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Wael Najm

Difficult times for Lebanon

Lebanon is susceptible to regional instability [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 October, 2014

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Lebanon's peace and security will only come from breaking away from regional conflicts and bringing about a more harmonious landscape inside the country.

Lebanon's policy of isolating itself from regional hot spots, as enshrined in the 2012 Baabda Declaration, was not enough to spare the country from the testing storms that have drifted in across its borders in recent years.

This is particularly true about Hizballah's involvement in fighting alongside the Syrian regime, and with other groups who joined opposition fighters. It has made groups and individuals on all sides responsible for rescinding the Baabda agreement, and bringing Lebanon closer to the eye of the Syrian storm.

Syrians found themselves forced to move their battle inside Lebanon, even if it has been just a partial entanglement. The fighter jets from Damascus raid the barren areas of Arsal in Lebanon, while artillery shells Akkar's border towns. Damascus believes it has the right to respond to "armed groups" operating from these Lebanese areas.

R
ebels too started bringing the battle to Lebanon, as part of the short-sighted "eye for an eye" policy. A few days ago, the opposition attacked a Hizballah checkpoint close to the border town of Brital, showing that the frontier territories are turning into yet another front in the Syrian conflict. It is also shifting fighting gradually away from the borders and into the interior areas, spreading instability, and again turning Lebanon into another regional battleground.

The coming storm

The attack launched in Brital by the fighters of al-Nusra Front against the Hizballah checkpoint was a clear indication that the Front did not want to confront the Lebanese army itself, but the Shia militia. It also shows that whomever attacks the borders can later move the battle inside Lebanon.

     Whomever attacks the borders can later move the battle inside the country, even if partially.

Another sign that the storm is descending on Lebanon is the increasing and ongoing level of discourse on the possibility of Syrian rebels seizing control of border areas, from the Lebanese side of the frontier, in the southern area of Arqoub, to the town of Saadnayel in the central region of the Bekaa Valley. Hasbia, Rashia and Western Bekaa are all towns where inhabitants sympathise with the Syrian uprising.

Due to this, no action can be taken against armed Syrian opposition groups from these areas, particularly as tense political and sectarian tensions abound. One can't blame Hizballah exclusively for everything that has been taking place in Lebanon once the group decided to join the fight on the side of the Syrian regime.

Syrian rebels have edged closer to Damascus from the eastern side of Mount Hermon, where they have seized control of most areas and towns in the area, up to the outskirts of Jdaidet Yabous, a village on the border of Lebanon and generally seen as the land port for Damascus.

Cracks emerge

The third sign of rising tensions in Lebanon is a statement made by General Jean Kahwaji, chief of the Lebanese armed forces, who said that "insurgents" might plan to capture a Mediterranean sea port. The idea is that by seizing control of northern areas of Lebanon, and linking them to the Syrian border mountains of Qalamoun, they could then potentially reach into other parts of Syria.

The army chief could not have made such statements if he did not have information to back up his theory. It is likely he was basing his thoughts on recent attacks against the Lebanese army in Tripoli, Akkar and al-Minya.

Finally, the most significant and potentially threatening sign that the storm has reached Lebanon came during a visit by Hizballah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to Bekaa, where he met with local officials and leaders of armed groups, according to the Lebanese al-Safir newspaper. This visit confirms that Hizballah realises just how dangerous a new military conflict in Lebanon could be, and that there is a crisis emerging at the grassroots level in northern Bekaa.

The visit could have been part of preparations for a wider Hizballah campaign, perhaps a bid to halt any attempts by anti-Assad rebels to seize control of the north.

If fighters allied to the Syrian opposition were able to establish a corridor through northern Lebanon, it would lay siege to Hizballah - maybe even forcing the Shia movement to withdraw from Syria to their southern Lebanon strongholds.

The only way Lebanon may avoid the havoc of this storm is for its people to avoid outside engagements or regional biases and promptly withdraw armed groups from Syria.

Lebanon is not capable of avoiding this storm if its militias do not disengage. Failure to do so would mean that Lebanon could become a burning inferno at any moment.

 

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Al Araby Al Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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