The car-bomb assassination of Lebanese Sunni intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan on Friday was a brazen assault on the anti-Syrian, anti- Hezbollah camp in Lebanon, which might just spread the Syrian civil war to Beirut and beyond.

Hassan was keen to work for an independent Lebanon, free from Iranian-Syrian influence, and free from Hezbollah’s shadow. He was popular among the March 14 Sunni-Christian bloc, a bitter rival of the Hezbollah-dominated, predominantly Shi’ite March 8 Movement.

Hassan was involved in at least two investigations of terror plots in Lebanon that lead directly back to Hezbollah and Syria. The first is the 2005 car-bomb killing of Sunni former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The second is an alleged bomb plot involving ex-Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha, who has been under arrest since August on suspicion of planning to plant bombs in northern Lebanon on the orders of Damascus.

This isn’t the first time a Lebanese security figure hot on the trail of Hezbollah and Syria has met a violent end.

Lebanese police Capt. Wissam Eid was in the midst of an investigation into the Hariri murder. According to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report in 2010, Eid managed to ingeniously trace suspicious cellphone signals and use them to uncover Hezbollah teams that had allegedly been shadowing Hariri and had gone on to kill him.

Eid, keen to share his information with a UN investigations panel, was killed in a massive Beirut car bombing in 2008.

The pattern appears to be clear, as does the message behind the bombings.

All those involved in investigating Syrian-Hezbollah crimes in Lebanon are at risk.

Then, as now, Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria are at the top of the suspect list.

But this isn’t 2008. The Middle East is in the middle of an earthquake, and the old regional order has vanished.

In Syria, Sunnis have gone to war to rid their country of the Iranian-backed minority Alawite dictatorship. In Lebanon, Sunnis and many Christians, who are fed up with Hezbollah using Lebanon as its playground, are watching closely. When Bashar Assad falls, Hezbollah may find itself cornered and cut off from its Iranian master.

With sectarian tensions in Lebanon at a peak, Friday’s car bomb may spark enough anger among the fractured population to prompt a wider confrontation.

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