The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Syria War Coming to Lebanon?

The Syrian civil war is making a bigger mark on Lebanon with each passing day. Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia and political party, has tried to keep hints of its involvement in the fighting in Syria a secret, with little success. Just today, an explosion in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, close to the border with Syria, killed three Hezbollah fighters, according to a statement released by the group. It is still unclear what caused the blast (or blasts) or whether this was an attack or an accident.

Adding further complicating to Hezbollah’s insistence that it is not involved in Syria was the funeral yesterday of a senior commander. He was killed “performing his jihadi duty,” according to Hezbollah. The BBC reports:

Hezbollah said Ali Hussein Nassif was buried in the Bekaa valley on Monday and had been killed “performing his jihadist duty”, but did not say where.

Rebels said Nassif and several of his men had been killed in an ambush by the Free Syrian Army. Other reports said they had died in clashes on the border.

There have been other hints that Hezbollah fighters are operating in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime, and American and Hezbollah’s Lebanese enemies accuse the group of being “quite involved in fighting”:

Obituaries for Hezbollah fighters have begun to appear in Lebanese newspapers, without the circumstances of the deaths being explained.

However, after another senior Hezbollah military commander, Musa Ali Shahimi, was reportedly killed fighting in Syria in August, there was a public funeral attended by two Hezbollah MPs in the capital, Beirut.

Meanwhile, ordinary Beirutis are already feeling the effects of war:

The constant strikes at the state-owned electricity provider have meant far longer power cuts than normal. Some homes outside the capital are getting state electricity for only a couple of hours a day or less. [...]

For several months now Beirut’s streets have seen an influx of cars with Homs, Aleppo or Damascus on the number plates.

In the upmarket city centre, plenty of middle-class Syrians who have fled destruction are looking for some retail therapy. [...]

Meanwhile, poorer Syrian families have settled in border regions, with relatives or in temporary housing.

If war spreads to Lebanon—say if Lebanese fighters sympathetic to the Syrian rebels begin to retaliate against Hezbollah on home turf and fighting starts to spread out of control—ordinary Lebanese are in trouble. Their government is unable to provide security and emergency services and is essentially run by Hezbollah anyway. Lebanon has only one international airport. Escaping to Syria would be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Fleeing south would force refugees through Hezbollah’s stronghold to the Israeli border, with which Lebanon is technically still at war.

The Syria war won’t stay within Syria’s borders.

Published on October 3, 2012 5:30 pm