Four years after plunging into Syria’s civil war, Hizbollah has achieved its core aim of preserving the Assad regime. Yet with no clear exit strategy, the Lebanese “Party of God” faces ever greater costs unless it can lower the sectarian flames, open dialogue with non-jihadist rebel groups and help pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
Hizbollah and Israel exchanged threats mid-month: Hizbollah 16 Feb threatened to target Dimona nuclear reactor in Negev desert, Israel warned it would “hit all of Lebanon” in response to any such attack; President Aoun 18 Feb cautioned Israel’s actions would be met with appropriate response, Hizbollah 20 Feb reportedly said there would be no “red lines” in future confrontations. PM Hariri expressed disagreement after Aoun 12 Feb issued controversial statement characterising Hizbollah’s weaponry as complementary to army’s and needed to counter Israel; Hariri called weaponry illegitimate. Aoun met with Egyptian President Sisi in Cairo 13 Feb; leaders agreed to bolster anti-terrorism cooperation. U.S. 15 Feb issued travel advisory for its citizens to avoid Lebanon due to “threats of terrorism, armed clashes, kidnapping, and outbreaks of violence”. Authorities 10 Feb said they would waive $200 annual residency fee for Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR.
The fate of the border town Arsal mirrors Lebanon’s many policy failures. The government applies heavy-handed security at the expense of basic services and fair economic opportunities. It should change its policies to become more flexible, accountable and supportive of Syrian refugees – and receive more international help in return.
Lebanon is surviving internal and regional strains remarkably well, but this resilience has become an excuse for tolerating political dysfunction. If the Lebanese political class does not take immediate steps like holding long-overdue elections, fighting corruption and promoting the rule of law, its complacency will only make an eventual fall harder and costlier.
Hizbollah’s intervention in Syria strengthens the Assad regime but transforms the Shiite movement as it redefines the enemy and itself within the confines of an increasingly sectarian struggle.
As the Syrian conflict increasingly implicates and spills over into Lebanon, a priority for its government and international partners must be to tackle the refugee crisis, lest it ignite domestic conflict that a weak state and volatile region can ill afford.
Syria’s civil war is spilling beyond its borders and threatening Lebanon’s stability. More than ever, it is crucial that Lebanon’s leaders address the fundamental shortfalls of their governing structure, which exacerbate factionalism and leave the country vulnerable to the chaos next door.
Despite [Hizbollah’s] claim of aiming for a negotiated settlement [in Syria], they are continuing to bet on a maximalist position, on victory.
After [Hezbollah] had completely entered the fight in Syria, the group was able to convince Shia, but also other communities ... that this is an existential fight and that you have to go all the way.
Aoun's election [as president of Lebanon] is not a magic wand. Certainly the presidential vacancy will end, but it doesn't solve the political crisis, or the stagnant political institutions or the major divisions over domestic and foreign issues, particularly the war in Syria.
Originally published in Al Araby
In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Senior Lebanon Analyst Sahar Atrache explains the background and significance of the attack.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
Crisis Group Lebanon Senior Analyst Sahar Atrache discusses how Lebanon remains resilient in the face of Syria’s violent collapse – at least for now.