Car bombs and street fighting have happened in Lebanon as a result of the civil war next door in Syria but this morning’s attack definitely represents a serious escalation. Reports are still emerging, but Lebanese security officials, examining video surveillance, say a suicide bomber rushed the Iranian embassy and blew himself up; within two minutes a car bomb exploded, damaging buildings up and down the street. At least 23 people are confirmed dead, including an Iranian cultural attaché, and over a hundred are wounded.Paul Wood of the BBC spoke to “a senior Hezbollah MP who said that undoubtedly this was payback for what was happening in Syria, but also an attempt to foment sectarian strife inside Lebanon. Everyone is watching and waiting to see what the consequences of this attack will be.” Iranian officials were quick to blame Saudi Arabian and Israeli intelligence services for the attack, which was claimed by a Lebanon-based al Qaeda-linked group called the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Perhaps the Iranians were partly right: behind the attack on the Iranian embassy one would not be surprised to see Saudi money and the network of alliances behind the civil war in Syria. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States on one side, the Syrian regime and Iran on the other side, fighting in Syria and Lebanon and beyond through allies and proxies.Even as the Middle East flames grow fiercer, the Obama administration is stumbling to keep up, held back by infighting and a lack of a clear agenda or concrete policies. On Syria the plan seems to be to put the country’s fate in Iran’s hands in return for Iran promising not to pursue a nuclear bomb anymore—a deal that is seriously angering America’s two oldest allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Israel. And on Egypt there really isn’t a plan: as Josh Rogin reported in the Daily Beast yesterday morning, the State Department and the White House don’t see eye to eye on how to approach Egypt, and the disagreement has flared embarrassingly in public and convinced our friends and allies alike in the region that Washington doesn’t know what it is doing.
The turf battles and internal confusion are hampering the administration’s approach to Egypt, say lawmakers, experts, and officials inside both governments.“John Kerry doesn’t agree with Susan Rice on big portions of our Egypt policy, and he made a deliberate and conscious decision not to mention Morsi in his Cairo meetings,” an administration official told The Daily Beast. “Susan Rice wasn’t happy about it.” […]“What’s missing from any of the administration’s statements or actions is a clear vision of how they will preserve American interests in Egypt over the long term,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center and a former State Department official. “The president clearly made an analytical judgment that authoritarianism in the Middle East was not stable in the long term. If he still believes that, then he has to have some concerns about Egypt’s trajectory and American interests, and how to address those concerns is missing from American policy today.”
Rarely in recent memory has the Middle East looked so dangerous and Washington so confused. Perhaps we’re wrong and the Administration knows what it is doing, but there aren’t many signals we can see that give us much confidence.