Is Lebanon On The Verge Of A New Civil War?
The two explosions that killed at least 23 people this week in Beirut are the latest sign that the country is moving toward the kind of conflict that has torn it apart in the past.
Does this mean civil war is coming back? After the twin explosions against Iran's embassy in Beirut on Tuesday — which has left 23 people dead, including Iranian cultural adviser Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari — this question is an important one.
Lebanon finds itself entangled in a major political crisis inextricably linked to the Syrian conflict: Since Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in March, there is no government. Tuesday's attack, which also left 146 injured, signals the final defeat of Lebanon's "keeping-a-distance" policy regarding Syria.
An officer of the Lebanese intelligence services told Le Nouvel Observateur, "Sunni and Shiite political leaders are both responsible for the escalation of attacks and clashes between the two communities."
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the leader of the Movement of the Future party, who is close to Saudi Arabia, has armed and encouraged Lebanese people to join the fight in Syria against Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, replied by sending his Shiite fighters on the front to assist the Damascus regime.
This was the third attack in the southern part of Beirut — a stronghold of Hezbollah — in four months. The previous two had killed 27 people and wounded another 47. The miserable irony is that Iran had moved its diplomatic representatives into the Bir Hassan neighborhood, dubbed "Hezbollahland," for security reasons. The explosions are a stinging setback for the "party of God" who couldn't protect its own population and its allies. It made a point of saying it would secure the Shiite population without the help of the police or the army, and failed. Even worse, it failed to prevent an attack against its godfather, Iran.
This week's attack was most likely a response to the Aug. 24 car bomb attack in Tripoli, the main Sunni city in north Lebanon — close to the Syrian border — that killed 45. Many believe it was the work of the Syrian intelligence services.
Lebanon's second largest city is also home to several Salafi groups who support their Syrian brothers in the fight against Assad. Many in Tripoli still haven't forgiven the 1982 massacre of Hama — a Syrian city, north of Lebanon — in which 25,000 people died as Hafez al-Assad's army besieged the town to end an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood. They haven't forgiven either the expelling of Yasser Arafat from Tripoli the following year, which forced him to exile in Tunisia.
By attacking Hezbollah once again, Syrian-Lebanese jihadist groups are trying to push the "party of God" into increasing its military aid for Damascus, which could set off all-out chaos. This wouldn't be to Syria's advantage, as the country finds in Lebanon an economic lifeline, since the Shiite party still quietly controls large parts of the country.