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.
"Lebanon Condemns Syria Strike on Border Town." Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/03/201331914252279655.html>.
Wood, Josh. "Lebanon's Sunnis Gird for a Fight." New York Times. New York Times Company, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/world/middleeast/lebanons-sunnis-gird-for-a-fight.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.