August 21st, 2012
11:58 AM ET

Lebanon sucked deeper into Syria morass

By Firas Maksad, Special to CNN

Firas Maksad is a consultant on the Middle East and director of New Policy Advisors, a Washington D.C. advisory group. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Few thought that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would relinquish power without attempting to drag others in the region down with him. It’s a game of political blackmail that the Syrian regime has perfected over its four decades of control. Since the uprising began in March of last year, al-Assad has allegedly given Kurdish rebels a free hand in fighting Turkey and shelled Jordanian territory. Yet, it is neighboring Lebanon that al-Assad has taken as the regime’s prime hostage.

Beirut recently awoke to the seemingly unbelievable news that former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha had been arrested over allegations of involvement in a planned bombing campaign. The evidence seems overwhelming, and Samaha appears to have confessed on tape to plotting to target Christian leaders with the aim of blaming Sunni extremists and cementing the Christian community’s support for al-Assad’s supposedly secular regime. According to Lebanese security sources, when asked why he would do such a thing, the former minister replied, “This is what Bashar wants.”

But the most shocking thing wasn’t the plot itself, but that Lebanese officials, many of whom have been targets of Syrian car bombs in recent years, found the courage to arrest a member of al-Assad’s close circle. They also filed charges against Syria’s national security advisor for allegedly providing the explosives.

For the Lebanese, this was all too good to be true and prompted speculation over whether the ruler of Damascus was so weakened that Beirut officials now dared to cross him? Social media buzzed with jokes about what would befall Lebanon when the al-Assad sought its revenge. And, sure enough, it appears to have done so.

A kidnapping campaign swept through Lebanon last week, jolting the country back to political reality and stripping state institutions of their recently found sense of authority. Within hours, masked gunmen claiming to be the armed wing of a Shia clan captured at least 20 of al-Assad’s opponents, claiming the move was in retaliation for the capture of one of the clan’s members by the Free Syrian Army. They blocked the main highway leading to Beirut International Airport, and warned nationals of Arab countries who support the Syrian rebellion to leave Lebanon immediately.

The kidnappings seem to be acting as a dual message directed at the Syrian rebels, those who support them in Beirut, and beyond: First, this is a preview of what awaits Lebanon and the region should you push us further. Second, we may be losing control over parts of Syria, but Beirut is still ours.

It’s too early to understand the full implications of the violence still unfolding in Lebanon and whether it will drag the country closer to the Syrian abyss. After all, Hezbollah is a leading partner in the current government and presumably has a stake in preventing an all out Sunni-Shia conflict. But the group’s leadership is also under growing pressure to act from an anxious Shia community and a fledgling ally in Damascus. Can it get away with what it perceives as limited and deniable military actions without triggering a backlash that tips the country into civil war?

Whatever the case, these latest moves are more a sign of desperation than lasting power. The Syrian president now has to resort to botched bombing plots in Beirut to shore up Christian support for his regime. And by continuing to stand by al-Assad, Hezbollah is further isolating itself and pitting a Shia community against a Sunni majority in the Middle East.

And, despite the risks, it’s clear Lebanese authorities are pushing back and demonstrating a determination to maintain order despite their limited capacity. They are deserving of U.S. and international support, including much needed military training and equipment. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, a former commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, is worthy of particular praise for his current leadership.

It may have become cliché to argue that Lebanon and the region won’t find stability before the al-Assad regime is forced out of power, but it’s still no less true for that. Until the battle for Damascus is won, Beirut will remain on a knife edge.

