Commentary

Syria's Conflict Spills into Lebanon

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Fresh clashes in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli have once again underscored the fragile situation on the Syrian border. The violence, which so far has claimed at least 8 victims, broke out as groups loyal to Bashar al-Assad targeted opponents of the Syrian leader.  It was ended only after the intervention of the Lebanese army, but the situation remains tense and more fighting is likely to break out.

This week’s events have left some wondering what might happen should the instability in Syria continue much longer. As the Daily Star’s Hussein Dakroub notes, “The fighting in the north is an example of what might happen in Lebanon in the future as a result of the ongoing confrontation in Syria [between government troops and rebel soldiers]...The longer the turmoil in Syria, the greater the possibility of the security situation in Lebanon, particularly in the north, suffering a setback....The government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati has adopted a policy to dissociate Lebanon from the repercussions of the unrest in Syria. However, the dissociation policy has been condemned by the March 14 parties, which have accused the government of taking the side of the Assad regime in the current conflict.”

The risk of spillover is a concern shared in the National’s editorial, which calls for restraint: “Lebanon's resilience in the face of provocation is well known. But Syria's struggle always posed a serious danger for its neighbours, and particularly for Lebanon where it wielded de facto control for so many years. There are home-grown reasons why Lebanese will take sides in this conflict; many Alawites, for example, still profess admiration for the Assads, having very few other choices available. Hizbollah's military dominance outside the state institutions continues to distort politics. Until now, those groups for the most part showed restraint.”

The Saudi Gazette staff also regrets the loss of life during the clashes and reflects on what it sees as one of the sad lessons of the last few days: “How little the Lebanese have come to reassume the national identity which was blasted apart in the 26 years of civil war that began in 1975....Syria was quick to interfere in Lebanese politics and although Damascus’s influence was finally diminished with the end of the civil war, its doleful and destructive presence did not go away....Unfortunately, the longer that Bashar Assad and his people cling to power in Damascus, the greater will become the risk that the conflict will be reflected bloodily in its neighbor.”

In its editorial, the Lebanese Daily Star staff wonder what makes the city of Tripoli such a hotspot for violence. The recent clashes, they suggest, “provided further disturbing evidence of the existence of arms in the hands of a range of citizens and parties in the city....Tripoli suffers from neglect of its entrenched social, economic and security problems. As the government keeps the city and its challenges at arm’s length, extremists and armed groups move into the gap it has left....The government must treat this situation as a priority, because should conflict explode in the city it will not only affect the surrounding area, but — in the current volatile atmosphere — will spread strife to the whole country.”

The Beirut Online website takes a critical stance toward what it sees as Hezbollah’s unhelpful, and perhaps obstructionist stance: “Clashes erupted last week between the army and wanted suspects in the Baalbek district after it attempted to arrest a suspect from the Masri family…. He managed to make it to the town of Nabi Sheet upon which the army made the necessary contacts with Hezbollah officials, since it is a party stronghold, in order to be allowed to storm the house that was harboring Masri, but it was barred from doing so.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Tariq Alhomayed is also critical of Hezbollah and its leadership: “In reality, Nasrallah’s recent words [in support of Bashar al-Assad] are aimed at two groups of people, firstly towards the security forces in Syria, who are witnessing continuous divisions. Those who are very familiar with Syrian affairs know that the Syrian army watch al-Manar and al-Alam television channels more than any others, and therefore Nasrallah is trying to convince them of the need for stability, that al-Assad is the one who will undertake reform....The other people that Nasrallah wants to address through his discourse are those within Lebanon itself, to whom Nasrallah wants to say that the departure of al-Assad will mean that Hezbollah will not hesitate to repeat what it did in May 2008, when it occupied the Sunni part of Beirut.”

The Syrian press, on the other hand, is highlighting comments made by the Chief of Lebanese General Security, who has recently distanced the violence in Tripoli from that in Syria: “Brigadier General Abbas Ibrahim stressed that Syria has no connection to the arrest of Shadi al-Mawlawi on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization….Ibrahim said that what has been said about orders from Syria or Hizbullah is totally untrue....He said that he visited Syria and met some officials there, indicating that he is coordinating with Syria and the Lebanese laws are clear in this regard since there are agreements between the two sides.”


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