The Syrian War Spills Into Lebanon
This was the message delivered to the Lebanese government by the UN Security Council, do not get involved in the conflict in Syria. Anyone with even a basic grasp of the Syrian conflict and the entwined history of Lebanon and Syria will know that this is unrealistic at best and already a moot point.
The message was sent in response to the serious clashes that took place between the Lebanese armed forces and Islamist militants over the weekend. These Islamist militants are accused of being a part of the Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State (previously ISIS), two of the many rebel groups in Syria who are attempting to, in part, topple the dictatorship of President Assad.
In truth no country has been unable, or unwilling, to avoid the spill-over from the now sectarian-based conflict in Syria. Whilst the majority of countries in the region have been able to avoid the most destabilising effects of blow-back from the conflict so far, Iraq and Lebanon, two of the most historically divided and fractured countries in the region, have quickly become either overwhelmed by the sectarian nature of the conflict, in the case of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan and the Islamic State, or on the cusp of an emergency situation, which seems to be the case in Lebanon.
Lebanon is a unique state in the region which in a utopian world would be held up as a beacon, not just to other countries in the region, but to the rest of the world on how to run an ethnically diverse nation based upon equality through law, through a confessional political system. Unfortunately in reality, despite this attempted equality, Lebanon remains a politically divided nation based on sectarian divisions that is always at risk of external interference and internal strife. There has been a lot of speculation that the next target for the Islamic State expansion is Lebanon, with talk of sleeper cells lurking in Beirut, ready to strike when given the word. Lebanese authorities are taking this very seriously since the spectacular victories achieved by the Islamic State with the support of Sunni tribal groups in Iraq.
France is playing its role as the old colonial power in the country with the speeding up of the delivery of weapons to the Lebanese army in response to this upsurge in violence. Whether this violent response from the Lebanese army will help the situation or exacerbate the divisions between the Sunni, Alawite (Shia) and Christian groups in Lebanon, remains to be seen. Hezbollah, the Shia armed-resistance group was rumoured to have been involved in supporting the Lebanese army over the weekend against the militants, leading to unease among the Sunni population in Lebanon, some of whom are sympathetic with the Islamic State, some so much as to join their ranks. The presence of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees has added to this uneasy situation in the country, who in their extremely insecure position are targeted by the Lebanese political elite as a security threat.
Lebanon is a product of the Sykes-Picot accord, which some influential voices are concluding is now falling apart almost a century after its signing. If this is true the next few years may see a growing unravelling in Lebanon unless there is a commitment from not just the region but the rest of the world to bring the Syrian conflict to an end. Perhaps the memory of the brutal 25-year long civil war that Lebanon went through can also play a part in rolling back some of the violent actions within the country, tempering the sectarian-based political and military moves in fear of unleashing another civil war which could tear apart the country for good.
Jonathan Woodrow Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org