BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Hezbollah’s Syria fighting destabilizes Lebanon

Residents inspect the damage after rockets struck their apartment. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The rocket attack that targeted Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, is a serious incident ushering in a new phase of destabilization in Lebanon as a result of the party’s heavy involvement in the war in Syria, political analysts said Sunday.

“The rocket attack is the beginning of more serious security incidents that are expected to strike Lebanon in the next stage as the country is increasingly drawn into the Syrian war,” a senior political source told The Daily Star.

Analysts said the rocket attack carried “a political and security message” and signaled Lebanon’s further entanglement in the civil war raging in Syria.

They predicted a further deterioration of the security situation in Lebanon as a result of Hezbollah’s participation in the conflict in Syria alongside government troops against armed rebel groups fighting to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad.

“The rocket attack entailed a political and security message, but it will not lead to rekindling sectarian strife,” Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese Army general, told The Daily Star.

“The rocket message will recur. Therefore, we must not rule out terror actions here and there, in Beirut and the southern suburbs, especially in specific places near Hezbollah’s centers,” said Jaber, director of the Beirut-based think tank, the Middle East Center for Political Studies and Research.

“As long as the war rages on in Syria, this war’s repercussions will continue to be felt in Lebanon,” he added.

Another retired Lebanese Army general, Elias Hanna, echoed that view.

“Lebanon is already destabilized by the repercussions of the conflict in Syria. It is now headed toward further security deterioration because there is a Lebanese party participating alongside the regime in the war in Syria,” he told The Daily Star, referring to Hezbollah.

Hanna, who teaches political science at several universities in Beirut, said the group that fired the two rockets wanted to send Hezbollah “a political and security message.”

“The rocket attack is a direct response to [Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan] Nasrallah’s speech and it could take a more serious trend by engulfing Shiite towns and villages,” Hanna said.

“Those who launched the two rockets wanted to tell Nasrallah that they are capable of striking deep into Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs,” he added.

Two rockets exploded in a southern Beirut suburb Sunday morning, wounding four people, the Lebanese Army said, in an attack widely condemned by top Lebanese leaders and officials on both sides of the political spectrum as “a criminal and terrorist act.”

The military said one of the rockets hit a car dealership located in the Shiyyah area near Mar Mikhael Church while the other crashed into a residential building in the Maroun Misk neighborhood. The wounded, Syrian workers who were sleeping at the dealership, were taken to a nearby hospital.

The incident, which heightened tensions in the country sharply split over the crisis in Syria, came 12 hours after Nasrallah confirmed Hezbollah’s heavy involvement in the battles alongside regime forces in Syria and vowed to fight until victory.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket attack, even though Hanna and other analysts said Syrian rebels could be responsible.

However, the Free Syrian Army denied any involvement in the attack. “We have nothing to do with the attacks and we issued an official statement denying any involvement in such an act,” FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad told The Daily Star.

A spate of security incidents linked to the crisis in Syria, particularly the recurrent deadly clashes between supporters and opponents of Assad in the northern city of Tripoli, have threatened to destabilize Lebanon.

Tewfic Hindi, who is close to the March 14 coalition, described the rocket attack as “a serious incident” entailing political and security connotations.

“The attack might be a signal that the conflict in Syria is spreading to Lebanon in a dramatic manner,” Hindi told The Daily Star.

“If Hezbollah maintains its participation in the fighting in Syria as Nasrallah has said and the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon continues, certainly the conflict in Syria will spill over into Lebanon,” Hindi said, adding that the rocket attack could be a response to Nasrallah’s speech and was probably intended to incite strife by striking deep into Hezbollah’s stronghold.

In a fiery speech Saturday on the 13th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon, Nasrallah confirmed Hezbollah’s growing involvement in Syria, saying his party’s fight against rebel forces aimed to protect the resistance group. He also urged that Lebanon be spared any armed confrontation that could spill over from Syria.

“We are fighting in Syria, you are fighting in Syria, let us continue to fight there,” Nasrallah said. “Let us leave Lebanon aside.”

Since May 19, Hezbollah fighters have joined Syrian troops in a campaign to retake the rebel-held strategic town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon.

According to activists, 49 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in the battles in Qusair, which provided an important supply line for arms and volunteers to the rebels from Lebanon.

Leaders of Syrian opposition groups have called on the Lebanese government to restrain Hezbollah following its participation in the Qusair fighting.

March 14 leaders have also condemned Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian fighting, and warned of its grave consequences on Lebanon’s security and stability.

Analysts said the rocket attack was also designed to show that Syrian rebels were capable of taking the battle to Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs, defying Nasrallah’s call to keep the fighting in Syria.

“Those who fired the rockets responded to Nasrallah by telling him that we are capable of taking the battle to the southern suburbs and not only in Syrian territory,” Jaber said.

Hindi concurred. “The group that launched the rockets wanted to tell Nasrallah that we are capable of fighting you in Lebanon,” he said.

“In response to Hezbollah’s participation in Qusair, those who fired the rockets wanted to say that we are capable of fighting Hezbollah on its own turf in the southern suburbs,” Hindi added.

He cited three major developments which, he said, pointed to Lebanon’s entanglement in the Syrian conflict.

Hindi said the weeklong clashes in Tripoli, which left at least 29 people dead and over 200 wounded since May 19, the firing of rockets into the Bekaa city of Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold, by Syria rebels, and Sunday’s rocket salvoes on the southern suburbs, were “indications of Lebanon’s involvement in the ongoing war in Syria.”

Residents in the Bekaa Valley said two rockets landed Sunday in Hermel, without causing casualties.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 27, 2013, on page 3.

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