Last night, Beirut saw its first major car bomb since the Iranian embassy attack back in February. Residents had been enjoying this timely passage of quiet; the weather was good, the people high-spirited and all eyes were on the World Cup. In a country surrounded by collapsing nations, and whose politics have been tense ever since its parliament failed to elect a new president in May, the Lebanese were doing well to shrug such things off.
Reports suggest that a male driver had detonated a Mercedes Benz packed full of explosives near a crowded café and military checkpoint, in a Shia district of southern Beirut. 15 people were injured as they watched Brazil vs. Cameroon thrash it out on the outdoor screens.
Lebanon: The wreckage of a car reportedly used in a blast in a Beirut suburb, a short while ago. pic.twitter.com/vxkSWaz7Hf— grasswire (@grasswire) June 23, 2014
This latest attack comes after last Friday's suicide bomb and assassination attempt on the Lebanese security chief, Major General Abbas Ibrahim. The failed hit took place outside of the capital, in the Bekaa Valley.
And on the same day, 17 people, some believed to have been foreigners, were arrested at a hotel in Hamra, Beirut, under the suspicion that they were plotting to assassinate a prominent Lebanese Shia leader. No further details have been released over their nationality and intentions, but many are attributing this to the very recent developments in Iraq; the gains made by ISIS, a radical Sunni group, appear to be emboldening others.
Giving a master class in social media, ISIS fighters have provided real-time updates of their advances, attempting to portray the "human" side to an otherwise incomprehensible group. And this danger has been noted, with Downing Street now calling for YouTube to remove ISIS' latest recruitment video.
Cats love Mujahideen! BTW This bro dint want his wife to know that hes here,so just saved his smile aftr the edits=D pic.twitter.com/yKqNrO4YwS— Life of a Mujahid (@LifeofMujahid) June 22, 2014
Their Internet presence also gives an idea of the group's grand plans, which look ambitious and unsettling to say the least. The initial desire to establish an Islamic caliphate across Iraq and the Levant, which includes Lebanon, has now been surpassed by a growing appetite to control an area spanning continents, as the map below illustrates.
In any case, Iraq's immediate neighbors are getting worried. Yesterday saw Jordanian APCs, tanks and missiles massing along Jordan's eastern border after unconfirmed reports that Tirbeel, an Iraqi-Jordanian border town, had been taken over by Sunni tribesmen.
And from within the country, fears of an extremist uprising in Jordan's southern town of Ma'an emerged. Dozens of people took to the streets on Friday, rallying in support of ISIS and flying the group's notorious black flag. From the footage of the march, a large white banner can be seen to declare: "Ma'an, the Falujah of Jordan."
So how does this all relate back to last night's car bomb? Well accusations have resurfaced, of Iran and Saudi Arabia playing Middle Eastern nations off one another, manipulating the historical narrative of Sunni - Shia antagonism. Each state holds a vested interest in being the dominating power in the region, and it seems they will throw money and expertise at any group whom they deem to be sufficiently useful in attaining their long-term goals.
And Lebanon therefore, faces the danger of being caught in the middle. It is a small, Sunni, Shia and Christian country, which ISIS has already promised to lay siege to. So, much like the Iraqi sectarianism of past and present, the powerful Lebanese Shia group, Hezbollah, may soon be drawn into a conflict that is already reaching beyond the conventions of international borders.
All eyes are on ISIS now, and this is probably just what they had hoped for.