Shortly after beating back Salafi Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir’s attempt to ignite a sectarian war in the southern Lebanese city of Saida, a chorus of his backers from the West, the Gulf, and March 14, rose up to call on the armed forces to turn their attention to Hezbollah, a group they consider armed and dangerous.
But do these forces really want to know what led to the bloody explosion in Saida? The army investigation will likely show that Assir’s attacks on the military’s checkpoints were planned in advance, the goal of which was to take their positions that overlook the adjacent Shia neighborhood of Haret Saida.
Although Assir miscalculated the army’s response, the overall plan sought to put his militia face-to-face with Hezbollah, after which his Future Party and al-Jamaa al-Islamiya (Lebanon’s Muslim Brotherhood) allies would step in and reap what they believed would be a major political victory over the Resistance.
As for some of the other forces behind Assir, like the Saudis and Qataris, they had high hopes that he would succeed in implementing his plan, despite the fact that the radical sheikh has his own way of doing things, which may explain why he would commit what appeared to many as a suicidal act by attacking and killing Lebanese army officers and soldiers in such large numbers.
Take, for example, some of the statements issued by the Saudi government regarding the events in Saida, which expressed “grave concern” and called on “all sides to end the fighting and prevent further escalation.”
At first glance, one would think that such a statement was written by the Future Movement. It responded to Assir’s attacks by calling for a ceasefire, as if the conflict were between two armed groups. The Saudis did not even bother to include a single sentence denouncing the murder of Lebanese military personnel.
In fact, Assir was part of a more comprehensive plan that had gone through several dress rehearsals over the past year. However, the stream of bad news from Syria – where the regime was making headway on several fronts – prompted them to act prematurely.
The blood of Lebanon’s fallen soldiers is on the hands of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in addition to those who knew what Assir was planning and remained quiet. It is for this reason that they and their Lebanese allies are doing all they can to place the blame for the whole calamity at Hezbollah’s doorstep.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.