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November 22, 2013
Last week’s bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut has once again threatened the fragile peace in Lebanon. Uneasily perched on the precipice of the Syrian conflict, Lebanon could very well see widespread sectarian conflict engulf the country. While Lebanon is no stranger to destabilizing attacks and bombings, the recent developments point to a possible turning point in the way some al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations see Lebanon. Many now fear the country could become a second front in the war between Assad loyalists and al-Qaeda groups, which until recently saw Lebanon mainly as a recruiting ground, rather than a battleground.
Al Hayat’s Abdullah Iskandar is convinced the bombings were orchestrated by the Syrian opposition, but points out that such attacks are unlikely to help their cause and will most likely lead to further sectarian violence in the country: “The targeting of the Iranian embassy in Beirut is a terrorist act, which cannot be justified in any way as being in response to the Iranian policy in Lebanon, in Syria, or in any other place in the world. This is true no matter how many reservations and criticisms surround this policy and how hostile and aggressive it is....Regardless of the technical facets of the attack on the Iranian embassy, this terrorism, just like the one which previously hit the Southern Suburb and places of worship in Tripoli, as well as the clashes along sectarian friction lines, is not serving the cause of the Syrian opposition or exerting any type of pressures on its opponents. Instead, it might be serving the cause of the latter.”
But a Khaleej Times editorial believes the real aim of the attacks was to draw Iran into conflict and to force it to abandon the recent peace talks: “An affiliate group of Al Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, has pushed the already volatile country on the brink....The timing of the attack is meaningful, as only days ago the Hezbollah had said that it would keep on backing the regime in Damascus and delegates from Iran were set to resume nuclear talks in Geneva. The intention was thus obvious: : It was meant to drive Tehran away from international interlocutors and compel it to take a more radical stance on the region....The consequences of Tuesday’s attack, the first of its kind on Iranian interests in Beirut, could be catastrophic if Tehran and Damascus decide to retaliate. The need of the hour is to rein in angry emotions to let peace prevail.”
Either way, it is clear to everyone that the continuing violence in the country could very well lead to an escalating vicious cycle of sectarian killings, similar to what happened in Iraq. For example, in an op-ed for Arab News, Abdul Rahman Alrashid warns that “Beirut, which is an open city with multiple cultures and religions, will turn tomorrow into a city of barriers and military barracks, and the climate of terror will be transferred to the rest of the Lebanese cities....Should Lebanon become a place to settle disputes? The Hezbollah, its allies and its rivals would never succeed in that attempt. The only solution is to neutralize Lebanon from the Syrian conflict, which is expected to continue for a long time and may get even more violent. Unfortunately, because the international community is not enthusiastic about the resolution of the Syrian conflict, those fighting on its soil and all local and religious forces will prove to be a source of frightening chaos in Lebanon, ‘the soft soil.’”
Lebanon’s own main newspaper, The Daily Star, expressed a similar fear of the “Iraqization” of the country, suggesting “Some are beginning to wonder whether Lebanon is now set to follow the tragic paths of Iraq, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, and Syria, after jihadist fighters began to appear in significant numbers and carry out ‘spectacular’ suicide attacks. The notion that Al-Qaeda and its various affiliates have changed their approach to dealing with Lebanon should be taken very seriously by the authorities. There are reports that hard-line extremists have elected to change their strategy from mobilizing ‘support’ in Lebanon to carrying out ‘jihad,’ meaning violent acts in which civilians pay a heavy price.”
But for Al Hayat’s Ghasan Charbel, the question of whether Lebanon risks turning into another Iraq is already moot: “The Lebanese have the right to feel very scared, nay, it is their duty to feel deep consternation. What is happening is more serious and horrific than the wars of the seventies and eighties....We are no longer facing the danger of ‘Iraqization.’ ‘Iraqization’ is already part of the scene. The bombing in the southern suburb was definitely of this kind, and so were the bombings in Tripoli. Successive blows hit a country that has lost its immunity, a country that is divided and unable to form a new government, eight months after the previous government resigned....Lebanon is on the path of collapse.”
Not everyone believes the situation is hopeless. There are those who think that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria will reach a tipping point beyond which the organization might not be willing to go, which according to a Saudi Gazette editorial: “The first and most obvious would be the collapse of the Assad regime....The second tipping point is surely the more likely. It is that as the Free Syrian Army continues doggedly in its struggle to destroy the Assad regime, the death toll among Hezbollah fighters, already high, will rise inexorably. At that point, ordinary Lebanese in the Shia community will rightly start to ask themselves where Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is really leading them.”
But waiting out Hezbollah might turn out to be a losing strategy and there is a clear immediate danger to the country, which some believe can only be overcome if the divided Lebanese political class decided to come together: “Senseless violence is thrust on a country that craves for peace....there is no reason why Lebanon should be in such a bad shape. There is so much potential that is unrealized because everyone talks about ‘a bomb here or a bomb there,’ instead of focusing on the strengths of the country. The latest attack underlines the importance of all parties in Lebanon and the international community to work together in order to restore peace and progress.”
That call for unity is also at the heart of one of the most recent Daily Star (Lebanon) editorials, which lays the blame for the final uptick in violence to a political class that is more concerned about their sectarian interests rather than national ones: “Until serious efforts are made to come up with national policies that reflect national interests and are consistent in tackling the question of national sovereignty, there will likely be further deadly repercussions of the crisis in Syria. There are several actors who would like to see Lebanon divided....But the true culprit is an inability to recognize that Lebanon can only confront the crisis in Syria with a united stand and a commitment to noninvolvement. Everything else is a dangerous waste of time.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com.