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.
Army 19 Aug launched offensive against Islamic State (ISIS) militants in control of pocket straddling Syrian-Lebanese border. Syrian army and Hizbollah same day said they had begun joint operation against same ISIS group from Syrian side of border. Lebanese army said its operation not in coordination with Syria or Hizbollah. ISIS 27 Aug agreed ceasefire with army, and same day agreed separate ceasefire with Hizbollah and Syrian army; ISIS fighters and their families 28 Aug began withdrawal from border region to eastern Syria, however U.S. airstrikes in Syria 30 Aug blocked convoy before it reached ISIS-held territory (see Syria). Following ceasefire deal late July between Lebanese army, Hizbollah and Salafi-jihadist group Fath al-Sham, transfer of some 9,000 people, including Fath al-Sham militants and Syrian refugees, from Jroud Arsal in north east to Syria’s Idlib province completed early Aug; Hizbollah and Fath al-Sham also exchanged prisoners. Under similar deal some 300 fighters from smaller local faction Saraya Ahl al-Sham and their families 14 Aug began withdrawal from pocket near Syrian border reportedly to Syria. UN and rights groups voiced concerns that repatriations of refugees were not consensual nor met international legal standards. Army 7 Aug shelled ISIS positions in Syria after group reportedly fired seven rockets from Syria into Lebanon near al-Qaa in north east, causing no casualties. Clashes between Palestinian security forces and Islamist militants in Aïn el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in south 17-23 Aug killed at least five.
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.