BEIRUT, Lebanon – With Hezbollah and Syrian Army forces about ready to overtake the predominantly Shiite but critical crossroads enclave of Al-Qusayr in Syria, Sunni Salafists including the Jabhat al-Nusra group have begun to open up other fronts in Lebanese cities to draw Hezbollah from Al-Qusayr, effectively bringing the Syrian civil war to Lebanon.
Al-Qusayr is a strategic crossroads for the Syrian Sunni opposition moving military supplies and fighting personnel from Turkey into Syria. Until Syrian army and Hezbollah units moved into Al-Qusayr a few weeks ago and regained much of the city, the Sunni opposition forces were about to cut off Damascus’ access to the Mediterranean Sea and to Alawite strongholds along the coast.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a Shiite Alawite, and control of the region is essential for the survival of his regime and support base there.
Sunni opposition takeover of Al-Qusayr also would have provided a staging area to launch attacks into Lebanon against Hezbollah forces because of its support for Syrian President al-Assad.
Now, fighting already has intensified in the Lebanese northern city of Tripoli, which is comprised not only of a Sunni portion of the city known as Bab al Tabbaneh but a neighboring Shiite section known as Jabal Mohsen, a Shiite Alawite stronghold.
Syrian rebels also have begun artillery shelling the Shiite stronghold of Hermel in northern Lebanon where Hezbollah is relying on the Shiite forces from the al-Jaffar tribe and other heavily armed Hezbollah-backed clans in the area to protect it.
For months, Hezbollah forces have been conducting low-intensity operations in the area against the Sunni Salafists, who have been threatening to retaliate against Hezballah strongholds in Lebanon for its support of the al-Assad regime.
This observer already had heard automatic Kalashnikov gunfire occurring in the Dahiyeh section of south Beirut, which is in a Hezbollah-controlled area of the city. It had occurred just outside the Shatilah Palestinian refugee camp.
Then, two rockets fired allegedly by al-Nusra into a residential area of Dahiyeh occurred last Sunday, wounding a number of people. The blasts occurred near where this observer stays while in Beirut.
Beirut used to be referred to as the “Paris of the Middle East.” But then it experienced a civil war of its own from 1975-1990, resulting in remarkable destruction and the death of tens of thousands of people.
The most recent rocket attacks into Beirut are the first since the end of that civil war, even though there has been sporadic fighting in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli for more than a year.
Now, there is growing fear that Lebanon could re-experience much of the sectarian strife it endured during the 15-year civil war period. Like then, however, conflicts existing both in Syria and now Lebanon are becoming a product of serious differences among outside influences, with Syria, Iran and Hezbollah pitted against the U.S., its western allies, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey and a raft of foreign Islamist militant fighters from Central Asia, the northern Caucasus and North Africa.
The latest rocket attacks occurred a day after a fiery speech last Sunday night given by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.
He said his forces were fighting in Syria to keep it from coming into Lebanon as part of its effort to back the al-Assad government which, he said, Hezbollah will support “to the end of the road.”
“We are fighting in Syria, so let us fight there instead and deflect Lebanon from the conflict, the confrontations and the bloodshed,” Nasrallah said.
In that speech marking the 25th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, he said that Syria and Lebanon were facing radical Sunni Islamists which, he said, was a plot devised by the United States and Israeli interests in the region.
“We will not rely on anyone (and) like all the battles before this one, we will be its people, its men and we will be the ones who bring it victory.
“We will continue to the end of the road, we accept this responsibility and will accept all sacrifices and expected consequences of this position,” Nasrallah said.
“Syria is no longer a place where there is a popular revolution against a political regime,” Nasrallah added. “Rather, it has become a place for imposing a political plan led by America and the West, and its tools in the region.”
Nasrallah’s comments also come as informed observers say the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted overwhelmingly to arm elements of the Syrian opposition to “provide defense articles, defense services and military training” to those who “have been properly and fully vetted and share common values and interests with the United States.”
One source said it is the prelude to greater U.S. support that inevitably will go to al-Qaida, much as the U.S. did in initially supporting the Mujahidin in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union’s occupation in 1979. The Mujahidin ultimately morphed into al-Qaida which launched a terrorist attack comprised mostly of Saudi Sunni Wahhabists on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
The al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front also is comprised of other groups including, but not limited to the Ahl al-Athr Brigade, Ahrar al-Sham, Basha’ir al-Nasr Brigades, Commandos Brigades, Fajr al-Islam Brigades, Independent Farouq Brigades, Khalid bin al-Waleed Brigade, Liwa al-Haq, Liwa al-Sadiq, Al-Nour Brigade, Al-Qusayr Brigade, Suqur al-Fatgah, Al-Wadi Brigades, Al-Waleed Brigades and the 77th Brigade, according to international lawyer Franklin Lamb.
He said that these units are among the scores of other jihadist cells currently operating in, near or rushing to al-Qusayr.
He pointed out that the U.S. Senate sources believe they would inflict a “severe blow and challenge to Iran’s rising influence in the region and Iran’s leadership of the increasing regional and global resistance to the Zionist occupiers of Palestine in favor of the full right to return of every ethnically cleansed Palestinian refugee.”
In quoting his Senate source, Lamb said that “quite a few folks around here (Capitol Hill) think al-Qusayr will remove Hezbollah from the list of current threats to Israel. And the longer they keep themselves bogged down in quick-sand over there the better for Washington and Tel Aviv.
“Hopefully they will remain in al-Qusayr for a long hot summer and gut their ranks in South Lebanon via battlefield attrition,” he added, “(so that) Israel can make its move and administer a coup de grace,” presumably on Hezbollah altogether.
But then he said the Senate source added: “Of course, the White House and its concrete wall-solid ally might be wrong!”
“The dangers for Hezbollah are obvious,” Lamb said. “It may be drawn even deeper into a bottomless pit of conflict in Syria that could leave it severely depleted and prey to a hoped-for death-blow from Israel … Nasrallah and other party officials have dismissed that possibility,” he added. “The next few weeks may tell.”