Syria's Conflict Spreads to Lebanon

MIN READJul 9, 2013 | 20:13 GMT

A bomb placed in a car detonated in Lebanon’s capital early July 9, injuring more than 50 people. This attack comes after a May twin rocket attack which occurred near today’s bombing in southern Beirut. Although claimed by no group or individual, both attacks were likely stoked by sectarian tensions and an outgrowth of the conflict in neighboring Syria. As Syria’s civil war continues and intensifies, it is likely that Lebanon will destabilize further and progressively break down along sectarian lines. Today’s bombing occurred in one of Beirut’s southern residential suburbs and one of Hezbollah’s strongholds. The explosive weighed roughly 80 pounds was placed in a car. It destroyed several of the surrounding vehicles in the parking lot. The last attack in Beirut, which left several wounded, occurred May 26 and involved two rockets being launched at buildings in another of the capital’s southern suburbs. Although today’s bombing was larger than the May attack — which wounded four people — the explosive device did not cause extensive material damage or vast numbers of human casualties and deaths. Even if the device was intended to inflict more damage, its purpose was likely heavily focused on sending a specific message. The device was detonated in a Hezbollah stronghold and comes at a time when there are increasing reports of Hezbollah fighters being involved in the Syrian conflict. Because of this, it is likely that the explosive was planted by anti-Assad elements associated with or sympathetic to the Sunni Syrian rebels, signaling that involvement in Syria will bring retaliatory attacks in Lebanon. Additionally, attacks on Hezbollah within Lebanon help to shift some of the group’s resources and energy on Lebanon rather than on the rebel fighters in Syria. Finally, the attack occurred on the first day of Ramadan for the Shiites, but not for the Sunnis, in Lebanon, likely a consideration in the timing of the bombing. It is not uncommon for Lebanon to experience sectarian violence influenced by the Syrian conflict between anti-regime fighters, who are mostly Sunni, and regime soldiers, who are predominately Alawite. In cities such as Tripoli, Alawite neighborhoods reside in close proximity to Sunni suburbs, which has been and continues to be the source of intense clashes between both sides. Similarly, in many towns on the Syria-Lebanon border, tit-for-tat kidnappings and attacks occur between Sunnis sympathetic to the Syrian rebels and Shiite Hezbollah forces that have aligned themselves with the Assad regime. As the conflict intensifies, it can be expected that the sectarian tensions being played out in Syria will also manifest in Lebanon. As the outcome in Syria becomes more clear, the jockeying for power and choosing sides will intensify and become more apparent. An eventual Alawite loss of control over Damascus will be the trigger for significant sectarian clashes in Lebanon, particularly in the northern borderland, as emboldened Sunnis attempt to challenge their Shiite rivals, and as militant group Hezbollah fights to hold its ground. Lebanese clans will prepare for this inevitably by reinforcing their militias and shifting alliances where necessary.
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