Some folks are up in arms about the recent revelation that US intelligence agencies warned the Lebanese government about an Al-Qaida plot to smuggle several tons of explosives into Lebanon. As Mitch Prothero writes in McClatchy:
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency warned Lebanese officials last week that al Qaida-linked groups are planning a campaign of bombings that will target Beirut’s Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs as well as other political targets associated with the group or its allies in Syria, Lebanese officials said Monday.
The unusual warning – U.S. government officials are barred from directly contacting Hezbollah, which the U.S. has designated an international terrorist organization – was passed from the CIA’s Beirut station chief to several Lebanese security and intelligence officials in a meeting late last week with the understanding that it would be passed to Hezbollah, Lebanese officials said.
I spoke to J. Dana Stuster at Foreign Policy about this story yesterday, and he has helpfully assembled a set of reactions by various US-based pundits who are outraged that the Obama administration would not seize the opportunity to let Al-Qaida kill one or two Hizbullah sympathizers, even if that means scores of civilians would die alongside them in a multi-ton truck bomb blast.
The speculation on Lebanon’s evening talk shows this week is going to be all about what this intelligence-sharing decision reflects about US policy toward Syria. As one of Mitch’s sources, a Hezbollah commander, puts it:
The Americans are starting to realize how bad their friends in Syria are, so they’re trying to get out of this mistake,” he said. “They also think that if a bomb goes off in Dahiya, we will blame America and target Americans in Lebanon. That will never happen, but they’re scared of this monster they created.”
Obviously, this is just spin on Hizbullah’s part, aiming to deflect attention away from the uncomfortable fact that the US provided actionable intelligence that probably saved lives in Dahiyeh. In my view, the move is consistent with a broader US policy of trying to curb the influence of the more radical elements in the Syrian opposition. Truck bombs set off by Syrian rebels against Hezbollah in Lebanon are likely to turn more Lebanese against the opposition’s cause, or at least estrange them from it. It won’t matter that people will blame Hezbollah for dragging Lebanon into the conflict; it will also cause a fragmentation and sectarian catastrophe that no one will be able to contain, and which will play to Assad’s advantage in the long term.