Analysis: Rocket on Hezbollah a turning point

Attack on group's stronghold in south Beirut marks turning point in Syrian war and clearest signal yet that the conflict is likely to escalate and spread to Lebanon, already on a knife’s edge due to sectarian divisions.

May 27, 2013 02:48
2 minute read.
Hezbollah members at funeral of a Hezbollah fighter, May 25, 2013

Hezbollah Beirut funeral370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The rocket attack on the Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut marks a turning point in the Syrian war and the clearest signal yet that the conflict is likely to escalate and spread to Lebanon, already on a knife’s edge due to sectarian divisions. Shi’ite- Sunni strife in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere is manifesting itself in the Syrian civil war, dragging neighboring countries into the conflict.

The rocket attack seems to be the opening salvo in Lebanon by Sunnis against the Iran/Hezbollah/Syria axis.

Further examples of this came on Sunday as Egyptian jihadist movements called on Mujahedeen from around the world to go to Lebanon and fight Hezbollah, according to a report on Now Lebanon’s website. And Bahrain’s foreign minister called Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah a “terrorist” a day after his speech on Saturday, which called for strongly supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to a report on Al-Arabiya.

Also on Sunday, Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah said that the resistance would “confront any attack against it from whatever side or place it comes,” according to a report in the Lebanese Daily Star.

Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at the IDC in Herzliya, told The Jerusalem Post that the recent rocket attack on Beirut was most probably a consequence of Nasrallah’s speech. “The Syrian opposition,” he said, “is trying to create deterrence” against the advancing Hezbollah and Syrian forces.

Countries supporting the Syrian opposition most probably gave tacit approval for the attack as they would want Hezbollah to pay a price for its support of Assad, according to Javedanfar.

What is clear is that “the conflict has entered a new stage,” where the Syrian crisis is threatening Lebanese stability.

But, adds Javedanfar, in the short term it is Iran which has the most to worry about from this development.

Perhaps Iran is concerned that bringing the battle to Hezbollah’s home turf will diminish the group’s ability to fight for Assad in Syria.

Chuck Freilich, a senior fellow at the International Security Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School’s Belfer Center and the former deputy national security advisor in Israel, told the Post that the attack was a major escalation and that Israel should try to stay out of it as much as possible.

According to Freilich, the Israeli government’s policy to refrain from intervention seems to be the correct one.

There are more negatives than positives when looking at the option to intervene.

However, it has no choice to intervene if advanced weapons are being transferred to Hezbollah, he added.

Freilich believes that US President Barack Obama is doing everything he can to stay as far away from this as he can.

“There is a lot of room in the middle, between full intervention and a policy of no involvement,” he said adding that a policy of nonintervention “is a form of involvement.”

Freilich said that Syria is potentially coming apart and Obama should try to do something, at least minimally to try and shape events, but “now it is a bit late to get into the game.

“At what point to get involved? When Jordan’s king is under threat? How bad does it have to get before getting involved?” For now Israel seems to be acting like a referee at a boxing match – allowing each side to pummel the other, just as long as no red lines are crossed.

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