Today’s double bomb attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut marks a deplorable and ominous escalation of the Syrian conflict. It was the first time a suicide bomber has struck a non-military target in Lebanon since 1999, and the first time that the Iranian Embassy has been attacked, although Shia civilians in southern Beirut have come under frequent assault. Whether or not the al-Qa’ida-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades was behind the atrocity, as the group claims, the explosions bring ever closer the fearful day when Lebanon will be fully swallowed up in the Syrian civil war.
Many tens of thousands of people have died since the first uprisings against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the spring of 2011, but the war itself, and the vast refugee crisis it has caused, garner steadily less attention from the outside world as time goes on. The Independent shares the general relief that – partly thanks to the House of Commons – President Obama decided against taking military action over the use of chemical weapons; the risk of the West being sucked into yet another Middle Eastern imbroglio was simply too high. And today, the US is involved in delicate negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue which may produce a preliminary deal as soon as this week. But even that should not distract global attention from the urgency of stopping the Syrian war.
One probable reason for the timing of the attack is that Assad’s forces are gaining ground, with the capture this week of a strategic village and the killing of an important rebel commander. The Beirut bombs were a reminder that the Sunni rebellion can still strike back. Now, with the US so deeply diplomatically involved elsewhere, the risk is that Assad and his supporters will convince themselves that they can win the war by military means.
This is not a view that can be allowed to prevail. Assad has committed too many crimes for the world to sit back and allow the mayhem to continue, erupting deeper inside Lebanon and Turkey as time goes on. The Beirut bombs are yet another reminder of the urgency of getting all sides to the conflict around the table to thrash out a peace deal.