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Topics: Middle East • Syria

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Schuyler

    Screen Play
    Name: Why Oil went to $200 p/barrel and a Penthouse in NY is worthless!
    The stage is being set! Background is Russia/US/China/Europe.
    Foreground is Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
    Supporting Actors on stage now Iran, Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon.
    Main actors Assad/Freedom Fighters

    Act 1-Introduction of Main Characters
    Set Initial battle between Main actors
    Act 2-Introduction of supporting cast
    Set: Expansion of battle into Turkey/Lebanon
    Act 3-Introduction of Foreground members.
    Set: Iran/Israel Join Battle. Saudi Arabia and Israeli use "The enemy of my enemy is my ally" Saudi Arabia joins battle.
    Oil transportation in Gulf stops. Stock market crashes. UN members have plan for Peace.
    Act 4: Background members enter battle.
    Set: Russia threatens US, if US bombs Iran. Iran sinks 2 US Ships. US retaliates against Iran. Russia declares war on US and sinks aircraft carrier. China stays neutral, but sees US distraction, invades Taiwan. US gives China Ultimatum. China does not back down. US Forced to Sink Chinese ships in Yellow sea. China joins Russia as Ally.
    Act 5: World War 3
    Set: First use of Atomic weapons since Nagasaki. Middle East a waste land. ½ billion people die first day. 3 billion more in 2 weeks. Civilization is back in Stone Age.
    Epilogue:
    1 year after use of Atomic weapons: Pockets of survivors in South America, Australia, Africa. World population 300 million. Europe, US, Middle East, China and Russia are dead zones.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
    • deniz boro

      Did you watch Turandot? Puccini did not have the time to complete the last scene... It tels about a marriage between some easter people and some western people... The westerns had kidnapped a girl and the eastern women had taken a vow for revange. And this lady, the Princes says she will not mary a man who will not answer to her questions. The vital question is: "What is like fire but burns like ice". That is the song named Nesum Dorma. But of course there are these characters namde Ping, Pong and ETC.

      August 22, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Indeed, when the Syrian crisis spills out into the wider region, its exporting dangers and instabilities take a toll on – especially – Lebanon. Syria and Lebanon emerged together from French colonial rule and have similar patchwork populations of different religious groupings. Syria under the Assad rule occupied part of Lebanon for 30 years from 1976 onwards, exercising huge influence over the country's political life. It explains the clashes between rival Lebanese ethnic groups at moments of particular tension in the Syrian crisis.

    August 22, 2012 at 6:22 am | Reply
  3. Aaron Chaney

    MOSCOW (RT) – Russian Foreign Ministry: The West is Inciting Syrian Opposition to Continue Fighting

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the West is unequivocally inciting the Syrian opposition to continue fighting.

    RT website quoted the ministry as saying in a statement on Wednesday "Our Western partners have done nothing so far to pressure the Syrian opposition to start dialogue with the government, otherwise they are clearly inciting it to continue fighting, which will undoubtedly lead to no political solution to the crisis."

    "The Russian government knows what ought to be done, as all the members of the work group on Syria vowed in their final statement in Geneva to work with the Syrian government and opposition to launch the national reconciliation process as soon as possible," added the statement.

    The statement said Moscow proposed adopting a concise statement on behalf of the work group on Syria that calls upon the Syrian government and opposition to end the violence as soon as possible and appoint negotiators to start a political dialogue.

    "But our Western partners showed total opposition even to the idea of discussing the possibility of this statement, trying instead to distort the content of Geneva agreements, in addition to leveling accusations at Russia of foiling the efforts of the UN Security Council to find a solution to the crisis in Syria... This stance is sheer hypocrisy. It is well-known that Russia is shouldering its responsibility, and is working with the Syrian government and opposition to halt violence and launch dialogue as soon as possible to solve the crisis," said the statement," said the statement, which added that Moscow received a Syrian official delegation who renewed their readiness for a political dialogue with the opposition.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry's statement came in response to the statement of the spokeswoman for the US Department of State Victoria Noland which stated that the Russian government knows what ought to be done to solve the crisis in Syria.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
  4. nansaki

    Now that you're back Fareed my world is a better place and Sunday will go back to being what it should be.

    August 23, 2012 at 11:19 am | Reply
  5. JosephMcCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/JoeCollins/J.Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

    I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

    August 23, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Reply

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