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.
After clashes late May between Islamic State (ISIS) and rival jihadist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in outskirts of Arsal city in NE near border with Syria, army intensified operations against both groups early June, killing several dozen militants. Five suicide bombers attacked soldiers as they searched for suspected militants in two Syrian refugee camps in Arsal area 30 June, killing one refugee girl and wounding seven soldiers; sixth militant threw hand grenade at patrol. After political disagreements over electoral system delayed parliamentary elections that were due in 2008 and 2014, parliament 16 June reached agreement and passed new electoral law, but postponed vote to May 2018.
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.