The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Hezbollah, Free Syrian Army on Brink of War?

A commander of the Free Syrian Army issued an ultimatum to Hezbollah yesterday, threatening to attack its positions inside Lebanon if it did not cease its operations in Syria. Hezbollah supports the Assad regime, and its fighters have consistently participated in attacks on the Syrian rebels. It even controls a number of villages on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon and last weekend tried unsuccessfully to move deeper into Syria.

Brigadier General Salim Idris, the FSA commander, has had enough of that. “Hezbollah is abusing Lebanese sovereignty to shell Syrian territory and Free Syrian Army positions.” He gave Hezbollah a 48-hour ultimatum, threatening that “as soon as the ultimatum ends, we will start responding to the sources of fire.”

That response might already be under way, even though the 48-hour window has not yet closed. The Times of Israel reports:

“An FSA brigade launched two consecutive attacks at 12:30 pm on Thursday, the first of which targeted a group of Hezbollah fighters in the western Qusayr district in Syria, killing and wounding all of its members,” the statement read. The attack was carried out with machine guns and anti-tank rockets against two four-wheel-drive vehicles used by Hezbollah.

In the second attack, several FSA brigades attacked with mortar shells a Hezbollah artillery position in the in Hosh al-Sayyed Ali area inside Lebanon and “achieved direct hits,” according to the statement.

As usual, it’s best to take all this news with a grain of salt. The story is still fresh, and reports from the region are notoriously inaccurate. But if it checks out, this might be a concrete sign of a dangerous escalation in the Syrian civil war. Lebanon was never going to be able to remain totally apart from the war next door—many Lebanese and most political parties, including Hezbollah, have deep ties to combatants on opposing sides in Syria. That the FSA is now attacking targets inside Lebanon is not good news.

Published on February 21, 2013 1:46 pm