A Shiite Muslim district in the south side of Beirut, Lebanon was hit with a dual rocket strike early May 26. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack which comes one day after a vow by Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to bring victory to Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad no matter the cost. Hezbollah is a belligerent in the Syrian Civil War and is currently engaged in a battle to recapture the Syrian border town of al-Qusayr from rebels alongside Syrian Army forces.
The Syrian conflict long ago took on a Sunni vs. Alawite aspect and that has since generated a similar divide between Sunnis & Shiites in both Lebanon and Iraq. In Iraq’s case there are recently developing problems stemming from both the pro-Iranian policies of Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his efforts to stomp out Sunni/Kurdish participation in Iraqi politics.
In the case of Lebanon, there has always been underlying Sunni resentment at the occupation of southern Lebanon by Iran’s Shiite dominated terrorist army, Hezbollah which in cooperation with Iran is assisting Pres. Assad’s forces. For Iran and Hezbollah it is imperative to have a friendly regime in Syria to maintain supply of armaments and ammunition to Hezbollah. Without Syria, Hezbollah would be cut off and left to wither on the vine.
The Syrian town of al-Qusayr while close to the Lebanese border is also vital to both Pres. Assad’s forces and those of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). Assad needs to retake the town to open supply lines from the Syrian coast for his forces. The FSA needs to hold the town to maintain a vital supply link for the limited amount of aide coming in from the Sunni Bloc of nations in the Middle East supporting the FSA.
Even after losing large swaths of Syria to the rebels, Assad’s forces were still able to receive Iranian military support via air from Iranian cargo and passenger jets over flying Iraq from Iran. These over flights of Iraq belie a pattern of support of Assad by Baghdad which the U.S. Govt. has not seen fit to put an end to, while at the same time quietly trying to strong arm the Sunni Bloc to cease military aide to Syrian rebels.
The decision to open a Syrian-Hezbollah offensive on al-Qusayr likely was driven by the rising sectarian violence in Iraq between Sunni Arabs/Kurds on one side and Shiite Iraqis on the other. After many car bombings and IED attacks by both Muslim sects on each side’s mosques and public gatherings and recently; open fire fights breaking out between Sunni militiamen and Iraqi security troops, events in Iraq are looking more and more to be following the pattern of descent into civil war seen in Syria.
Were a Sunni-Shiite civil war to break out in Iraq it could well pose a threat to Iranian aircraft flying over Iraq to Syria. Particularly from the Kurdish Peshmerga forces which are on a par militarily with the Iraqi Army in all but numbers of troops, though with far less territory to defend than Baghdad’s forces. The Peshmerga does have an anti-air capability which while not capable of taking on modern warplanes, is likely able to cause problems for unarmed Iranian aircraft.
As Hezbollah and Pres. Assad realized the need to reopen a land route to the Syrian coast and began massing troops and weaponry for an offensive, Lebanese Sunnis also began enlisting to go fight with the Free Syrian Army in al-Qusayr. This generated even more tension among Lebanese Sunnis and Hezbollah, the latter being for the most part from all corners of the Muslim except Lebanon. Sooner or later there was bound to be an explosion of these tensions and the first outbreak left 25 dead in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli after a fire fight between local Sunnis and Shiite supporters of Pres. Assad.
Today’s rocket strike, though a pin prick with only two rockets fired is the second instance of the Sunni-Shiite tension boiling over within Lebanon. However, in addition to the resentment of Hezbollah’s occupation of southern Lebanon there is also the intrusion of Hezbollah into local Lebanese politics and elections; Hezbollah and Syria’s Assad dynasty for decades creating strife among all Lebanese and of course; Lebanon virtually condemned to being an eternal target of Israeli military forces due to the threat posed by Hezbollah to Israel.
Lebanese have long dreamt of ridding themselves of the ‘parasite’ that is Hezbollah and with it Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. While Hezbollah’s belligerency in the Syrian Civil War is stoking further tension, it is also drawing their forces out of and slowly weakening their hold on southern Lebanon. As further spillovers of tension from Syria occur, it may not be long before Lebanon strikes, perhaps in cooperation with the Free Syrian Army. The likelihood of this will increase significantly if Hezbollah and Assad’s forces suffer a major defeat in al-Qusayr.