Bombings, killing in Lebanon become common as Syrian fighting expands

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“We are probably going to see more violence and more political instability, but hopefully short of a civil war,” Mr. Atallah said in a Skype interview from Beirut. Lebanon’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

“No one [in Lebanon] has the incentive to actually go out and have a war in Lebanon,” Mr. Atallah said.

He said that since the start of the Syrian war, Beirut has been rocked by three types of attacks: those that are seen as payback for Hezbollah’s role in Syria and target its strongholds; the assassination of critics of the Assad regime and Hezbollah; and the targeted killings of Hezbollah leaders.

“There are several actors, and each one has its own agenda,” Mr. Atallah said.

Hezbollah, which the U.S. designated a foreign terrorist organization in 1997, is stronger and better equipped than the Lebanese army. Faysal Itani, a Middle East analyst at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, says this fact is likely to prevent Lebanon from becoming engulfed in a war.

“The weakness of the Lebanese state is partly its strength,” said Mr. Itani. “The main thing preventing an all-out outbreak of violence is that everybody who is opposed to Hezbollah is also significantly weaker than Hezbollah. As long as that is the case, I don’t see a total collapse of the situation in Lebanon.”

Syria and Lebanon historically have had a tense relationship.

Syria sent troops into Lebanon in 1976 as a result of the civil war. The troops remained in Lebanon until 2005, when the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri sparked the Cedar Revolution, which forced Syria to withdraw.

Hariri’s assassination deepened the political schism between the Assad regime’s opponents, represented by the March 14 movement, which is led by Hariri’s son, Saad, and the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.

A U.N.-backed special tribunal opens this month to try four Hezbollah members who have been implicated in the Hariri assassination.

Besides the political divisions, “the large Sunni-Shiite fault line runs through Iraq and Syria, and also through Lebanon,” Mr. Salem said. “Iran supporting Shiite groups and Saudi Arabia supporting Sunni groups makes matters worse.”

This week, the Lebanese military attacked two Syrian helicopters near its border. The unusual offensive action was taken a day after Saudi Arabia gave Lebanon a $3 billion grant to buy arms from France. The grant is the single-largest ever to be given to the Lebanese army.

The Saudi move is widely seen as an attempt to blunt the force of Hezbollah and, by doing so, of Iran.

“It is very remarkable that Saudi Arabia, a major player in the region and certainly one quite engaged in supporting the rebels in Syria and very concerned about Iranian and Hezbollah influence, would make this major, major grant to the Lebanese army,” said Mr. Salem.

Mr. Atallah said the Saudi support for the Lebanese military was a result of the kingdom’s anger over the rapprochement between the West and Iran. He warned that this support could undermine the military.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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