More than a week after an Irish UN peacekeeper was killed and others wounded in an attack on their vehicle in a village in Lebanon, reports say a suspect has been handed over to authorities. However, the reports indicate that Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group which is also a political party in parliament, was involved in handing the man over. This follows days in which Hezbollah claimed it was not responsible for the killing, but said the killing was also "unintended," implying it had some kind of a role.
Hezbollah controls the area of southern Lebanon where the UN vehicle was ambushed and the men killed. According to pro-Hezbollah accounts, the UN vehicle strayed into a village which is not on its usual route. However, that doesn't explain the killings.
Instead, those who excused the attack claimed the vehicle had come through the streets at night when men were on the streets watching the World Cup. An altercation occurred and the men murdered the driver of the vehicle. This doesn't make a lot of sense, since it can't be logical that Hezbollah both controls what happens but then can walk away from responsibility when there are attacks like this.
A message from Hezbollah?
The brutality of the attack, in which men fired at the windows and then ripped open the rear of the vehicle and shot seven times into the car, illustrates a vicious attack. This is not normal and it indicates that the men doing the shooting felt impunity. Was this a message from Hezbollah? Is it possible that the men made a mistake? The car was armored and clearly marked UN, so anyone shooting at it knew what they were doing.
Hezbollah understands that the focus is on the terror group. It has thus facilitated handing over a suspect. According to reports, the Lebanese army detained the man in a deal coordinated with Hezbollah. This shows the degree to which Hezbollah controls Lebanon. It functions as a powerful terror entity that is more powerful than the state itself. It conducts Lebanon's foreign and military policy, threatening other countries and sending forces to fight in places like Syria. It also feels free to carry out extrajudicial assassinations in Lebanon and elsewhere. As such, it is the group that decides law and order, and whether the Lebanese army will operate or not.
According to the reports, the man that was detained is a supporter but not a "member" of Hezbollah. What is not explained is why this man and others chose to attack the UN vehicle. Why did the man shoot at a clearly marked UN vehicle? It doesn't make a lot of sense unless Hezbollah has given a quiet message to its supporters to attack the UN whenever the UN strays off the roads it usually uses.
This UN convoy was heading back at night from southern Lebanon, traveling the main route from Tyre to Sidon. However, there is also a coastal road that parallels the route and the vehicle exited by mistake into a village south of Sidon. It was then attacked. Reports at the time say it might have been followed.
Clearly the government of Ireland, the UN and others will want answers. However, there is also an agenda to not rock the boat in Lebanon. The West wants to maintain the illusion that the Lebanese army controls Lebanon. In addition, this means continued US and other support for the Lebanese army. The fiction that the state of Lebanon controls its territory is important because this means it can sign deals, such as the maritime deal that it agreed with Israel before Israel's recent election.
If one dispenses with that fiction then one has to realize Lebanon is run by Hezbollah. Hezbollah has some 150,000 missiles and rockets, it apparently has large numbers of drones, precision-guided munitions and air defenses and anti-ship missiles. It has carried out assassinations before, such as targeting former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005. It carried out an attack on Israel in 2006 that led to a war. It has sent forces to Syria. It threatens Israel from areas in Syria near the Golan. It has also killed political enemies and likely was behind the murder of publisher Lokman Slim.
Seth Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at the Jerusalem Post.