Lebanon: Battleground for Syrian war
Friday’s bombing that killed seven people including Mohammad Chatah, a voice of moderation and a Sunni member of Lebanon’s anti-Syria March 14 coalition, will only stoke sectarian tensions in the region, the experts say. “This latest political assassination reflects much more than a simple spillover of the Syrian war. I think we’re past that stage, and we have now entered a fully-fledged proxy war,” said Paris-based expert Karim Bitar.
Tehran-backed Hezbollah backs President Bashar Assad’s regime, while the March 14 coalition supports the revolt that broke out in 2011.
Damascus ended its 30-year domination of Lebanon in 2005, but continues to exert significant influence over the country through its ally Hezbollah. The Shiite group has thrown its weight behind Assad’s regime in Syria’s war, sending political and sectarian tensions in Lebanon soaring. Lina Khatib, who heads the Carnegie Middle East Center, described Lebanon, as “a microcosm of regional conflicts, and it would be fanciful to assume that it would manage to escape the security repercussions of the Syrian conflict.”
And with the West all but silent on Syria, Assad and his allies in Iran and Lebanon are feeling “more empowered following the international negotiations about nuclear and chemical weapons,” said Khatib. Chatah’s killing comes in the context of “a series of attacks and counterattacks targeting opposing political camps in the country,” she added. “The attacks (against both sides of Lebanon’s political divide) are aimed at destabilizing Lebanon and pulling it closer to the Syrian conflict,” said Khatib.
IRIS’ Bitar said attacks against both March 14 and Hezbollah targets are both “pure, unadulterated terrorism,” but emphasized, “the modus operandi and rationale are very different.” Starting in 2005, nine anti-Assad politicians and intellectuals have been assassinated in attacks widely blamed on Syria. Two other security officials and a general were also killed. This string of killings started years before the Syrian revolt, and with the latest assassination, “Syria might be sending the message that it is still able to destabilize Lebanon if its influence and interests are not preserved,” said Bitar. As for the attacks against Hezbollah targets, “they are part of a wider regional power struggle between rival intelligence services.”
Imad Salamey, who teaches politics at the Lebanese American University, agreed, warning that Iran will be the main beneficiary of heightened Sunni extremism. “If this continues, what we will be left with is... Sunni extremists leading the Sunni communities,” Salamey warned. “These extremists are presented as hostile to the West, as hostile to moderate solutions... and therefore this will give the upper hand to... the Iranian proxy groups... and will make them look like the moderates.”
The attack comes in the midst of a Lebanese domestic political crisis. For eight months, Lebanon has had no government, and March 14 and Hezbollah appear further than ever from reaching a deal.
Salamey said: “I think it is very possible that a new series of assassinations and car bombs will begin taking place... as both parties... are stuck, and are unable to come up with an acceptable solution to either side.”
Friday’s bombing is also seen in some quarters as a warning shot ahead of the start on Jan. 16 of the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, tasked with investigating the 2005 assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Five Hezbollah members have been accused of involvement in Hariri’s killing and are due to be tried in absentia by the court.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view