Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Syria's Civil War Causes Tension in Next Door Lebanon

As the civil war drags on in Syria, Lebanon is increasingly feeling the pressure of the Sunni-Shi’ite divide in Syria in its own divided country.  This week in Lebanon saw a Syrian air strike on the Lebanese border town Arsal, where an estimated 15,000 Syrian refugees have fled.  Although reports say that no one was injured, the air strike still represents a disregard of Lebanese sovereignty and emphasizes the closeness of the Syrian conflict to Lebanon’s borders. 

According to the New York Times article “Lebanon’s Sunnis Gird for a Fight” (Wood 2013), such cross border attacks by the Lebanese and the Syrians could result in Lebanese Sunnis joining with the Free Syrian Army and fighting against the Lebanese government, a regime dominated by the Shi’ite Hezbollah.  Such a move could reawaken Lebanon’s own civil war that was fought between the Sunnis and Shi’ites from 1975-1990, and it wouldn’t be farfetched considering that a number of Lebanon’s Sunnis outwardly support the Syrian rebels and increasingly view Hezbollah as an illegitimate Iranian puppet, as well as the fact that guns and ammunition for sale are common sights on the streets as the Sunnis organize for any future fight against the government.

All of this points to an increasingly tense and divided Lebanon poised to engage in violent conflict within its borders and in Syria.  Although Hezbollah has so far been avoiding interfering in the Syrian civil war, it may soon have its own conflict to fight as civilians frustrated with what they perceive to be a puppet regime take up arms.

Lebanon’s focus in the past has been to quell any potential conflicts arising among the country’s ethnic and religious groups, even instituting a sectarian democracy in which all groups ideally have equal representation; however, the tension created by the civil war in Syria is likely to only inflame the differences felt among these various groups, and choosing to intervene in the civil war in order to hopefully put an end to the conflict sooner will not ease Lebanon’s own divide, especially as Hezbollah choosing to support either the Syrian rebels or Assad’s Alawite regime (the latter of which Lebanon’s government already supports) will only distance those members of Lebanese society who support the other side.  The country may want to focus more on disseminating tensions among the groups by creating a greater sense of equality, perhaps by holding parliamentary elections or engaging in infrastructure projects in its voluntarily segregated neighborhoods, in order to maintain the status quo, rather than becoming embroiled in the conflict next door.

Works Cited

"Lebanon Condemns Syria Strike on Border Town." Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <>.
Wood, Josh. "Lebanon's Sunnis Gird for a Fight." New York Times. New York Times Company, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <>.


  1. I really agree with your ideas about Syrian instability playing a major role in Lebanon's domestic affairs. Like the chaos occurring in Mali and its consequences for its neighbors, the direct diffusion of not only refugees but also of rebels and armed conflict from Syria across the borders will have an effect on the ability of Lebanon to deal with its already tumultuous relations with its internal opposition groups. Another country I feel will also feel these direct diffusion affects is Jordan. I'm curious to see if the outward reach of the Syrian conflict beyond Syria's borders will result in any upswings in international intervention in the civil war in order to prevent further unrest. I'm also interested to see how Israel and Turkey react to further unrest in this area moving forward.

  2. I agree that Lebanon's attention needs to be turned completely internally. The conflicts throughout the Middle East/ North Africa are spreading rapidly. While I agree that Lebanon should focus on creating a greater sense of equality, do you think that just holding parliamentary elections is enough? Or should they also focus on creating a sense of economic equality?

  3. While I agree that Lebanon needs to focus on their own internal issues regarding economic and political unrest, I dont think they have a choice in "becoming embroiled in the conflict next door." There are hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and while many are receiving aid from the UN, its an unavoidable reality that much of the burden falls on Lebanon, and with the refugees come the problems from which they are fleeing. While it would be best for Lebanon to turned their attention completely internally, it doesn't seem like a plausible option at this stage in the conflict.

  4. I completely agree with Claire. The Lebanese government has no other choice but to eventually get involved in the Syria situation because of what it will mean for the future of the regime. A stable Syria whether it is controlled by the current regime or the rebels win is important for the survival of Hesbollah and even though they ultimately need to focus on social relations between groups within the country there first priority must be the handling of the Syrian situation.

  5. I think the fact that Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, and that Hezbollah has also been accused of supporting Assad and fighting against the Free Syrian Army, means a lot in for this article. I would not be surprised is the Lebanese government allowed attacks like this in the future as the survival of the Assad regime is crucial to the interests of Hezbollah.

  6. I agree with much of what has already been mentioned. The Lebanese government will likely be pulled into the Syrian conflict if not willingly becoming involved. The fact that so many refugees are crossing the border, as well as arms, plays an important role for the domestic situation of Lebanon. The conflicts in Syria are likely to spill over the border and if the public becomes divided on each side of the Syrian conflict, it may have profound effects on the Lebanese government currently supporting the Assad regime. However, if anything can be learned from the chaos in Syria, perhaps the public in Lebanon will desire a more peaceful approach to involvement and any desired domestic change.