Hezbollah and the Lebanese army are preparing defenses against ISIS and the Nusra Front in the mountains of East Lebanon. As winter approaches, concern is growing that the Sunni Islamist fighters will attempt to link up with the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli. As the Christian Science Monitor reports:
In recent days, the Lebanese Army, which is heavily deployed around the key town of Arsal in the northeast Bekaa Valley, has thwarted several apparent probes by militants seeking to reach the town for resupply. And 20 miles south of Arsal, militants from Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, last week briefly attacked and overran a mountain-top outpost manned by fighters from the Iran-backed Hezbollah, killing several Shiite fighters. […]Concerns of another attack have grown as the hot summer ends and the colder weather begins. The mountains along the border rise up to 8,500 feet and are capped in snow during the winter, making for a bleak environment for the militants who live there in caves and abandoned farmhouses.Some analysts suspect that the IS and its allies may try to break out of the mountains by punching through army lines around Arsal and seeking shelter with Sunni supporters in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city.
So far, the skirmishes and RPG attacks against Hezbollah and the Lebanese army have not resulted in serious losses. But 24 years after the end of the civil war, much of Lebanon is still a tinderbox, and the cooperation between Hezbollah and the national army is raising the ire of Lebanese Sunni radicals. The concern is greatest in Tripoli, which is a microcosm of the regional sectarian divide and has seen intermittent gun battles and grenade attacks between the city’s Sunni majority, the isolated Shi’a population, and the army.Although a major breakout through the Beqaa valley by ISIS or the Nusra Front seems unlikely, the military escalation in Lebanon, including a flood of cheap guns onto the black market, has produced the perfect formula for an accidental civil war if Lebanon’s radicals plunge the country into the sectarian abyss once again.