A growing number of Lebanese and European diplomats fear that Friday's roadside bomb attack in Lebanon which killed one Italian peacekeeper, wounded at least five others, and injured several civilians, could be the start of a new wave of violence against the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). "With all the tension, we can't rule out other attacks. It could be just the beginning," a European diplomat told the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper.
One Lebanese member of parliament, Nohad al-Mashnouq of the March 14 Party, said Iran and Syria were behind the attack. "Friday's explosion is a clear Iranian-Syrian message to the international community not to interfere in Syrian affairs," he told al-Arabiya television.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but UNIFIL has frequently been the target of hostility from jihadist forces including Hizballah and al-Qaida.
The four-vehicle convoy was returning to southern Lebanon from Beirut along the Mediterranean coastal highway when the bomb detonated. Many in Lebanon have been bracing for violence given the recent instability in the region, including the 10-week-old wave of unrest in neighboring Syria. Lebanon has not had a functioning government since January, when parliamentary maneuvering by Hizballah toppled a moderate one headed by Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon provided "a decisive contribution to the stability of one of the most sensitive areas of the Middle East."
Israel has a decidedly different view of UNIFIL. It was established following Israel's March 1978 invasion of Lebanon to wipe out Palestinian terror bases there. UNIFIL was unable to stop the military buildup by Palestinian radicals there which triggered Israel's June 1982 invasion. Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces from Lebanon in May 2000 in the hope of attaining peace with Lebanon.
Instead, Hizballah responded with a massive military buildup, and on July 12, 2006 it staged a deadly cross-border raid that triggered a war with Israel. Since the 2006 war, UNIFIL has more than quadrupled its peacekeeping force to almost 9,000. But despite its substantial increase in size, it has again failed to prevent a Hizballah military buildup that has given the group a military infrastructure in southern Lebanon that is much more dangerous than the one Israel destroyed in 2006.
UNIFIL has been a terror target in the past. In June 2007, six members of a Spanish UNIFIL battalion were killed when their armored personnel carrier struck a bomb.