Hizbullah's Syria involvement brings instability to Lebanon

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut


Fighters from the former Al-Nusra Front -- renamed Fateh al-Sham Front after breaking from al-Qaeda -- listen to a speech at an armament school after they recaptured two military academies and a third military position south of Aleppo on August 6th, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. [Omar haj kadour / AFP]

Recent clashes and bombings near the Lebanese-Syrian border involving the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) and the group formerly known as al-Nusra Front (ANF) have exposed the role of Hizbullah in creating instability in Lebanon.

It is the meddling of the groups backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the Syrian war that has drawn terrorist groups and other actors to attack in Lebanon, experts tell Al-Mashareq.

"Upon Hizbullah’s intervention in Syrian affairs, stability in Lebanon was rattled," said Hassan Qutb, head of the Lebanese Centre for Research and Consulting.

For months, Fateh al-Sham Front, formerly ANF, and ISIL have been carrying out terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets, and have been fighting each other.

The Lebanese army regularly exchanges mortar fire with ISIL and ANF fighters entrenched in rugged areas along the Lebanese-Syrian border, and in a recent example of terrorism within Lebanon, in the early hours of June 27th, four suicide bombers detonated their explosives belts in the border town of al-Qaa, followed by four other suicide bombings in the late evening.

Qutb said that the conflicts will intensify between ISIL and ANF on one hand, and between the two groups and Hizbullah on the other.

"If Hizbullah continues its meddling [in Syria], the clashes between these groups would impact Lebanon and its stability would be rattled," he said.

Hizbullah to blame

In his first public appearance, ANF leader Abu Mohammed al-Joulani announced in a video on July 28th that the group changed its name, would unify ranks with other fighters in Syria, and that it severed ties with al-Qaeda.

"No matter how the labels changed for al-Nusra Front and her sisters, Lebanon will remain vulnerable to the risks of terrorist organizations because of Hizbullah's interference in the Syrian war," political analyst Ali al-Amin told Al-Mashareq.

"Hizbullah's intervention in Syria has serious repercussions and risks for the Lebanese arena, and subjects it to reactions, but no one knows when, how, or in what forms they will be in," he told Al-Mashareq.

The danger that ANF and other groups like ISIL pose to Lebanon "shall remain as long as the Lebanese-Syrian issue remains," he said.

"Thus, the wound will remain open, and this may translate, as in the last months and until recently, with bombings, suicide bombers, and increased level of confrontations on the Lebanese-Syrian border and in the hill of Beqaa towns," he said.

"It cannot be claimed that things have improved in Lebanon," Amin said. The threats to Lebanon "will not decrease with Hizbullah's interference in Syria, which is what causes a continued risk by ANF, with its new name and with its allied organizations, against the security of Lebanon and its people".

ANF changed its cloak in an effort to distinguish itself from ISIL, its rival in Syria, said retired Brig. Gen. Richard Daghir.

No matter how hard it tries to disassociate itself from al-Qaeda, ANF is still a terrorist group, as its rhetoric has not changed, and neither has its ideology, he said.

Even though the Lebanese army has had success in battling both ANF and ISIL on the border, this "does not prevent security breaches, as Lebanon is not isolated from the threat of terrorism and coming under attack by terrorists".

Daghir emphasized that the threat to Lebanon will remain "as long as Hizbullah continues to meddle in the Syrian war".

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