings last month — particularly one on the embassy of France that killed a woman — the government’s defeat, on the foreign minister’s terms, gives a domestic opening to the country’s main opponent to an Arab Spring-style uprising, the group Hezbollah.
The attacks are most likely connected to rivalries among hardline opponents and supporters of a political rival, Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group with control of key regions of Lebanon and significant influence in the country’s security apparatus.
Lebanon “will really only be a force in internal affairs again,” if there is no political dialogue “to determine what kind of political system we have,” said Daniel Levy, senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a former member of the U.S. ambassador’s team in Beirut.
In a series of interviews over the past several days, political and security officials in Lebanon shared their fears that the escalating political crisis will drive people into jihadist or sectarian conflicts and perhaps lead to an explosion at Beirut’s international airport, known as Jebril International Airport, which has a dozen runways and several terminals.
The U.S. Embassy in Beirut sent out warnings over the past week for U.S. citizens to take precautionary measures, including “movement in large groups” to avoid the airport, limit travel to key institutions and be on the lookout for “suspicious persons or activities.”
The airport was shut down in March after the explosion that killed Azmi and in response to security concerns over the political violence and protests that have hit the country since then. After a series of bombings last month — particularly one on the embassy of France that killed a woman — the government’s defeat, on the foreign minister’s terms, gives a domestic opening to the country’s main opponent to an Arab Spring-style uprising, the group Hezbollah.
In an interview in his office on Sunday, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said that three U.S. senators had warned him that another attack could be imminent at Jebril Airport, but “I told them not to worry, because it’s on the off-chance that some person comes to take pleasure from killing Lebanese soldiers that we will make every effort to close the airport.”
The fear about Jebril was based on the possibility that militants from Hezbollah could head to Lebanon from neighboring Syria to carry out attacks, Mr. Bassil said.
Neither the United States nor the United Nations has accused Hezbollah of involvement in the Beirut attack, and the group said in a statement on Sunday that any suggestion of a link was “baseless.” It said that “heroic Lebanese security forces” had stopped the group’s agents and found only ammunition from France, which opposes Iran.
“Iran and Hezbollah have always said it is against terrorism and that they are not terrorist organizations,” said Hossein Mousavian, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “They have always declared that they are non-violent.”
“It’s a psychological game that the western states have played with Hezbollah,” he said. “They have disarmed the revolution in Syria, and Hezbollah went to Damascus to announce their heroic resistance.”
They have consistently used their money and influence to attack them, he said.
The most recent sign that fighting is escalating was the resignation of several cabinet ministers from Mr. Bassil’s Future Movement, mostly in an effort to expel some senior officers who have allegedly close ties to Hezbollah, which rules Lebanon in coalition with smaller parties, including the organization Dawa.
The majority of the country is less nationalist and more religious, and those who back Mr. Bassil and his party, as well as the Saudi-backed Hariri Group, are trying to shape the political situation.